Strickland should not rush to change higher ed profile



Anyone who has paid close attention to higher education in Ohio would agree with Gov. Ted Strickland's assessment that more accountability, especially with regard to the expenditure of public dollars and graduation rates, is demanded.
But whether it is necessary to stand the system on its head to accomplish what we all want, namely, ensuring that Ohioans have the academic credentials to help them succeed in the global economy, is the big question.
The answer is not as clear-cut as the governor, who has been on the job since the beginning of the month, seems to think.
Strickland, the first Democrat to serve as the state's chief executive in eight years, has proposed making the chancellor a member of the governor's cabinet. The chancellor, who oversees higher education in the state, is now hired by and answers to the board of regents. The nine members of the board are appointed by the governor and serve nine-year terms.
In explaining his push for this major change, Strickland said in a statement recently, "Such a position would enable the governor to be a stronger, more effective advocate for the higher education community in Ohio and will create a better system of higher education for all Ohioans."
Political dimension
Sounds great, but making the chancellor a member of his cabinet adds a political dimension to higher education that may not necessarily be good.
It has been reported that Democrat Strickland is considering Democrat Eric Fingerhut, a former member of Congress, for the position. Does anyone doubt that if Strickland is replaced by a Republican, the chancellor would be a Republican?
As things now stand, the chancellor serves at the pleasure of the nine individuals who, while appointed by the governor, are more often than not leaders in their communities. Take, for example, Bruce Beeghly, a prominent Valley businessman who previously served on the board of trustees of Youngstown State University.
Beeghly's presence on the board of regents has been a definite plus for Youngstown State, which is not one of the top tier institutions in Ohio. As an open-admissions, largely undergraduate-degree university, YSU has suffered financially because state funding is based on a formula that benefits institutions with more postgraduate programs.
We have long advocated a change in the formula so YSU and other such universities that meet a definite educational need in the state are rewarded rather than punished.
If the governor's proposal is adopted -- Republicans leaders in the General Assembly are talking about introducing legislation shortly to make the chancellor a cabinet officer -- the issue of funding higher education would also come into play.
Now, the board of regents requests money from the General Assembly, but legislators have no say on how the money is distributed to the 11 public universities and colleges.
But with a change in the status of the chancellor, the role of the board of regents would be greatly diminished -- if not eliminated. Instead, politicians would control the pursestrings.
Gov. Strickland will meet with the presidents of all Ohio higher education institutions Monday. We urge him to approach the session with an open mind and encourage an honest discussion of his proposal.

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