Bitter medicine necessary to cure Youngstown State

With a $6.6 million operating budget deficit and no conceivable way of boosting revenue immediately, Youngstown State University President Randy Dunn has devised a cost-cutting plan that will be a bitter pill to swallow for many on campus. But doing nothing, or the bare minimum, were not options.

When you consider that Youngstown State has lost more than $20 million over three fiscal years, due largely to a decline in enrollment and a reduction in state funding, the plan developed by Dunn, who has been president three months, is necessary and reasonable.

Why reasonable? Because he made sure that neither academics nor student services would be impacted.

“We have reached a critical crossroads,” the president said late last month in rolling out the cost-cutting program. “These actions, developed through an extensive, six-week contingency planning process, are necessary to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget and to begin to address the structural challenges we have in the university’s revenue-and-spending model.”

A combination of a freeze in discretionary spending, operating-budget reductions across campus, a reduction in technology expenditures and reduction in personnel, including layoffs of five full-time and four part-time nonfaculty employees, make up the scheme.

Although the unions on campus have expressed disappointment that the trustees, who approved the measures Sept. 25, did not explore more innovative solutions to deal with the $6.6 million deficit, the reality is that there aren’t many options to making ends meet when most of the revenue goes for personnel costs, including salaries and benefits.

There are rumblings that the trustees have increased the number of administrative positions while reducing the number of faculty. Figures provided by the university show that in the past four years, the number of administrators rose by one — 21 to 22 — while the number of faculty dropped from 457 to 424.

According to the university, part of the reason for the faculty decrease was a retirement/severance plan that took place over the last two fiscal years. There was an understanding that not all those positions would be filled immediately .

Even so, the university hired 37 new faculty members this year.

While Dunn and the trustees are moving quickly to deal with the budget deficit, they are also looking ahead. Last week, the new position of associate vice president for enrollment planning and management was filled at a salary of $137,000.

Enrollment ‘guru’

Gary D. Swegan, who was described as the “guru” of enrollment, will begin his challenging job Nov. 18. Swegan is currently assistant vice president for enrollment management and director of admissions at Bowling Green State University.

At first glance, the salary may appear too high against the backdrop of cutting costs, but the reality of YSU’s enrollment decline over the past three years requires an aggressive campaign to attract more students.

Swegan’s performance will be relatively easy to evaluate. If enrollment climbs, he will be given the credit; if it declines, he will be blamed.

Meanwhile, a proposal from the unions for the formation of a task force made up of representatives of the board of trustees, the administration and the unions to discuss YSU’s long-range strategy to get the university on firm financial ground is timely and encouraging. It shows a willingness on the part of the entire university community to chart Youngstown State’s future.

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