Before wrapping up the president search that quickly became a focal point in the Youngstown State University and Youngstown community alike, the YSU Board of Trustees invited the three finalists — Jim Tressel, Gary L. Miller and Mary Cullinan — for campus visits throughout the week.
Gary L. Miller, chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, visited the university on Tuesday to meet with students, faculty, press, trustees and community leaders. Miller is also a finalist for the presidency position at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Miller — recognizing the apprehension caused by former YSU president Randy Dunn’s abrupt departure — said he would remain committed to the university if given the title.
“I’m well aware of the recent leadership changes in this institution. I’m also well aware that what you need more than anything else is stability, and I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t committed,” Miller said during the public forum.
During his time on campus, Miller stressed the importance of a university’s role in the larger community, especially pertaining to job creation and K-12 education.
“I’m not only a professional in higher education; I’m also a husband; I’m a father; I’m a grandfather. I have five grandchildren, they are all perfect,” Miller said. “I’m a citizen, friend, a servant, and those things, as I have gotten older in my life, are very, very important for me for a couple of reasons. I have responsibility, in all of those, to connect with the people around me — my family, people I work with and the community. I also have a responsibility for the institution I work with to make those same connections. … Institutions like this are obligated to be full partners in their communities.”
Speaking toward the popular concern of retaining students throughout their college career, Miller recognized the importance of retention but also advised a looking at the larger picture of enrollment management.
“Here is what I would say to about retention: I think we need to see enrollment management, which is part of retention, as the entire spectrum from the time we talk to a student, regardless of who that is, until they get a job, and actually after that,” Miller said. “So the retention part is only one part of that. You got to see the whole thing as a continuum.”
Mary Cullinan, president of Southern Oregon University and the final candidate to visit, spent Wednesday speaking to members of the YSU community about her vision for the university.
“As I began to research the things that were happening at this university, I became very thrilled at the prospect of coming here to visit, and I had a whirlwind tour. I have been meeting people, and it really is a remarkable place. I am seeing so many people who have deep roots here, who care very passionate about this university and this community. For me, this is a really exciting opportunity,” she said. “I understand the incredible transformational value that public education brings. We not only transform students’ lives, but we transform their family and, in many cases, their community.”
It was recently revealed — to the surprise of the YSU Board of Trustees — that Cullinan was one of three SOU administrators to receive a vote of “no confidence” from the faculty of her university in March — with 63 percent of the faculty against her.
Though Cullinan received a majority of the vote against her, the faculty senate did not recommend that she be fired because two-thirds of the faculty did not vote against her.
With faculty union negotiations quickly approaching in August, this has many worried about her negotiating and leadership capabilities. Cullinan said the vote came after intense negotiations concerning dramatic budget problems at SOU due to the deficiency of state funding in Oregon.
“We are all caught in this web of needing renewed state support and not wanting to put tremendous burdens on our students in the way of tuition. So we are all looking at how to be lean and efficient and how to do less with more,” Cullinan said. “Frankly, SOU just didn’t have the money that we would like to have to meet the need for faculty salaries. There was a lot of hard feelings; it was a very difficult time for all concerned.”
Cullinan added that the university has resolved the conflict and is repairing damages.
“We did resolve the faculty contracts and we are now in a time of healing. I am very happy that I had those years before to build relationships with faculty so that now I am meeting with small groups of faculty,” she said. “I have been meeting with the faculty leaderships, the union head and the faculty senate head, to talk about our fears and our trusts and get us all going in the same direction so the university can thrive.”
Cullinan assured the audience that she would be capable of working amicably with YSU’s unions.
“I have been in a unionized environment for my whole career. … In California, we had a number of unions, and as a faculty member, I was a member of the California Faculty Association,” she said. “I really appreciate having the structure that union contracts provide as a way to solve problems. The way is laid out for you.”
She also spoke of the successes she had at SOU that would help her at YSU, including rebuilding the fundraising and scholarship initiatives and spearheading the formation of an SOU honors college.
“When I arrived at Southern Oregon University, there were a number of parts of the university that simply were not working well. One of them was the whole fund raising effort,” Cullinan said. “I really had to go and build that whole part of the university from the ground up. … It has been a success story. It is hard work and it doesn’t happen over night. These are relationships you have to build.”
Luke Politsky, SGA representative and YSU graduate student, responded positively to Cullinan’s performance.
“I was impressed with her ability to back up any plans she presented with examples of how she’s made it work before. She can back up her proposals,” he said.
Eric Shehadi, a YSU student trustee, said he was pleased by students participation in these presidential forums.
“I was very impressed, and thankful, for the students insightful participation in the forums,” he said.
YSU Presidential Search Committee plans to meet Thursday morning.