By looking on campus for the next president of Youngstown State University, members of the board of trustees have made a calculated decision that Dr. Cynthia Anderson, vice president for student affairs, is up to the challenge of charting a new course for the four-year, open admission, urban institution.
Anderson, who has been affiliated with Youngstown State for 30 years, as a student and an employee, was chosen over three other finalists: Dr. C. Jack Maynard, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Indiana State University; Dr. Cheryl J. Norton, president of Southern Connecticut State University; and, Dr. Aaron Podolefsky, president of the University of Central Missouri.
All four candidates participated in campus and community interviews in January, and trustees said at the time that any of the four would be a good choice for YSU. The university has never had a female president.
Anderson, 59, was formally selected Wednesday during a special meeting of the board of trustees.
Anderson, who was not present for the announcement, will take office July 1, succeeding Dr. David Sweet, whose contract expires June 30. Sweet has been president of YSU since July 2000.
While YSU has made tremendous strides in the past decade academically, financially and in the institution’s physical expansion, major challenges will confront Sweet’s successor.
Like the other 12 public universities in Ohio, Youngstown State is under pressure from Chancellor of Higher Education Eric Fingerhut to meet new goals. It isn’t enough to say the university is making higher education accessible to students who might otherwise not attend, or to individuals who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree.
It is also not enough to argue that YSU’s enrollment of 14,000 is an indication of its success. Chancellor Fingerhut wants to know how the institution fits into his 10-year strategic plan for higher education in Ohio. The plan is built around the University System of Ohio, which the General Assembly created to bring about the integration of all the state’s public universities and colleges.
For YSU, the chancellor envisions an urban research institution that is an integral part of the region’s economic growth, especially in the field of high technology.
He also expects YSU to identify areas of academic study that would enable it to stand out among the other universities and colleges.
To accomplish that, the new president will have to deal with the issue of YSU’s open admission status. Currently, anyone with a high school diploma or a general education diploma can enroll. As a result, a large number of freshmen are ill-prepared for the pressures of academia and, therefore, need remediation in the basics, especially English and Math.
Fingerhut wants the new Eastern Gateway Community College to take in those students who aren’t ready for university life. Anderson will have deal with YSU’s loss of students.
Another challenge confronting her is the funding formula for state dollars that is based on retention and graduation rates. Previously, the formula considered the number of full-time equivalent students.
Youngstown State’s retention rate has improved over the years, but the graduation rate is not encouraging.
Finally, the new president will have to face the economic realities of the Mahoning Valley and the state of Ohio.
As vice president for student affairs, Anderson served as the administration’s negotiator in contract talks with the faculty. Those talks resulted in pay raises, but more significantly, the agreement opened the door to increases for other union employees on campus.
Indeed, members of the Association of Classified Employees received a $4,500 bonus last December for the enrollment growth.
But the next time around, the president and the trustees will have to consider the fact that state funding could well be cut again.
Anderson may well have to say no to those same unions.
In remarks after the nine trustees voted unanimously for Sweet’s successor, board Chairman Scott Schulick offered this public pledge: The new president will be held accountable for YSU’s successes and failures. Schulick also made it clear that the status quo is not acceptable and that much will be expected of Anderson.
And, he pointed out that with a tight budget, an urban research designation, the emergence of a separate community college and the loss or reduction of resources, the new president will be forced to find new ways of doing things.
“She will have to say no,” Schulick said.
We would agree.
In hiring a new president, which Schulick said is the most important decision trustees are called on to make, they collectively concluded that a vice president for student affairs who has never worked in other institutions of higher education is better prepared to lead YSU than three other candidates with deeper academic r sum s and broader experience. Two were presidents and the third a provost/vice president of similarly sized institutions.
The reaction in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center when Anderson’s selection was announced made it obvious that she was the popular choice among those attending. It will quickly fall to her to demonstrate that the trustees made the right choice.