Not to rain on Youngstown State University President Cynthia Anderson’s parade, but her first State of the University address last week was a missed opportunity. To be sure, there were a lot of kumbaya moments, as in “I have over 1,400 wonderful colleagues across the campus who are dedicated, committed and share a passion for YSU; plus 92,000 alums,” but the one word that was missing from the approximately 2,700-word speech was sacrifice.
Perhaps Anderson, whose ties to YSU span three decades, wanted her first address to the administrators, faculty and staff to be positive and upbeat. However, to ignore the 800-pound gorilla sitting on her lap is to ignore today’s reality of higher education in Ohio.
State government is bracing for a fiscal tsunami next year, with the possible loss of $8 billion in revenue, which means that across-the-board cuts in funding are inevitable. In the current biennium budget, higher education was spared major reductions in appropriations, but that gravy train won’t be around next year.
Which is why the new president of YSU should have tackled the issue of the upcoming labor negotiations with the unions head on. In her speech, Anderson did touch on the economic challenges ahead when she said, “Please know that it is a new day. It would be no matter who was standing before you today. Business as usual is just not possible. We, as an institution, cannot afford to do things the way they have always been done if we are to successfully compete with other institutions of higher learning in the 21st century.”
It’s unfortunate that Anderson did not take that a step further with a direct appeal to her “colleagues.” Here’s what she should have said:
“My friends, your current contracts will be expiring next year and just so there’s no misunderstanding when negotiations begin, I will be asking for sacrifices from each of you. In the last contract, the university was so generous, it was criminal. The pay raises, the bonuses, the benefit packages have left a bitter taste in the mouths of our stakeholders, the students and their parents. To add insult to injury, we raised the tuition and fees to meet our expenses.”
The three-year contracts with the faculty, classified employees, professional staff and the administrators is costing YSU millions of dollars. Details of the largess have been widely publicized. And every time there is mention of the bonuses that the classified employees have received, for instance, the public reaction becomes all the more negative.
Indeed, the new president’s own contract has caused some consternation because of the current economic turmoil locally and on the state and national levels.
Her salary has skyrocketed from $142,256, when she was vice president for student affairs, to $350,000. In the second year of her three-year contract, Anderson will earn $375,000; in the third year, $400,000.
She also gets a vehicle from the university, professional dues, travel, entertainment and relocation expenses.
YSU is renovating the Pollock House on Wick Avenue to become the president’s residence.
It should be clear by now that university employees have not felt the pain of the economic recession and certainly haven’t had to sacrifice the way private- sector taxpayers are doing.
Thus, their days of wine and roses must come to an end.
The compensation package that the board of trustees approved for Anderson should not be viewed as precedent setting.
For her part, the president must be willing to play hardball with members of her university family — even as she rakes in the dough.
The money from Columbus is drying up and before the trustees give any thought to increasing tuition, they should demonstrate a willingness to act in the best interest of the stakeholders by cutting expenses.
There can be no sacred cows.
It may even be necessary to ask the employees for concessions — something that past presidents and boards of trustees have been reluctant to do. They have this ridiculous idea that if they don’t keep giving in to the demands of the employees, they’ll be an exodus of good faculty and administrators.
There won’t be. Jobs in higher education are hard to come by these days.