After a dramatic and abrupt announcement of resignation, Youngstown State University President Randy Dunn will leave office on March 21.
With his departure quickly approaching, Dunn reflected on his time at YSU, his departure and his new job at Southern Illinois University.
“There are those at the university and certainly many in the community who feel betrayed by my departure and have the sense that I’m leaving the university hanging out there at a time when we have some pretty serious challenges in front of us — I understand that,” Dunn said. “My initial response is to say, ‘I absolutely get it.’ … I would be pretty shocked if there hadn’t been a pretty strong reaction in that vein coming out of the announcement.”
Though he said he understands the community’s disappointment in his decision to leave YSU, Dunn — who is an Illinois native — said the position at SIU is his “dream job.”
“There is no place other than Youngstown that understands what it means to go home — I mean that local pride and that kind of spirit that draws people back is as much about Youngstown as any place I’ve ever been,” Dunn said. “For Rhonda and me [Southern Illinois] is going home.”
Dunn reaffirmed that he did not actively seek the SIU presidency; instead, he was approached several times by the search committee. He did not consider himself a candidate for the position at SIU until he agreed to visit the campus for an interview on Feb. 12.
“At what point I agreed to go and talk with that board — in essence, I was communicating to them that I was willing to listen to them and at least consider them,” Dunn said. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to take their money for a plane ticket and waste their time if I wasn’t at least going to be open to the conversation that they wanted to have.”
SIU’s search for a new president was closed, meaning Dunn’s candidacy for the position was kept confidential. He was unable to alert the administration and the Board of Trustees about his possible resignation.
Dunn said he understands the utility of both confidential and open searches.
“In my view, there is no one right way for these things. I don’t think it’s appropriate to say one way is correct and one way is not correct. I think given wherever the institution is and the challenges that exist for a given search, you look at various approaches you can take, and ultimately it is for a board to make that determination,” he said.
While Dunn only served eight months as YSU’s president, he has worked to improve enrollment numbers, moved YSU from an open enrollment to an open access institution and introduced sweeping budget cuts to deal with a mounting deficit.
He believes these policies will endure throughout the next administration.
“These were changes that had to be made to strengthen the university over time,” Dunn said. “It’s my belief that as a new president comes in and does his or her own scanning of the environment or look at the landscape, they’re going to come to many of the same conclusions I was starting to reach about YSU. … I don’t think those decisions were at all out of character for what the next permanent president will have to wrestle with when he or she takes the chair.”
Understanding the impact of his early resignation, Dunn concluded that the next university president should be one who is willing to invest considerable time into the university.
“I think that there will be a strong value attached to someone who is going to come here and ensure that they’re willing to invest anywhere between five to 10 years to stay at the university, to wrestle through these problems we have and bring it out the other side a healthier institution, a more streamlined institution and one that speaks very directly to the educational and other needs of the Valley,” he said.