By Harold Gwin
The UCM board did not renew Podolefsky’s contract as president.
YOUNGSTOWN — Aaron Podolefsky said he is a man who gets things done.
The 14th president of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., has helped that school get national recognition for academic quality and innovative sustainability efforts during his five years in office.
Now, he is looking to bring that expertise to Youngstown State University.
Podolefsky is one of four finalists for YSU president to succeed David C. Sweet who will retire in June.
Podolefsky, 63, will be on campus early this week and will speak at an open public forum Monday in the board of trustees meeting room on the first floor of Tod Hall.
Under his leadership, Central Missouri, with about 11,000 students, has set records for the highest quality first-year class, the highest graduation rate and the highest job-placement rate in the school’s history. It also has launched a $36 million energy project that includes the drilling of 150 geothermal wells to cut campus utility costs.
“He is a very energetic and determined person,” said Davie Davis, president of the faculty senate at UCM. “He’s done a very good job. We’re much better off than we were five years ago.”
It’s pretty clear that Youngstown is a very exciting place, Podolefsky said, citing YSU’s recent designation as an urban research university as an example that the university is “on an upward trajectory.”
It has a lot of community connections geared to help foster economic development and a good academic profile, he said, adding, “It’s a good fit for me.”
“I like to hear a lot of ideas. I tend to be pretty open,” Podolefsky said in describing his administrative style. He said he encourages people to toss out ideas and attempts to develop a consensus before making final decisions.
He said he is aware of past labor strife at YSU.
His experience with labor unions at UCM has been limited because faculty in Missouri don’t organize, but the physical plant staff has a bargaining unit. However, as provost at the University of Northern Iowa before coming to UCM, he was the highest ranking university employee at the bargaining table with faculty.
“It’s a lot like a marriage. We all hope that it will go smoothly,” he said, explaining that he is interested in working collaboratively and transparently when it comes to negotiations.
Retaining faculty, attracting more students, dealing with economic challenges and the loss of federal stimulus funds in 2012 are issues that all colleges and universities are facing, Podolefsky said. YSU is positioned to put out more math and science graduates with its new College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, he said.
Although he says five years is about the average tenure for a university president, Podolefsky’s departure from UCM is the result of the school’s board of governors voting 4-3 not to renew his contract last October. It expires June 30.
He has since been a finalist for the presidency of two other schools — Central Washington University and Georgia Southern University — though he withdrew from consideration at Georgia because he didn’t feel it was a correct fit.
“We appreciate the contributions President Podolefsky has made in leading the university through a name change, the current construction projects, and successful efforts to improve the academic profile of the university,” Richard Phillips, president of the UCM Board of Governors, said at the time of the board vote.
Phillips declined to discuss the reasons for the board’s action, saying it is “a personnel matter.”
Podolefsky did some good things for the university, he said, citing ongoing building projects and a renewed emphasis on academics. He disputed suggestions that a change in board membership resulted in a change in board direction. Things may change a bit as new personalities come on the scene, but the board’s values don’t change much, he said.
Deleta Williams, former board president, left the board shortly after that vote as her term expired. She was a Podolefsky supporter and voted to renew his contract.
“I thought he did a very good job,” Williams said, pointing out that Podolefsky provided good leadership, and the university moved forward under his direction.
“Cronyism” is the word she described as what happened regarding the president’s contract.
A number of new board members were appointed and apparently had a different agenda, Williams said, adding that it appeared that some members took exception to the president holding the UCM athletic department accountable for not staying within its annual budgets.
“I think he’s done some good things for the campus,” said Jerry Hughes, UCM athletic director, rating Podolefsky as “a good, decent president.” He helped persuade the board to enact a student athletic fee to help finance athletic programs, Hughes said.
You may not always agree with him, but he is the boss, Hughes said.
Podolefsky has strong support on campus. UCM students organized a march in his support and 52 percent of the tenured faculty signed a petition asking the board of governors to renew his contract.
Community support was strong as well. A poll conducted by The Daily Star-Journal in Warrensburg, Mo., showed that 70 percent of the respondents wanted him to stay, and a UCM student newspaper poll showed 83 percent of the respondent campus community agreed.
Podolefsky said it was clear the board majority wanted to go in a new direction, adding, “I’m really affirmed by the response on campus.”
“I don’t think anybody can argue with the success (of Podolefsky’s presidency),” said Jack Miles, editor of The Daily Star-Journal. “I think he’s going to be very difficult to replace.”
Aaron Podolefsky is one of four finalists for president of Youngstown State University. Here are his academic credentials:
Bachelor’s degree in mathematics: 1968, San Jose State University.
Master’s in liberal studies: 1974, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Master’s in anthropology: 1975, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Doctorate with distinction in anthropology: 1978, State University of New York at Stone Brook.
2005-present: President and professor of anthropology, University of Central Missouri.
1998-2005: Provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of anthropology, University of Northern Iowa.
1990-98: Dean, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and professor of anthropology, University of Northern Iowa.
1986-90: Department head and professor of anthropology, Western Kentucky University.
1985-86: Associate chair and associate professor of anthropology, West Virginia University
1979-85: Assistant professor of anthropology, West Virginia University.
1978-79: Research associate, Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University.
Spring 1978: Lecturer and acting director: Youth & Community Studies Program, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Spring 1976: Acting lecturer in anthropology, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
1974-77: Teaching Assistant: Oceania, Ecology & Social Organization.
1971-73: Mathematics teacher, Brentwood, N.Y., Public Schools.
1968-70: Mathematics Teacher: Copaigue, N.Y., Public Schools.
Source: Aaron Podolefsky