While Interim President Ikram Kawaja is on vacation, Jim Tressel got an early start at his new post on Friday, serving as acting president until he officially begins his presidency on July 1.
With pressing issues facing the university — from the school’s revenue shortfall to its ongoing contract negotiations with union faculty members — Tressel has taken advantage of his time on campus, collecting ideas from students, staff and alumni.
“I was teasing someone…that for about five weeks I was around here acting like I was the president, and then now I am the acting president. And, I guess July 1 I’ll be the real president,” Tressel said. “Builiding relationships and just hearing from people as to where they think we are, what we do extremely well, what we need to work on to get better — I love to get ideas from people all the way from retired employees to students who are currently at the university.”
Tressel’s decision to familiarize himself with the university’s happenings garnered praise from other school administrators.
Ron Cole, public information officer, has spent time with Tressel in meetings and at university sponsored events. Cole said Tressel has had his “ear to the ground and wants to learn as much as he can.”
“Over at the Pollock House, he must have personally greeted at least 100, 200 or more students and their parents that were here for Crash Day. He personally met each of them, shook their hands, talked to them, and I’m sure that made a tremendous impact on them and their families to be able to go over and meet the president,” he said. “That obviously was an impressive kickoff to his presidency, and probably a pretty accurate reflection of the kinds of things we are going to see come.”
Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs, agreed with Cole and made positive comment on Tressel’s ability to excite and energize the university community.
“I’m excited about his leadership; he has incredible energy. I love that his priority is our students and their success. He’s one of the elite leaders in the nation, if not the world, in terms of bringing together large groups of people for the purpose of excellence,” Fahey said. “It’s clear already that he’s going to make us a much better institution.”
Though Tressel may be demonstrating a willingness to learn and to lead, he takes the helm during a volatile era for the university. As state funding for universities decreases and enrollment numbers decline, Youngstown State University has experienced budgetary problems and will operate with a revenue shortfall of $7.1 million.
Tressel acknowledged that these budgetary restraints will make for difficult negotiations with union members. He explained, though, that the faculty and the administration can find common ground being that both sides want success for students.
“It’s hard for negotiations to go well when you have budget constraints…. It is a difficult time,” he said. “Perhaps we can create a situation that both sides won’t love, but that both sides can live with.”
Tressel concluded that despite the university’s hardships, he maintains high hopes for the future.
“If you handle adversity, you come off much better than you ever were,” he said.