What could Youngstown State University trustees have been thinking last week when they broached the subject of a pay raise for President David Sweet? They certainly could not have been thinking about the impending corrections bill to Ohio's biennium budget that could well result in a reduction in state funds for YSU. And they most certainly could not have been thinking about the public relations ramifications of discussing a salary increase for the president just weeks after increasing tuition for students because of the university's financial plight.
Indeed, while Dr. Sweet has completed a year at the helm of YSU and, from all indications, has done a commendable job. But he hasn't even had time to fill all the positions in his administrative team and he has yet to show that his strategy to increase enrollment is working or that the university will be able to absorb any funding shortfall from the state.
Finally, there is the issue of labor negotiations next year. If Youngstown State University fails to experience an appreciable increase in enrollment in the next two semesters and if revenues continue to decline, the trustees and administration may be forced to seek concessions from the various unions.
Dr. Sweet may have to lead by example.
Management style: We, therefore, suggest that rather than temporarily delaying action on a pay raise for the president, the board of trustees set the item aside indefinitely. This recommendation should not be viewed as a commentary on Sweet's performance. Since he was appointed last July, we have been encouraged by his nuts-and-bolts approach to managing an institution that has been plagued for 10 years by enrollment woes and that has had to deal with the reality of being an open admissions university in an urban setting. The challenges facing YSU are enormous, and Sweet is dealing with them in a methodical manner. He has set a five-year goal that envisions financial stability and academic excellence.
But YSU's future depends in large part on what happens in Columbus with the state budget. As was shown this year, higher education has taken a back seat to primary and secondary education. The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered the General Assembly to come up with a funding plan for schools that would ensure a thorough and efficient education for all students. The court has also told the legislature to move away from property taxes as the main source of funds for public education.
The Republican-led House and Senate, and Republican Gov. Bob Taft, raided the state general fund budget in response to the Supreme Court's order, rather than seeking new sources of revenue. In so doing, they stripped higher education of much needed money, thus forcing state universities and colleges to raise tuition.
For institutions like YSU, which already were on shaky financial ground, it was a major blow. And there could be more bad news in the near future.
If the Supreme Court rejects the funding plan that was submitted recently, Republicans legislators have indicated that they will again raid the general fund. Should that happen, the Ohio Board of Regents will renew its call to the governor and the legislature to eliminate a funding category in the higher education budget that gives YSU and other financially strapped institutions a revenue boost.
Veto: The state guarantee has been in place for 10 years, but the board of regents, under pressure from Ohio State University and other universities that are growing, asked the governor to veto the guarantee contained in the biennium budget.
Taft signed the budget without vetoing the guarantee, but his office is examining the issue and may well recommend that it not be included in the budget corrections bill that will be developed shortly. The guarantee money would then be reallocated to all the state's colleges and universities. YSU would undoubtedly suffer.
That is why Youngstown State's trustees need to step back from the pay raise issue. There are too many fiscal storm clouds on the horizon.