YSU LIVE | University union leadership endorses Tressel for president

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State University union leadership today voiced support for Jim Tressel for the next university presidency.

“We are confident that Mr. Tressel is the one candidate who will continue to build and nourish our efforts to establish an environment of trust, transparency and open collaboration that we, as union leaders, have worked hard to create,” says a statement from the union leadership.

The statement came as presidential finalist Mary Cullinan spoke on campus today. She said a leader can’t accomplish anything in less than five years — and stressed she’s not a finalist anywhere else.

Tressel is also a finalist for the University of Akron presidency.

The university is looking for a new president after the last one, Randy J. Dunn, left after only eight months on the job. It’s also looking for longevity in its top leadership.

She also addressed her Southern Oregon University faculty’s no confidence vote on her.

Cullinan, the president of SOU since 2006, said the SOU faculty’s no confidence vote on her stemmed from difficult and “confrontational” bargaining and a resources shortage. Spring has been better than the winter, Cullinan said. SOU didn’t have money to meet faculty salaries but a faculty contract was resolved.

When cutting costs, people aren’t going to be happy. “As president, I’ve got to make the tough choices,” she said.

That campus is now in a time of healing, Cullinan said, after the contract.

“You can’t do everything you used to do when there was more money,” she noted.

The challenge is determining where cost and revenue sources are. “There’s no part of a university that people don’t care about,” she said.

Cullinan said she had positive meeting with YSU unions today. She has spent most of her carer in a unionized environment, and said she appreciates a unionized structure. There is a constant need for communication, she stressed.

In fact, Cullinan meets monthly with faculty and staff based on their birthdays.

She said YSU’s challenges are similar to those at SOU. During her tenure SOU had to rethink budgeting, human resources and marketing.

She said she is thrilled to be on campus and called it “a phenomenal place.” Cullinan was approached by YSU consultant to come here, and noted she is committed to helping instructors improve teaching.

“Most people want to be really good at what they do,” she said.

Under Cullinan’s leadership, SOU opened an honors college. The honors college was Cullinan’s vision and her proudest accomplishment. It has raised SOU’s profile and increased out of state enrollment, she noted.

She also noted that Oregon is 48th in the country in funding public education. Students at SOU bear 85 percent of the cost, the finalist said. Cullinan’s major focus to address disinvestment in higher education, she said, had been legislators.

She hopes lawmakers in the next legislative session will begin reinvesting, but won’t be what it was, Cullinan said, noting higher education must get help from the community.

YSU is significantly larger than SOU but there are other similarities.

The enrollment mix has to be such that it helps university be sustainable, she said. Also, distance education must be part of every school’s portfolio.

At SOU, students didn’t know where to go, or what supports were out there. So, she said she put one person in charge of enrollment and retention. At first students were opposed but now they support the changes, Cullinan said.

Departments don’t necessarily have to merge but they have to be made to work together, she added.

When Cullinan arrived at SOU, fundraising was among the things that wasn’t working well. So she brought in a new vice president of development. This person strengthened ties with students, faculty and staff, emphasizing benefits of relationships with donors.

“My legacy will probably be some wonderful bequests coming to SOU,” she said. “People are seeing the importance of scholarships ... People want to support students.”

Also, a university has to think about what technology can do to increase revenue, she said.

YSU has in recent months experienced an exodus of some of its top leadership. Both skill set and personal characteristics are needed to fill the vice president vacancies on campus, Cullinan said, adding that people must engender trust.

She said she has no one she plans to bring with her from SOU to fill the cabinet, if selected. The university leadership must look on campus and wider to fill leadership vacancies, Cullinan said.

“It’s really important to do it right,” she said.

She earned both her Ph.D. and master’s degrees from the University Wisconsin, Madison, both in English Literature, and her bachelors, in Honors English from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also an English professor at SOU.

Before going to SOU, she served three years as provost/vice president for academic affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University and six years as dean of the College of Arts, Letters and Sciences at California State University, Stanislaus.

Someone asked if she was jumping ship. “Eight years is not jumping ship,” she respinded.

She would feel she’d left SOU in best situation it can be, she added.

The Tod Hall meeting room was full to hear Cullinan’s presentation. A few people are gathered in the lobby. Cullinan said the forum attendance reinforces commitment she’s seen. She said she’s seeing many people who care passionately about education.

All three finalists for Youngstown State University president came to campus this week for public forums. Besides Cullinan, they are:

Jim Tressel, former head football coach at YSU and Ohio State who is now executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron.

Education: Master’s in education from the University of Akron; bachelor’s in education from Baldwin Wallace College.

Gary L. Miller, chancellor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington since 2011; provost and vice president for academic affairs and research and professor of biology, Wichita State University, 2006 to 2011.

Education: Doctorate in biological sciences, Mississippi State University; master’s and bachelor’s, both in biology and both from the College of William and Mary.

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