During the waning days of Youngstown State University’s presidential search, candidate Jim Tressel, former Ohio State University and YSU head coach and current University of Akron Vice President of Student Success, spoke in an open forum to a room brimming with administrators, faculty, community members and students.
At the event on Monday, Tressel — whose candidacy has already received ample community support — made his case to the YSU community for why he should become the next president of the university.
“It has been so much fun to meet the students, meet the faculty and meet so many people that Youngstown State is so important to. You know I have a little bit of an advantage having lived here for 15 years and felt it, I know clearly what Youngstown State means to this region and the people in this region,” he said.
Tressel thanked both YSU and UA — where he is also a finalist for the president position — for their part in molding him, and he said these experiences would help make him a capable president prepared to weather the well-known problems higher education is facing.
“I am forever thankful for the modeling I’ve had — the shaping of my thinking that occurred right here at Youngstown State,” Tressel said. “There is no question that it is a challenging moment in higher education. We are going to all have to work together; we are going to have to collaborate; we are going to have to appreciate one another. We will have the chance to get through any challenge as long as we first agree that any single one of us is insignificant without every single one of the others. We can do that if we have the chance, but it is a challenging time.”
Tressel assured attendees that his choice to seek a position as university president was not just a stepping stone or filler until he can return to coaching.
“I did it [coached] 38 years — enjoyed every minute of it; I don’t really wake up in the morning saying to myself, ‘Boy, I wish I were coaching.’ In fact, I wake up in the morning and read the paper sometimes and say, ‘Boy, am I glad I am not coaching.’” Tressel said. “No I do not foresee any interest in coaching. I have had more important thing to do — not that it is not important.”
Responding to another community concern about his lack of a Ph.D — a common trait among university presidential candidates — Tressel added, “this may be the time and the place for a non-Ph.D president.”
After his brief speech, Tressel opened the floor up for questioning from the crowd. During this period, he was asked a medley of questions from his initiatives and plans for the university to his commitment.
Tressel said the necessary focus for YSU, as well as any university, is retention and indicated this would be an initiative he would spearhead if he became YSU’s president.
“Well the most impactful thing we can do from a finance standpoint is retention,” he said “That is the biggest pot of gold sitting anywhere, and what is nice about that is it is really what we are here for; we are here to have students come and progress. … If we raise our retention, you will be amazed at a lot of the financial problems that will disappear.”
He then added that both fundraising and recruitment were other vital keys to reducing both the budget and building toward the future.
“Secondly, we have got to do a great job in the development— the fundraising. Fortunately, this valley recognizes the asset that Youngstown State University is,” he said. “They know and believe how critical this university is to this valley and that clearly helps your fund raising capability.”
When asked about the highly popular — and controversial — use of adjunct faculty in universities across the nation, Tressel emphasized greater utilization of full-time faculty.
“I think our students deserve the person who can do the best job — sometimes it is an adjunct. Most of the time, our goal needs to be to have as many full-time faculty as we possibly can,” he said. “Our goal has to be maximize our full-time faculty, but we can’t be afraid to have an adjunct who has a certain expertise that serves our students well.”
Joy Polkabla Byers, director of Campus Recreation, was pleased with how Tressel responded to her question concerning health and wellness.
“I personally asked a question about wellness, and one of the things I was looking for was someone that values wellness to our students and our faculty and staff, so I did appreciate his answer,” Byers said. “One of the things I want to see on this campus is when students graduate, they are valuing that, and they make it a part of their life knowing that it is going to help them improve in their personal life and their work life.”
Luke Politsky, a YSU graduate student, responded positively to Tressels overall speech and his candidacy as a whole.
“I have read his biography and his application materials, it is very impressive. He is a public relations and a relation-minded person to begin with. … It is nice to see his interactions with the students this morning,” Politsky said. “In a president, I would like to see some long-term commitment of course. Most of all, willingness to speak with students genuinely. Not just because it’s their job but because it is something they really enjoy doing.”
Though both YSU and Akron are quickly approaching their final decision, Tressel said he has not yet made a decision of where he would rather be.
“They [YSU Board of Trustees] asked me, ‘if both schools offered, what would I do?’ I can honestly say that neither school has offered so I haven’t had to think about that,” Tressel said. “I did tell them that I thought the differentiating factor would be the faculty. … The key to success on a college campus is the faculty and the relationship you can have working with the faculty.”
Tressel also met with the faculty unions, the board of trustees, and several other groups during his day visit to the university.