Storm clouds gathering over Youngstown State

The possibility of a strike looms large as members of Youngstown State University’s faculty meet Monday to discuss a fact-finder’s report on unresolved contract issues.

A vote on whether to accept or reject the report will take place through Wednesday.

YSU’s board of trustees is also reviewing the findings and is expected to make its decision shortly.

A strike by the faculty this early in the semester could prompt students to pursue other academic options.

Any departures would undermine the university’s effort to stabilize enrollment. Indeed, last week’s announcement that YSU’s overall student population is lower than last year is cause for some concern.

That’s because YSU President James P. Tressel has made freshmen student recruitment and retention top priorities.

It is worth noting, however, that while there was a decline of nearly 1 percent in total enrollment, the number of freshmen this year increased 6 percent from last fall. There are 2,278 first-year students on the rolls today, compared with 2,159 in 2016.

The administration is touting the fact that the freshman class has the highest average ACT score, 21.8, and the highest average high-school grade point average, 3.31, in the institution’s 100-year history.

This year’s class also includes students from 31 states, up from 16 three years ago, and 442 international students – an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2014.

Hence, a strike by faculty must be avoided at all costs. If YSU shuts down, where will the out-of-town students go?

Youngstown State University can ill afford such a disruption this semester.

It already is dealing with growing discontent on campus over the presence of a convicted rapist on the football team.

Rape case

Ma’lik Richmond, who was found delinquent in juvenile court in the widely publicized 2012 Steubenville High School rape case and served 10 months in juvenile prison, has been a student at YSU since August 2016. He joined the football team this year as a walk-on and practiced with the squad, and played his first game Saturday afternoon.

Richmond’s presence prompted an online petition campaign that asked President Tressel and football Coach Bo Pelini to remove him from the team.

The university subsequently issued a statement saying Richmond would not play for the Penguins this season.

Last week, Richmond filed a federal lawsuit arguing there was no justification for his removal because he had not violated YSU’s student code of conduct. The suit also contends that the student was denied due process in violation of the 14th amendment.

On Thursday, federal Judge Benita Y. Pearson issued a temporary restraining order that puts on hold YSU’s decision not to let Richmond play this year.

The university, represented by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, appealed Judge Pearson’s ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court refused to block the TRO.

YSU issued a statement after Thursday’s hearing that said the institution had “bent over backwards” to help Richmond and to give him a second chance when no one else would.

The controversy surrounding the Richmond matter could well become an issue in the ongoing contract talks between the administration and the YSU chapter of the Ohio Education Association.

The faculty is on record as objecting to money from the university’s operating budget being used to support football and other intercollegiate programs.

The union argues that the full-time teaching staff has made concessions in recent contracts, resulting in salaries that are lower than at peer institutions.

We have long rejected such comparisons, given that Youngstown State’s graduation, retention and overall success rates are among the lowest in the state.

We also believe wages and benefits should reflect the region’s overall economy and cost of living.

The fact finder, Atty. Susan Grody Ruben of Cleveland, has issued a report based on her analysis of the university’s revenues and expenditures.

The administration and the faculty union owe it to the students and the community at large to accept Ruben’s recommendations and enter into a contract.

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