With the six finalists announced on April 24 and the final three announced on Monday, the Youngstown State University presidential search is reaching its crescendo. However some students, faculty and community members were more surprised by who wasn’t on these lists than who was.
Martin Abraham, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, was not included among the original six finalists.
“I’m extremely disappointed that I wasn’t invited for one of the Skype interviews, Abraham said. “I think we have accomplished quite a lot here in the STEM college. And what we have accomplished puts me in a position where I would be qualified for consideration, at least.”
Abraham said Sudershan Garg, chair of the YSU Board of Trustees, informed him that he was not a finalist on Thursday.
“Dr. Garg called me on Thursday to let me know that the board could not get a majority in support of considering me further. Many thought that I just needed more time before I would be qualified for that level of experience,” Abraham said. “I would’ve appreciated a phone call on Wednesday, while they were notifying the other candidates that they were going to be considered, that I was not going to be considered.”
Garg said the board determined that Abraham was not yet ready for the eminent position.
“The board did not feel he is ready to be president yet. It was discussed at length in the review process,” Garg said. “He is a very nice person and everybody thanks him for his work, but maybe it is not time as of yet for him.”
Harry Meshel, another member of the board, echoed this opinion, adding that Abraham faced stiff competition.
“He was in a competitive field with a lot of competitive people with a whole variety of PhDs and background experience,” Meshel said. “It is a question of the talent we had to interview. … He was one of a number of qualified people who just didn’t make the final count.”
Abraham, however, pointed to his list of accomplishments in his seven years as dean of STEM and his 14 years in university administration as proof of his proficiency.
“We’ve grown the enrollment to the STEM college for six of the seven years that I have been here. … As you know the enrollment of YSU has not been going up. We have bucked the trend by increasing while everywhere else decreases,” Abraham said. “We are clearly the leader in doing research across the university. We have about 65 percent of the total external funding at YSU.”
He added that he and his staff brought America Makes to the Valley and created at YSU one of the top additive manufacturing programs in the country.
“We have been instrumental in bringing America Makes here to Youngstown. Those have been my faculty who developed the initiative, wrote the proposal and was central to bringing that activity here in the city,” Abraham said. “I think we have done quite a job establishing culture for the STEM college, building reputation for engineering science and being a significant player in the greater Youngstown community.”
Abraham and two other candidates were the only applicants — on the original list of 37 — who currently work within the university. None of them made it past the initial round of cuts. Abraham said he is concerned that no current candidate will have sufficient experience with YSU to deal with its approaching problems.
“I believe that anybody coming from the outside of Youngstown State today is going to have a very difficult coming up to speed sufficiently quickly to set this university on a positive course in the time frame that they have to do it. You have two major unions in the middle of negotiations — they actually aren’t even in the middle of negotiations. They are just starting negotiations. Neither one of these unions are particularly happy at this moment. I think we have a significant potential that classes will not start August 20. The new president, who comes on July 1, will have six weeks to figure that out and fix it,” he said. “Regardless of how good they are, I think it is going to be very, very difficult for somebody from the outside to fix that problem that quickly.”
Abraham added that insiders have been considering these problems for months and have no catching up to do.
“The word is that we have an eight-figure budget shortfall coming up for the next fiscal year. The fiscal year starts July 1. … The new president is going to have a budget shortfall they are going to have to deal with. … There were three candidates on that list from the inside — every one of them knows, myself included, knows what those challenges are. Every one of those candidates have ideas today, not July 1, on how those problems can be addressed,” he said. “There is a big difference between a six-week solution window and a three-month, four-month solution window. I mean that is huge. And now that opportunity is lost.”
Abraham is currently a finalist in the search for Northern Illinois University’s executive vice president and provost position. He anticipates to know the results of the search in about a week.
“If I am their choice — I don’t know if I will be — then I will have to decide if that is an opportunity that I wish to take. The provost position at Northern Illinois, I applied for it because I thought it was a good career opportunity for me,” he said. “If they do make me an offer, I will have to weight the pros and cons and make a decision as to whether or not I will accept it.”
Garg, however, said Abraham is a quality candidate for the upcoming YSU provost search.
“If he leaves that is his choice. It is hard to satisfying 100 percent of the people 100 percent. I will feel bad if he does that because of this reason. I feel that he should be a provost,” he said.
Though Abraham has considered the possibility, he is yet unsure if he will apply to the position after the disappointing result of his presidential application.
“I have mixed feelings about the provost position here. First of all, I don’t know who the president will be. So, I don’t know who I will be working for. Secondly, I was just told by the Board of Trustees that I am not even sufficiently qualified to be considered for a Skype interview,” he said. “The interview process, the application process, was put off until September — four months from now. … The messages I receive from members of the Board, other members of the community, my own faculty and my family will have a lot to do with whether I should decide to pursue that opportunity. Of course that presumes that I am here in September.”
Abraham said, regardless of what choice he makes, he is thankful for the significant support he received from the YSU community throughout his time as dean and for his application for YSU president.
“Since the announcement was made on Thursday, I have heard from some of the same people again, and others, who have expressed their disappointment — and worse — that I was not included on the list being interviewed. I do appreciate very much all of the support and all of the positive reinforcement from people at YSU and people in the community. It makes me appreciate that the effort that I have gone through to advance the college has been recognized by some and what we have been able to achieve here has been recognized by many people,” he said. “I appreciate the support I have not only for my candidacy for the president, but also for my work as a dean. And for that, regardless of what I choose to do, I will always be very grateful.”