YSU isn’t unique among state universities facing challenges

Perhaps the most surprising AS- pect of recent efforts to reach a contract with faculty members of Youngstown State University is that some faculty still express a combination of amazement and a sense of martyrdom that they had to make concessions.

We’re pleased that YSU-OEAmembers ultimately approved the contract that was offered to them, but we have our own sense of amazement that the union vote was a close one.

A day before, members of the Association of Classified Employees, which represents clerical, maintenance and other university employees, approved a tentative agreement. It, like the faculty contract, calls for no raises the first two years, a 2 percent increase the third year and increased costs for health care. It also eliminates enrollment bonuses. ACE officials reported that the final count was 190 yes, 63 no.

Classified employees approved their contract by a 3-1 margin, while a similar contract only squeaked through in the faculty vote.

It is difficult not to conclude that nearly half of the voting faculty has either a tenuous grasp on the economics of the day or an inflated sense of their own value in the market place.

That last trait was demonstrated during the negotiations when one faculty member opined that he was worth $200,000 a year in private enterprise, about twice his university salary.

What is anything worth?

The statement reminded us of an anecdote. A man we know likes to browse though antique malls; his wife accompanies him reluctantly. Invariably he will spot some artifact of his childhood — say a tin gas station/carwash — with a price tag of $100. “Look at that,” he’ll exclaim, “I had one of those, and we threw it away. Now it’s worth $100.” She’ll roll her eyes and respond, “No, dear, if it was worth $100, it wouldn’t still be here.”

Tomorrow, that toy may sell for the ticketed price, or five years from now it may sell for $50 — or $200. The value of anything varies with the times and circumstances. It is flexible, and it is incumbent on all of us to recognize that.

We recognize that Youngstown State University is a vital asset to the city and the entire Mahoning Valley. And, obviously the university is the sum of its facilities, its history, its students and its faculty and other employees. But we also recognize that YSU faces economic challenges today that reach beyond cuts in state funding.

The university faces competition for entry level students from Eastern Gateway Community College, and it has to adapt to a new state funding formula that rewards retention of students and graduation rates, not enrollment numbers.

In short, it is quite possible that the negotiations of 2011 will prove to be easier than those of 2014. And while YSU will face some unique challenges in the coming years, it will not be unique in facing challenges. Virtually every institution of higher learning, at least those in Ohio, is going to have to adapt.

Some, with The Ohio State University at the top of the list, will have more pull in Columbus than the lower-tier institutions. But all are going to be making decisions that will roil some of the people on campus — from students to classified employees to faculty and administrators.

The sooner everyone recognizes that hard reality, the better.

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