By the time a mediator’s fact-finding report is in the hands of labor-contract negotiators for Youngstown State University and the faculty union, classes will be well underway.
YSU’s fall semester began last week with an enrollment of more than 12,000 students, including 2,301 freshmen – a 5 percent increase from last fall. It is the fourth-largest freshman class in 26 years.
But the excitement of a new school year with all its promise is tempered by the reality of the ongoing contract talks between the university and the YSU Chapter of the Ohio Education Association.
Negotiations are at a critical point, with a mediator gathering pertinent information for the fact-finding report that is expected to be released shortly.
Each side will have two weeks to review it and decide whether to accept or reject. Rejection by either one or both would prompt the continuation of negotiations.
The faculty union also has the right to strike.
On Tuesday, YSU-OEA members authorized the negotiating team to issue a 10-day strike notice. While it does not mean a work stoppage is imminent, the mere threat is cause for concern.
The union has made it clear that concessions are off the table.
There’s a need for cooler heads to prevail. The mediator’s findings warrant serious consideration. The report will be an objective evaluation of YSU’s financial condition.
Susan Gordy Ruben of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals of Cleveland doesn’t have a stake in the labor fight.
A strike by the faculty would disrupt the academic life of the students and raise the hackles of parents, especially those who are helping their children with tuition and living expenses.
A disruption in the school year will also undermine the programs launched by President James P. Tressel and the administration – with the support of the board of trustees – to increase YSU’s viability.
When he was hired in 2014, Tressel pledged that student recruitment would be a priority. The president and Gary Swegan, vice president for enrollment management and recruitment, traveled far and wide to sell YSU to graduating high school seniors.
The success of the recruitment campaign outside the Mahoning Valley is evidenced by the fact that all university residence halls and YSU Courtyard Apartments are at capacity, and the new privately owned University Edge apartments on Rayen Avenue are fully rented.
It is noteworthy that the average freshman ACT score is 21.76, up from the past three years, and the average incoming freshman grade point average is 3.3, also an increase from 2016 and prior years.
But there are other challenges confronting YSU that can only be met if the entire campus community pulls together.
State funding for each of Ohio’s 12 public universities is based on student graduation, retention and course completion rates.
Of particular concern to Republican Gov. John R. Kasich, the GOP-controlled General Assembly and the Ohio Board of Regents is the six years it takes most undergraduates to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Kasich has challenged the universities and colleges to establish a new normal of four years.
The latest data from the board of regents shows that at YSU, 30 percent of the 2,641 full-time students who started in 2010 graduated.
Only two of 12 public institutions of higher learning had a worse record: Central State University with a 25 percent graduation rate, and Shawnee State with 22 percent.
Ohio State had the highest rate, with 81 percent, followed by Miami University, 80 percent, and Ohio University, 68 percent.
The state average was 56 percent.
The statistics are contained in a chart titled, “Six Year Measures for First-Time, Full-Time, Degree-Seeking Students at Ohio’s Four-year Campuses Fall 2010 Entering Cohort.” It’s a mouthful, to be sure, but in addition to graduation rates, there are other categories used to come up with an overall success rate for each institution.
At Youngstown State, the six-year success rate is 45 percent. Only Shawnee State and Central State fared worse.
The average success rate was 66 percent.
The comparisons are pertinent because the faculty at YSU have long argued that they are paid less than the average faculty salaries at Ohio’s public universities.
But given the academic performance of YSU students, what is the fairest comparison when it comes to faculty compensation?
Perhaps the mediator’s fact-finding report will provide the answer.
The issues of graduation, retention and course completion rates are part of a larger debate in Columbus about the ability of the universities and colleges to prepare students for the workplace.
With the cloud of uncertainty hanging over higher education, a strike by Youngstown State’s faculty would bring unnecessary attention from Columbus to the open-access urban institution.