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Let’s not enthrone Tressel

Published: Sun, February 23, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Thirteen months ago, in the midst of the campaign on behalf of Jim Tressel for the presidency of Youngstown State University, the following headline appeared in this space: “Tressel could lead a Y-juco.”

The column argued that if the public believed YSU was a glorified junior college (juco) — community college — then Tressel would be perfect as president.

On the other hand, if the public believed YSU was on the cusp of academic significance, then the former football coach at YSU and Ohio State was not the man for the job.

Tressel, whose fall from grace at Ohio State is now a significant part of his resume, ultimately notified the board of trustees that he wasn’t interested in succeeding Dr. Cynthia Anderson, who stepped down after three years.

But that has not dissuaded his supporters, who are once again making a pitch on his behalf.

Dunn’s departure

The presidency of YSU will be vacant on Aug. 16 — or sooner — when Dr. Randy Dunn leaves for Southern Illinois University. Dunn took over from Anderson on July 15, but just a couple of months into his assignment began contemplating a move to greener pastures.

Dunn’s leaving has angered many Mahoning Valley residents. They rightly accuse him of disloyalty and a breach of trust.

YSU’s trustees have been reluctant to publicly criticize the president for not giving them any warning about his intentions and for leaving the university high and dry.

Against that backdrop, the campaign on behalf of Tressel has been launched with great intensity.

Last week, Congressman Tim Ryan and 31 other prominent residents of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties sent a letter to the trustees urging the appointment of one of the most popular individuals in the Valley.

Some of the names on the list are easily recognizable, others not so. But the fact remains that each of them is a long-time supporter of YSU, in general, and Tressel, in particular.

Indeed, if several of the signees of the letter are to be judged by their wealth, it is clear that money is the root of the campaign.

Trustees looking over the list could discern the underlying message of the Tressel-for-president push: We have the financial wherewithal to assist the university in dealing with its fiscal crisis, but we want our man at the helm.

Perhaps that’s reading too much into the letter sent by Ryan et al, but it’s no secret that the well-heeled advocates did not accumulate their wealth by being milquetoasts. They are unrelenting when it comes to achieving their goals.

Such single-minded intensity is hard to ignore.

But while the letter to the trustees is unwavering in its support of Tressel and, in fact, urges the board to act expeditiously, caution is advised.

The million-dollar question (or whatever the appropriate amount) is this: How will Tressel’s departure from Ohio State after he was found to have lied to the NCAA affect his credibility as a university president?

He is currently vice president for strategic engagement at the University of Akron, and there are reports that he is being considered for the presidency of that institution.

His violation of NCAA rules while Ohio State’s football coach does not appear to have affected his standing at Akron. Indeed, he is being hailed for securing a lot of money from U of A supporters to fund the programs he has developed to promote student success.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Tressel is making a name for himself on campus and has established a rapport with members of the board of trustees.

Cause for concern

That relationship is cause for concern for those advocating his appointment to YSU’s top job. Hence, they’re pushing for a prompt decision by the trustees.They contend that Tressel’s ability to raise money is exactly what YSU needs.

But, does the urban, open-access institution that is under pressure from Columbus to improve its academic standards benefit from having a president who is not from the ranks of acaddemia?

Finding the best and the brightest individual to serve as provost will address the university’s academic needs, the pro-Tressel forces will argue.

A debate over the future of YSU is timely and necessary.

There should not be a coronation of Jim Tressel.

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