By all accounts, Dr. Randy Dunn was on his way to becoming one of the more popular presidents in the history of Youngstown State University. We use the word “was” because now Dunn is persona non grata for many Mahoning Valley residents.
The unprofessional, disrespectful manner in which he announced that he is leaving YSU to take over the presidency of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale has destroyed the good will he worked so hard to create.
Dr. Dunn, who began his short-lived tenure at Youngstown State on July 15 of last year, is not deserving of the region’s good wishes as he moves on. He is abandoning the open-access, urban institution — at a time when Ohio’s 13 public universities and colleges are under intense scrutiny from Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The word out of Columbus is that state funding for higher education will not increase any time soon, which means Youngstown State must come to terms with a shrinking budget. The continued decline in enrollment has forced the administration and trustees to reduce spending. Another tuition increase is in the offing.
Dunn reached out to the faculty, staff and administrators and established a level of co- operation that drew high praise from all quarters of the university.
But, with the president departing on Aug. 16, if not sooner, YSU has suffered a major setback.
The kind and generous comments from trustee Chairman Dr. Sudershan Garg after a private meeting in which Dunn formally tendered his resignation were unwarranted.
Dunn’s failure to give the trustees a heads-up as to his intentions cannot be downplayed. It made his bosses look incompetent and ridiculous; they were forced to admit ignorance after the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University broke the story that Dunn was to be hired as president.
His excuse that he was operating under a confidentiality agreement with the SIU trustees is lame, at best. It is now clear that they wanted him to lead the university, where he had worked for many years, and that he wanted to be there.
Dunn could easily have told the SIU trustees that he owed the YSU trustees an early explanation for his plans to possibly leave so suddenly, given how supportive they have been of him since his coming to Youngstown.
But it isn’t just the way he handled his resignation that has caused us to reassess our support of him. We believe that his failure to serve out his contract is not only a breach of trust, but sends the wrong message to the university community, especially the students and the community at large.
There is a level of responsibility and commitment that comes with being president of a university (a public sector job in this case) that may not apply in the private sector.
Dunn was selected after an intense search and screening process that resulted in the trustees evaluating three finalists. They obviously believed that he not only was the ideal candidate for the position, but that he would be on board for the long haul.
His predecessor, Dr. Cynthia Anderson, who had served YSU for 40 years in various capacities, left at the end of her three-year contract. Her departure came as somewhat of a surprise.
Dunn had not indicated in any fashion that he would move the minute something better came along. He says he did not apply for the SIU presidency and only began thinking about it seriously after the consultant hired by that university approached him a second time.
If he resisted the headhunter’s approaches as he says, he was sensitive to simply “doing the right thing.” He must have realized that looking at a new job after only two months in the current one — where he was well liked, needed and seemingly effective — was not the professional or right thing to do.
Even if this were an opportunity of a lifetime — Dr. Garg used the words “unique opportunity” — the fact remains that YSU’s trustees spent more than $100,000 on the search and chose him over others because they believed he was the right fit for YSU.
His signing of a three-year contract sent an unambiguous message to the region: I intend to be around for at least that long.
As we see it, Dunn has put his personal interests ahead of the interests of Youngstown State University and the Mahoning Valley. And by not having the decency to give the trustees fair warning, he has broken faith with all those who put their trust in him.
We would suggest that rather than spend the next four-plus months looking for a new president, the trustees should instruct the consultant who brought Dunn to their attention to fast-track the new search.
The sooner he is sent packing, the better for the university and this region.
The upheaval caused by Randy Dunn’s sudden resignation cannot be minimized. Youngstown State’s budget has an $8 million hole that must be filled quickly, which means major cuts in spending are inevitable. The clock is ticking.