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YSU President Tressel?

Published: Sun, January 13, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

There was rampant chatter this week about whether a certain person would seek office.

And it wasn’t about the Youngstown mayor’s seat and Mayor Charles Sammarone or state Rep. Robert Hagan. (Both of them announced this week they do not want to be mayor next year.)

The chatter was about being boss of Youngstown State University and whether the post would be filled by Jim Tressel.

Or if it should be.

Or would he even want it if approached?

The Tressel love fest within the community and YSU operations is not new. It came up during the last presidential search. It came up last year for a development vacancy. But at this particular stage in life that both he and YSU find themselves, the prospects of such a marriage are ripe for deeper pondering.

And it has been deep of late.

It actually started within hours of President Cynthia Anderson’s retirement announcement. It swelled during the holiday social gatherings. This week, with the holidays past, the idea kicked into overdrive for some.

It was hard to not take part in the speculation and pondering.

“YSU President Jim Tressel” is instantly polarizing here — people either love the thought or do not. Without fail in my chatter this week, the path to anyone’s opinion always touched on the opposing opinions and never dismissed them outright. It was either:

“Jim Tressel would be a terrific president, but we note the challenges.”

Or ...

“Jim Tressel would not be ideal as president, but we know he would address immense needs here.”

Of the many ways to engage the idea of President Tressel, let’s consider these two truths:

Truth One: Much of a college president’s job these days is less about academics and more about business.

They have to stand for the academic institution, but they have to run for the money.

One YSU boss this week estimated that 50 percent of the president’s job is about money: finding it, encouraging it, controlling it.

Truth Two: Because of the above reality, more and more universities are hiring presidents who are less academic-based and more business-oriented.

In a 2012 report by the American Council on Education and featured in a Boston Globe story, 20 percent of U.S. college presidents are not traditional academicians. Six years ago, it was 13 percent.

The Globe wrote: “Many believe the trend is a symptom of the increasing corporatization of higher education, as colleges, especially smaller ones with lackluster or limited endowments, struggle to steady their finances and attract students willing and able to pay high tuition.”

So, many like what Tressel could mean to YSU. His ability to raise funds is perhaps unmatched in the Mahoning Valley and possibly Ohio.

Said one professor: A stronger academic background would be preferred, but Tressel could bring in much-needed external funding support.

One group more assertive in pursuit of “President Tressel” seized more on his other traits: pure leadership, direction and passion to succeed.

2013 will be a pivotal year for the area. We get to pick a Youngstown mayor and a YSU president in the same year. It’s happened twice before — 1984 and 1931.

With the emerging energy economy and downtown development, the area is ripe for a rebound. Dynamic leaders in both offices will be essential.

Tressel certainly can be that type — but for the cloud.

Some pause about “President Tressel” and the lack of doctoral letters after his name. But the big pause for some was more about his departure from Ohio State.

That will always be hard for folks to reconcile.

I think back (as I’ve done before) to Jack Nicholson on the stand in “A Few Good Men” — chiding Tom Cruise in that for him and others to live great, pretty, posh lives, it’s afforded by people like Nicholson who have to do work others deem unseemly.

It’s among the best truisms ever in screenwriting.

People enjoy big-time college athletics, with football being at the top. But it’s not pretty work. It’s an industry where the sidelines often are the only clear boundaries.

When Tressel went down, we had a “dirty-work” debate in the newsroom. One staffer admonished us and said that there is purity in college football.

His exact words: “Look at Joe Paterno and what he’s done for Penn State.”

Maybe not ...

The Tressel moral- compass argument came up in several ways this week, and it deflated most often. In one spirited chat, it was finally reasoned that Tressel’s wrongs will never, ever be equated with Jim Traficant or those of that ilk who stain the Valley legacy. Tressel’s misdeeds — whether at YSU or OSU — always were tied to player issues and not self-gain, they believed.

But that the issue is so central to any speculation, it may be more of a reason for Tressel to not seek the job at all — more so than the battle over the degreed initials after his name. He’s got a great gig at the University of Akron, and according to some, is being groomed to be president there.

His supporters are being told he’s not interested in the YSU job. But they’re not taking “no” that easily.

One YSU boss said a Tressel candidacy campaign would not be dismissed but would have to be from the more pure interests in the Valley — not the self-interests.

But if it did gain traction, the thought of handing him the job would be ill-conceived. A process is important. Said one official, “It’s a process that even a competitor like Coach would respect.”

So, we ponder President Tressel.

I’ll never be accused of conventional. I’m an enormous fan of going against the grain.

I think campuses need convincing connections to their communities that traditional academicians sometimes struggle to make.

I would not dismiss outright the thoughts of a Tressel presidency.

And the discussion this week showed others find it hard to walk away from the thought, too.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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