Drowned provost is honored by peers

During the university’s annual Forté on the Fifty concert, the flag flew at half-staff.



YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State University’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Robert K. Herbert, was remembered Saturday as an intelligent, thoughtful, fair and dedicated leader who charted a new and sometimes controversial vision for the university in difficult times.

Herbert, who recently drowned while vacationing in Costa Rica, became YSU’s provost in July 2005. The job is the second highest ranking position at YSU, behind only the president.

“We are all stunned by this tragic news,” said YSU President David C. Sweet. “As a member of the YSU family, a colleague and a friend, Bob will be missed by us all. Our deepest sympathies are with Bob’s wife and family.”

Further details about the death were not available, the university said Saturday in a statement; information on funeral arrangements also was not known.

Herbert’s wife is Dr. Barbara Nykiel-Herbert, a faculty member in YSU’s English department. They have two sons and a daughter.

A moment to remember

During the university’s annual Forté on the Fifty concert at Stambaugh Stadium Saturday evening, the flag flew at half-staff in memory of Dr. Herbert and the audience observed a moment of silence for him.

“It’s a shock. It’s tragic. Bob was a very intelligent man, a wonderful addition to campus ... He had done many good things and had a very bright future here, so it’s a sad day for the university, for his family and for the community,” said Scott Schulick, a university trustee.

“It’s a personal and professional tragedy. Bob worked very hard to raise the academic standards at YSU and manage a number of pressures that were facing the institution. He was committed to our students and our role as an open access university and very interested in the academic success of all of our students,” said Betty Jo Licata, dean of the university’s Williamson College of Business. He was “very sincere in trying to do the best job he could here at YSU,” she added.

Academic impact

“Dr. Herbert was just establishing himself as a leader ... and making strides to redesign our programs and guiding each of us — the deans — in new directions, and we’re going to miss his leadership,” said Joseph Edwards, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts.

“He was very highly reflective intellectually. He never jumped to a decision without considerable research, and [he was] very fair ... He was very encouraging to all of us from the standpoint of academic standards and growing,” Edwards added.

“We’re all shocked that Bob passed. He was a good guy. He was just beginning to make a significant impact on the university with the academic strategic plan,” said Hunter Morrison, director of the university’s office of campus planning and community partnerships. “He was just beginning to show his vision on the academic side,” Morrison said. “He was a dedicated academic and he wanted to build the school and have it reach its full potential and worked out some very thorny issues about how you organize for success for the future.”

Tough times

Part of Herbert’s tenure at YSU was rocky.

In April, a resolution introduced at a YSU Academic Senate meeting called for a vote of “no confidence” in Herbert, criticizing decisions he’d made regarding promotion, tenure, hiring, departmental governance and other important issues.

The resolution — which was then tabled — contended his actions “have severely damaged morale and have created unnecessary distractions from the fulfillment of the university’s mission.”

Sweet offered his “unequivocal” support for the provost. And the president of YSU’s Board of Trustees, Atty. John Pogue, made it clear that he supports both the president and provost.

“Any university executive, especially in the post that he had as chief academic officer, was going to have issues that people supported and those that people did not support, and his supporters and naysayers. But I think Bob was doing what needed to be done in terms of academic programs here, and I think he was a very good administrator,” Schulick said.

His accomplishments

“He really charted out a very clear path for what he wanted to accomplish and what he thought the university needed to accomplish, and he wasn’t afraid to keep moving on that, even when people disagreed or had different ideas. He really kept his eye on that vision, and that’s really one of his great strengths ... and something that I think we’ll really definitely miss,” said Alyssa Lenhoff-Dann, director of the university’s journalism program.

Margaret Briley, chairwoman of the counseling and special education department, said she believed Herbert tried to be fair. “There are things [he espoused] that I disagreed with. There are things that I agreed with ... He was generally supportive of what we needed to do in my department. He came in under tough budgetary times, and that always creates some controversy,” Briley said.

Before coming to YSU, Herbert was dean of liberal arts at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He also had served on the faculty at the University of Calgary in Canada; Michigan State University; and the State University of New York in Binghamton.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Herbert received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Queens College (City University of New York), a master’s degree and Ph.D. in linguistics from The Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Michigan.


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