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Concierge service at YSU?

Published: Sun, June 20, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Just as they did last Christmas, 400 employees of Youngstown State University will be laughing all the way to the bank this holiday season. For, while many Mahoning Valley families will again be sacrificing due to the economic recession, members of the Association of Classified Employees will be cashing their $2,000 bonus checks.

And just as they were unable to do last year, the ACE employees will again be at pains to explain why they received the money — other than the bonuses are a negotiated item in the contract.

Financially harried taxpayers can gain some solace from the fact that this year’s $2,000 “gift” is less than the $4,500 the 400 employees each received in 2009.

So, why the largess in the midst of a roiling economy that has seen this region’s unemployment rate consistently surpass the national average? Because YSU’s student enrollment has again increased. Never mind that the increase is a function of the economy — universities and colleges nationwide are reporting growth — and is not the result of our dear overworked public employees going the extra mile to recruit students. Indeed, ACE employees have nothing to do with enrollment.

However, to the credit of the union’s negotiators and to the shame of the administration of Dr. David Sweet, these folks reap the financial benefits of the enrollment hike.

Something for nothing

The 400 are no doubt embarrassed that they’re getting something for nothing (granted, that is the culture of public sector employment), and would jump at the chance to ease their consciences. Here’s how they can do that: Offer free concierge service to the students.

For instance, since many of the incoming freshmen will be unprepared for college life and will need to spend a lot of time taking remedial courses (13th grade of high school?), ACE members would make their lives a lot easier by doing their laundry, cleaning their dorm rooms, escorting them around campus, and even performing cafeteria duty so they can pick up after the newbies.

Being away from home is traumatic.

The projected enrollment for the fall semester is 15,058, compared with last fall’s 14,682 students. The 2.6 percent increase will generate $2.6 million in new tuition revenue. And of that amount, the ACE employees will pocket $800,000.

Dare it be said — again and again? Nice work if you can get it.

But here’s the kick in the pants: The money generated by the enrollment increase will not be enough to cover the increased costs resulting from the higher number of students on campus. The money has to come from somewhere — the state is in no position to give YSU a financial attaboy — and the administration and members of the board of trustees have shown little interest in seeking across-the-board pay reductions and other concessions to make ends meet.

So, the money will come out of the pockets of the students in the form of tuition and fee increases.

On June 11, nine of the 10 members of the board of trustees voted to boost tuition by 3.5 percent for the fall semester. It’s the second such increase in two years — following two years of tuition freezes.

The no-vote came from Harry Meshel, a long-time Valley politico and former president of the Ohio Senate, who objected to what he said was the Sweet administration’s view that the trustees were there to rubber stamp proposals.

Dr. Sweet will be retiring at the end of this month and will be succeeded by Dr. Cynthia Anderson, who has been on YSU’s payroll for more than 30 years and most recently was vice president for student affairs.

Chief negotiator

Anderson was the administration’s chief negotiator with the faculty union, and although she had no involvement in the ACE contract talks, the faculty did quite well in the last agreement.

Meshel should have an easier time with the new administration, seeing as how he was one of her strongest supporters during the presidential selection process.

Whether the new president will take a hard line in the next contract is anyone’s guess. But her background and experience suggest that employee sacrifice will not be her guiding principle.

And so, the pockets of the students will continue to be picked.

State funding for higher education is based on retention and graduation rates. At YSU, only 38 percent of students graduate — after six years.

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