Wasn't it Dr. David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, who not too long ago urged the faculty union to accept a one-year contract with a minor pay raise because the institution was experiencing an economic crunch?
Wasn't it the president who recently revealed that the university was facing an operating deficit of more than $1 million this fiscal year and that a tuition increase in the spring remained a possibility?
Indeed, wasn't it he who admitted that YSU did not have the money to cover the substantial pay raises subsequently granted to the faculty and the classified employees in their new three-year contracts?
And yet last week, Sweet had no qualms about accepting an increase in his compensation package that can be described as exorbitant in light of the very real financial problems plaguing YSU. It isn't just the 6 percent pay raise -- $192,000 to $203,520 a year -- that is a source of irritation. The trustees increased the president's housing allowance by a whopping 38.9 percent, from $36,000 to $50,000. The only area in which they kept the brakes on was Sweet's $7,200 car allowance.
By the way, it's all retroactive to July 1.
The trustees justified the huge compensation package by pointing to the enrollment increases at YSU and by suggesting that Sweet could have been lured away by another institution of higher learning. We have heaped praise on the president for his success in turning around the decade-long enrollment decline, but it's poppycock to justify a raise on the grounds that he might now leave.
Sweet came here two years ago from Cleveland State University relishing the challenges that YSU presented. He's not likely to move again. He is most likely approaching the end of his career, which is why pay increases are so important. As a public employee, the pension he receives will be based on the average of the three highest years of his annual income.
Sweet was hired in July 2000 with a salary of $185,100. About a year later, the trustees increased it to $195,000. And now, he has been granted another raise.
That puts the president of the university in a very exclusive class as far as the Mahoning Valley is concerned. Over the past three years, in the private sectors, layoffs and concessions have been more the rule than the exception. The median income for a family of four in the five-county area that is YSU's mission district is closer to Sweet's $25,000 increase than to his $203,520 salary.
As for a housing allowance of $50,000 a year, there are homes in the region from which students come that don't cost $50,000.
And yet, Sweet and the board of trustees have the temerity to mention another tuition increase. Students were hit with an 8.9 percent increase for this fall semester. The decision-makers at YSU had better disabuse themselves of the notion that it is proper to stick their hands into the students' pockets -- again.
If the faculty and classified staff had been willing to sacrifice and had accepted a one-year contract with a pay freeze, as we suggested during the labor negotiations, and if the president had announced that he, too, was forgoing any increases until the university's financial condition stabilized, then an argument could have been made for increasing tuition if all other cost-cutting measures failed to erase the red ink in the budget.
But it is unconscionable for these public employees to fatten their wallets at the expense of those who can least afford to pay more.
We have long decried the greed demonstrated by local government employees during contract negotiations and have suggested that the reality of the private workplace become the reality of the public workplace. We aren't surprised that government workers have little regard for the taxpayers and the challenges they face in their daily lives.
But we are surprised when we see that gimme mine attitude exhibited by the area's intelligentsia, the faculty and administration of the university. Their argument that they should be paid what their counterparts in other universities in more affluent communities receive is specious and ridiculous.
Youngstown State must be viewed within the context of its mission district, and the salaries paid to the president, the faculty and staff should reflect the economic realities of the region. To use any other standard is to create a special class of worker in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. That is unacceptable.
Sweet gave in to the faculty union because it threatened to strike and he was worried that such an action would undermine his push to increase enrollment. But he could have delivered a strong message that the next contract would not be as lucrative had he set an example by not accepting a pay raise or any other increase in compensation.
Now, however, the president can no longer speak with the moral authority that is required to convince those beneath him that sacrifices must be made.
We would not be surprised if other administrators have their hands out.
Sweet certainly didn't think about the greater good, and for that he and the board of trustees should be ashamed.
How can the president go to Columbus and credibly argue that YSU deserves more state dollars to provide programs for students? How will he respond when some legislator or member of the board of regents contends that the university's priorities are out of whack?
We have been in the forefront of arguing that YSU is being short-changed by the Ohio General Assembly and the board of regents, but now we wonder whether anyone in Columbus will listen.