As the board of trustees of Youngstown State University begins the process of naming a successor to President Cynthia Anderson, members should discuss if there’s enough time between now and July 1 to come up with just the right person to lead the institution in these challenging times for higher education in Ohio.
Dr. Anderson is retiring after a four-decade career with YSU, and while her tenure as president is relatively brief, she has certainly left her mark with her students-first philosophy.
“Dr. Anderson has been an incredible leader and tireless advocate for our students,” said Dr. Sudershan Garg, board chairman.
Whoever replaces her, however, will have to deal with exterior pressures, foremost of which is the new state funding formula for public universities and colleges, and with the tensions that are part of an open admissions, four-year institution.
Indeed, in anticipation of the state de-emphasizing full-time enrollment and phasing out the credit universities receive for providing remediation courses to high school graduates who aren’t ready for higher education, the board adopted a new enrollment program developed by Anderson. Incoming students who appear unready for the academic rigors of YSU are being admitted conditionally.
The new president would not only have to have a deep understanding of the role YSU and other such universities play in the community, but would need to know how they fit into Ohio’s overall scheme.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, who has tapped the president of Ohio State University, Dr. Gordon Gee, to be his chief adviser on higher education, has made it clear that the public universities and colleges can no longer look to the state to bolster their operating budgets.
Indeed, the new funding formula developed by a special commission led by Dr. Gee emphasizes graduation rates — preferably in four years, instead of the normal six — and down plays full-time enrollment. YSU’s enrollment growth has been a major source of state dollars.
In the next biennium, YSU could receive the same amount of money in the first year as in the current fiscal year. A reduction in state dollars is more likely in the second year.
In addition, there is talk in Columbus of putting a cap on tuition increases.
The new president will have to deal with such issues, which is why trustees should take their time in naming a successor to Anderson. They should consider hiring an inerim president, which would give them the luxury of, first and foremost, determining the kind of person YSU needs at the helm to guide it into a challenging future. Without the pressure to act quickly, the trustees could launch an aggressive national search for the next president.
Dr. Anderson’s selection came on the heels of an extensive process that began shortly after Thanksgiving of 2009. The board of trustees appointed a special screening committee and also hired a national company to identify individuals around the country who could be a good fit for an institution where many students are the first in their families to pursue higher education.
As part of that search, the finalists were put through an evaluation process on campus. Faculty and staff had a chance to hear their presentations and grade them, while a cross-section of the greater Mahoning Valley community was able to meet with the finalists and question them.
The board of trustees should either adopt that same process, or come up with one that is even more far reaching.
What should not happen is a rush to judgment, which could be detrimental to Youngstown State’s future.