Finalists for YSU presidency must be questioned closely

In April 2007, during a visit to the Mahoning Valley, Chancellor of Higher Education Eric Fingerhut couched his vision for Youngstown State University in the following terms: The region needs to be very clear about what is required to drive its economy and on how higher education should focus its attention to meet that demand.

That vision should form the basis of the conversation the community will have with the four finalists for president of Youngstown State: Cynthia Anderson, vice president for student affairs at YSU; C. Jack Maynard, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Indiana State University; Cheryl J. Norton, president of Southern Connecticut State University; and, Aaron Podolefsky, president of the University of Central Missouri.

The finalists were recommended to the board of trustees by a screening committee, and campus interviews with all four will be conducted in mid-January. A successor to Dr. David Sweet, who is retiring on June 30, will be named in February or early March.

So, why should Fingerhut’s view of the world of higher education be taken seriously? Because he’s calling the shots with regard to Ohio’s public colleges and universities — with the full support of Gov. Ted Strickland. The governor made it clear in his state of the state address in March 2007 that institutions of higher learning must become key players in Ohio’s drive to compete in the global economy, and the chancellor, building on that foundation, said that each institution must not only justify its existence, but must have a clearly defined mission and identify areas of excellence.

The status quo is not an acceptable strategy.

Scott Schulick, president of YSU’s board of trustees, said last week that the four finalists were given copies of the master plan for higher education in Ohio and have shown an understanding of it. That’s good, because when Anderson, Maynard, Norton and Podolefsky meet with members of the campus community and the Valley community at large, they will be expected to discuss in detail how they intend to meet the goals set forth by the chancellor against the backdrop of the reality that is YSU.

Open admission

The urban university has an open admission policy which means anyone with a high school diploma or a general education diploma can attend. That presents a myriad of problems, foremost of which is the need to provide freshmen with remediation courses in the basics, especially math and English.

To address that, the state has created the Eastern Gateway Community College, which is intended to take in students who aren’t ready for the academic vigors of a four-year institution. EGCC began offering courses this year and as it expands its offerings more students will be directed away from YSU. That means a loss of enrollment and, by extension, a loss of revenue.

Fingerhut is of the opinion that YSU should be spending its time developing centers of excellence that would set it apart from all the other institutions in the state.

The finalists for the top job at YSU should be prepared to describe the role of an open admission university in an economically hard-hit region like the Mahoning Valley.

And, they should also be prepared to talk about the cost of attending YSU. The prospect of another 3.5 percent tuition increase will not sit well with the university’s primary stakeholders — tuition-paying students.

Does the higher education community, which happily takes bonuses and pay increases, understand what’s happening on Main Street, where it is getting harder to pay the bills? We’d like to hear the four finalists for president speak to that.

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