By DENISE DICK
The direction of Youngstown State University will depend in large part on how presidential candidates from Rhode Island, Kentucky and Pennsylvania sell their visions to the board of trustees.
University trustees — all Mahoning Valley residents — chose out-of-state candidates this time, after choosing one of the university’s own as president in the last search in 2010.
YSU trustees last week accepted the recommendation of a search committee for William R. Decatur, Randy J. Dunn and James D. Moran III.
Each candidate will visit campus late this month or early in May.
Cynthia Anderson, university president, will retire July 1, ending a four-decade-long career at YSU. In July 2010, she became the university’s first woman, first Mahoning Valley native and first YSU graduate to assume the presidency in the university’s 104-year history.
Each candidate in the running to replace her has experience with union negotiations, fundraising and administration.
Decatur is executive vice president at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Dunn is president of Murray State University in Murray, Ky., and Moran is the vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in Harrisburg.
WILLIAM R. DECATUR
Before moving to the private school in 2010, Decatur worked at Ohio University from 2006 as senior vice president for finance and administration, chief financial officer and treasurer. From 1999 to 2006, he worked in finance and operations at the University of Toledo including 13 months as interim president.
He also worked at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the Ohio Office of Budget and Management in Columbus.
He pointed to his extensive experience in higher education as a strength, including as an interim president and serving at three Ohio metropolitan universities.
At the time he served as the interim president in Toledo, Decatur didn’t want the permanent position.
“I was asked to step in at a time when my children were young,” Decatur said. “I didn’t want to be a candidate. I was actually approached to rethink that. Being a president is an excellent opportunity but an all-consuming responsibility, but my children were in elementary, middle and high school at the time. It was a direction I didn’t want to go at that time.”
In the interim role, Decatur said he established an enrollment and retention policy, restored better relations with the university community, in creased enrollment, began a strategic planning process and oversaw a $10 million development campaign.
“I feel I have experience across the breadth of higher education,” Decatur said.
When he decided he wanted to be a university president, he was advised that a private school might provide the best path to that so when the position opened at the Rhode Island school, which he describes as the country’s No. 1 design school, he pursued it.
“I miss being in the public sector,” he said. “With the opportunity at Youngstown, it feels like something I’m prepared to do.”
Vern Snyder, vice president of institutional advancement at the University of Toledo who formerly served seven years as YSU’s vice president for development and community affairs, arrived at UT shortly after Decatur completed his term as interim president.
He described his former colleague as “very fine, very competent.”
“He had his ducks in a row,” Snyder said. “He knew what he was talking about. I thought he might end up being a president some day.”
Decatur, whose interim term followed what Snyder said was a failed administration, has a broad understanding of higher education, he said.
Based on his Youngstown experience, Snyder said he believes Decatur would be a good fit for YSU.
RANDY J. DUNN
Dunn, Murray State president since 2006, formerly served as Illinois’ state schools superintendent and as a professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, assistant professor, school superintendent and principal.
He’s also one of four finalists for president of Illinois State University.
Last month, Murray State’s Board of Regents voted not to renew Dunn’s contract, which expires in 2014. That kicked off a firestorm of controversy.
The vote happened the day after a meeting at one of the regents’ homes where university business was discussed. A Lexington, Ky., lawyer filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, saying that meeting was illegal and last week, the attorney general issued an opinion that the meeting violated the state’s open meetings law.
Constantine Curris, the board of regents chairman, couldn’t be reached. Several years ago, he served as Murray State’s president and was terminated.
In 2009, Curris, then president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, was the featured speaker at YSU’s spring commencement and received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from the university.
After the vote to not renew Dunn’s contract, one of the regents resigned and both the faculty senate and staff congress expressed disapproval with the decision, according to reports in the Murray Ledger and Times.
Radio station WKMS also reported that a 2012 student survey showed high marks for Dunn. A donor/alumnus also wrote a letter to the
Lexington Courier-Journal, expressing “total disbelief” in the board’s decision.
John Young Jr., president of the staff congress, said “dismay and disbelief” were reactions on campus as well.
“Both before and after the vote, there was strong support shown on campus for the president,” he said.
He said the university’s staff has a good relationship with Dunn, and Young said his personal relationship with the president is excellent.
“He’s always been very open with us and receptive to our ideas,” Young said. “We always felt free to be able to go and discuss anything we wanted to with him.”
The staff congress and faculty senate are bodies representing the interests of those individuals. Murray State’s faculty and staff aren’t unionized.
Dunn believes the board’s decision stems from “a philosophical disagreement between myself and the board chair on the direction and future growth ... of the university. To some degree, it may be a generational issue — how each of us defines the president’s role and need for transparency and openness and shared governance.”
Dunn has advocated the importance of transparency and collaboration in university operations.
He said he doesn’t question the board’s authority to not renew his contract. Last summer, it became clear to Dunn that his relationship with Curris had eroded. He asked the board chairman to bring in a facilitator for a board retreat to have a neutral third party to try to start a dialogue. Curris declined, Dunn said.
“I’m not trying to cast blame,” he said. “The relationship between a board and a president is much like a marriage — over time, relationships fray.”
The board voted not to renew his contract. It didn’t fire him or dismiss him for cause, Dunn pointed out. If he doesn’t secure another position, he’ll remain at Murray State through the remainder of his contract.
Dunn believes if he’s selected as president, he would be able to continue YSU’s efforts to improve the region. That’s something he’s done at Murray State, he said.
“I’ve tried to have the university be an engine in the region for growth,” Dunn said. “In my view, that’s what a great state university does that sets it apart from other schools.”
He said building trust and authentic relationships is another of his strengths.
“If you don’t have that type of thing, you can’t keep moving forward,” Dunn said. “With trust, comes commitment, comes action.”
JAMES D. MORAN III
During his time at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Moran was appointed interim president of Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pa. As part of the arrangement between the Office of the Chancellor for which Moran works, and the university, Moran wasn’t permitted to apply for the permanent appointment. The entities wanted to avoid the impression that the chancellor had appointed the university’s president.
But he loved the job.
“It was a lot of fun getting back and engaging with students and faculty,” he said. “It was a real pleasure — and interacting with the community as well.”
T.J. Jemetz, Edinboro’s borough manager, said before Moran’s arrival at the university, there was a lot of friction between the university and the municipality.
“At the time, the administration [at the university] was hostile toward the municipality,” Jemetz said. “It was not a good relationship at all.”
Moran met with borough and Erie County officials, as well as business leaders and representatives from community groups, to rebuild relationships, Jemetz said.
The municipality surrounding any university that hires Moran should be happy to have him, he said.
“He’s a great person and he’ll do well wherever he goes,” Jemetz said.
Before joining Pennsylvania’s system, Moran served as assistant vice president of academic affairs and as an associate vice president at the University of Tennessee System Office. He also was a dean, associate dean and acting department head at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a vice president at the University of Tennessee Research Corp. and also worked at Oklahoma State University and Virginia Tech.
He said one of the things that intrigues him about YSU is its vibrant link with the community. He pointed to students working with area companies and organizations.
“Both the community and the university are on the move,” Moran said.
He said one of his strengths is transparency.
“One of the compliments I got — and it was from a grounds keeper at Edinboro — was, ‘You have common sense,’” Moran said. “That’s my passion. I have a passion for student success, for quality programs for students that really position them for a career and life success.”
Higher education changes life trajectories, he said.
“That’s where my passion is and what I believe,” he said. “It’s why public higher education is so important in a place like Youngstown, not just for first-generation students but for second and third generations.”