There was never any doubt about Jim Tressel’s ability to positively connect with the Youngstown State University community and the Mahoning Valley community at large. Tressel is, first and foremost, a people person — as evidenced by the rousing welcome he has received since being appointed the ninth president of Youngstown State University.
The doubts about the head coach of Ohio State University’s and YSU’s championship football teams taking over the presidency stem from his not having a doctorate degree.
Youngstown State, an urban, open-access institution, is at a crossroads academically because of the continuing decline in enrollment and the reduction in state funding for higher education.
Programs will have to be cut — just as they were at the University of Akron, where Tressel served as executive vice president for student success.
While it is true that the provost — vice president for academic affairs — would ultimately be responsible for determining which course offerings should be eliminated, Tressel would still have to sign off on the cuts.
Indeed, the provost position at YSU is vacant, and the first order of business for the new president and the board of trustees is to find the best person for the job.
Tressel, who as the winning coach at Ohio State and YSU surrounded himself with good assistants, undoubtedly knows that the next provost must be someone who has the vision and the creativity to realign the regional institution.
To his credit, the new president — he officially took over last Tuesday — isn’t shying away from the many hurdles he has to clear.
In a written message to the campus community, he laid out what lies ahead:
“As you know, these are, indeed, demanding financial times for the university. The challenges are not unlike those at dozens of other universities across the state and nation. We cannot, however, allow those challenges to paralyze us. Through working together and in collaboration, we will make a difference for our students, we will discover new knowledge and we will have a lasting impact on the entire region.”
Tressel, whose trademark motto is macte virtute (Latin for “increase excellence”), will be put to the test early as the university negotiates with the unions representing the faculty and classified employees. There are rumblings on campus that the employees are expecting an increase in pay because they took a freeze the first two years of the current three-year contract and received a 2 percent increase in the final year.
But given YSU’s dire financial condition and the bleak prospects for an increase in enrollment this fall, the trustees will be in no mood to spend money they don’t have.
Indeed, the university has had to deal with an $8 million budget shortfall and has given all departments on campus budget-cutting targets.
Tressel has arrived with a great deal of goodwill and support. He’ll need that and much more as he guides Youngstown State University through the choppy waters.