While David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, is to be commended for laying the university's financial cards on the table, he should know that there's something unseemly about mentioning the possibility of a midterm tuition increase when the ink isn't even dry on the contracts that give faculty and classified employees substantial pay raises.
Before students are asked to again dig deeper into their pockets, Dr. Sweet and the board of trustees had better be able to show that they've done everything possible to reduce the $1.9 million budget deficit. Trustee Dr. Chander Kohli was on the mark when he said last week, "We need to look at making some cuts and not only depend upon increasing tuition."
Kohli's comments appear to reflect the sentiments of many of colleagues on the board, and that's a good thing. It indicates an understanding of the community's attitude toward the whole issue of government spending and the specific issue of pay raises for public employees.
This region's economy, which has yet to fully recover from the closing of the steel mills almost 25 years ago, has been especially hard hit by the downturn of the national economy. Plant closings and corporate bankruptcies abound, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.
Against such a backdrop, the 3.5 percent annual pay increase the faculty will receive over the next three years -- the percentage will actually be higher because the contract also provides for the base pay to be upped by $1,000 each year -- sticks out like a sore thumb. Likewise, the 3 percent a year hike secured by the classified employees, plus a $600 bonus if enrollment hits a target number, appears overly generous.
Thus, when Sweet tells the trustees that he doesn't plan to recommend a midyear tuition increase but could reconsider if YSU's fiscal condition worsens, the following question comes to mind: Doesn't the word "sacrifice" apply to the public sector?
The trustees, who are appointed by the governor and serve nine-year terms, are absolutely right in pushing for a reduction in the cost of doing business. Everything should be open for discussion, including not filling vacant positions and eliminating programs that are not mandated or essential to the university's mission.
It is noteworthy that students have made a sacrifice -- by paying 8.9 percent more in tuition for the fall semester that started Aug. 26. They shouldn't have to carry the burden of the pay raises.
Terry Ondreyka, YSU vice president for financial affairs, had this to say about the preliminary list of budget moves that the trustees reviewed last week in their meeting with Sweet: "These are just ideas. Some of them we like; some of them we don't."
For every idea that the administration doesn't like, it should come up with one that it does like. In other words, it isn't enough for Sweet and his advisors to just say no.
YSU may get some relief from Columbus if the Ohio Board of Regents and the State Controlling Board agree to a plan adopted by all 13 of the state's public universities. Under it, the $2.7 million that YSU was forced to give up in state funding -- over and above the $3 million that was lost as a result of the state legislature slashing higher education's budget request -- would be cut in half.
The board of regents, which will soon welcome prominent Valley businessman Bruce Beeghly as a member, cannot ignore the devastating effect the cuts in state funding have had on urban, open admission universities like Youngstown State.
Given the regents' responsibility to bolster higher education in Ohio. adopting the budget recovery plan embraced by the 13 institutions is a no-brainer.
Valley residents, especially business and community leaders, should contact the board of regents and urge approval of the plan. And, they should seek the assistance of Gov. Bob Taft in lobbying the controlling board.