Tressel formal acceptance of YSU presidency brings hope

When James Tressel is installed Monday as the ninth president of Youngstown State University, he will have the distinction of being honored by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. It’s an indication of the strong relationship that exists between two well-known Ohioans.

Tressel will also not have the burden of intractable contract negotiations between YSU and the union representing the faculty. That’s because the two sides have reached a tentative agreement. Additionally, the union representing the classified employees agreed to extend its contract to the end of September. The pact was set to expire Friday.

While the details of the tentative agreement have not been made public, it is safe to assume that the other unions on campus will follow the faculty’s lead.

Against that backdrop, Tressel’s installation will certainly be more festive than it would have been had the prospect of a strike loomed large.

If you ask members of the unofficial Tressel fan club, led by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, to explain the governor’s presence, they’ll say it’s because the former football coach at Ohio State and YSU has friends in high places.

Indeed, that was one of the main arguments put forth by Ryan and the 31 other movers and shakers in the Mahoning Valley who wrote a letter to the board of trustees urging Tressel’s selection.

In their letter the supporters argued that the former championship-winning football coach has the “skill and experience needed to lead Youngstown State University forward.”

They noted that Tressel recognizes the importance of university collaborations with the private sector and local workforce.

“And he has the relationships and obvious leadership skills to build both the financial and organizational support for the YSU initiatives that will grow the university and broader economy.”

Important attributes

In making the case for their candidate to residents of the Mahoning Valley, Rep. Ryan and others acknowledged that the former vice president for student success at the University of Akron does not have a doctorate degree, but pointed out that he possesses other important attributes needed to run the university.

Thus, to members of the fan club, having the governor on hand for what is a common occurrence on college campuses — the hiring of university presidents occurs every eight years or so — bolsters the argument that Tressel enjoys a level of support in state government that could be of benefit to the open-access urban institution.

We, like others in the Mahoning Valley, are eager to hear what Gov. Kasich, who is seeking a second four-year term in the November general election, has to say about the future of higher education in Ohio against the backdrop of a decrease in state funding.

Since he took office in January 2011, Kasich has overseen two biennium state budgets, both of which resulted in a decrease in state dollars for Ohio’s 13 public universities and colleges.

YSU has been particularly hard hit because the revenue decline has been exacerbated by a drop in enrollment. In fiscal 2011, YSU received $46.95 million from Columbus; for fiscal 2015, the amount has been reduced to $38.22 million.

As a result, university trustees and Tressel, who officially took over as president on July 1, must confront this reality: As the fall 2014 semester begins this week, the dark financial cloud that has hung over the institution for the past several years is even darker today.

The decline in enrollment — which translates into a decrease in revenue — that began in 2011 does not show signs of recovery any time soon. There are reports that the number of full-time students will be down by 6 percent from fall 2013.

With classes set to begin Wednesday, the tentative contract agreement with the faculty would suggest that steps are being taken to deal with YSU’s financial challenges.

In 2011, the faculty union gave in to then-President Dr. Cynthia Anderson, who was part of the university community for four decades. It’s noteworthy that she became president with the solid support of all the unions on campus.

No raises

By any measure, the three-year pact was not employee-friendly. There were no pay raises in the first two years of the agreement, and a 2 percent increase for the 2013-14 academic year.

Anderson’s successor, Dr. Randy Dunn, whose seven-month tenure caused a great deal of consternation and anger on and off campus, tried to include all sectors of the university population in a discussion about the budget and the need for cuts before the start of negotiations.

Now, it’s Tressel’s turn. He was at the University of Akron when more than 60 academic programs were cut in order to reduce operating costs and, thus, is well aware of what needs to be done at Youngstown State to deal with the current fiscal crisis. We wish him well.

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