Editorial: YSU Trustees Must Show Dunn the Door Now

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees is faced with calls by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who has helped to secure millions of dollars for YSU, and a core group of Mahoning Valley business leaders, who have donated tens of thousands to the school, to appoint Jim Tressel its next president as soon as possible.

Naming Tressel the next president of YSU would certainly go a long way to eliminate the anger and disappointment over Randy Dunn’s decision to abandon ship after just seven months.

Tressel, the executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron, did not apply for the position when YSU sought a successor to Cynthia Anderson, ultimately selecting Dunn. While he is quoted as expressing contentment with his work at Akron, and speculation suggests he may be a top contender to replace UA’s retiring Luis M. Proenza, it seems highly unlikely that Ryan would throw a Hail Mary pass absent some communication with Tressel.

Ryan’s letter (READ FULL TEXT) urges that YSU trustees act “expeditiously.” We couldn’t agree more that quick action must be taken, whether the next person who occupies the position is Tressel or someone else appointed acting president.

In fact, The Business Journal believes that when Dunn submitted his resignation (READ STORY), trustees should have given him two weeks at most to set things in order for a transition and clean out his desk.

In accepting Dunn’s resignation and stating he could remain on campus for the full length of his 180-day notice, trustees sent a terrible message. It’s one thing to put the best possible spin on a debacle. It’s something else entirely to play nice, praise Dunn and wish him well as he leaves YSU hanging.

Whether Tressel is named president or not, trustees must act NOW. They could look to the local business community to select an interim president should they decide to conduct another national -- and costly -- presidential search. A few retired business leaders who likely would perform very well in this capacity come to mind as do some who have accomplished much in the academic world.

Dunn cannot be permitted to stay at YSU for six months. He said repeatedly Monday when interviewed by reporters that if trustees found a replacement earlier than his exit date, he would gladly leave. We trust that means without pay for time he would not serve.

To characterize the Mahoning Valley’s reaction to Dunn’s resignation as anger is to understate the response. “Outrage” comes closer. Neither Dunn nor the YSU trustees should underestimate the damage resulting from this debacle, from the challenges it presents in fundraising, management and labor negotiations, to the broader perception about the stability of the university. Not to mention the message about honoring commitments written in broad letters to the future professionals that our business community relies on the university to educate.  

“Obviously it’s not a good reflection on the university as such,” Sundershan Garg, chairman of YSU board, charitably told reporters following the meeting when the board accepted Dunn’s 180-day notice.

Providing the brightest possible interpretation given the circumstances, Garg said board members last year thought they had chosen “the best individual” to serve as president who “has been stolen by someone else from us.”

Please!

Dunn abandoned ship at a time when YSU and public universities across Ohio are dealing with severe challenges, and a cynic could interpret his tortured explanation of how events transpired to make him SIU’s top candidate as a clever “draft Dunn” campaign (WATCH VIDEO). 

Here’s what Dunn told the Associated Press the day after he spoke with local reporters: “Even in Youngstown, I think there was an understanding we weren’t going to be retiring [in that Ohio city], that we would be returning to Illinois at some point. So this is coming home. As you talk to folks, they get it.”

That’s not what Dunn said Monday night. And that’s not what Dunn told local reporters this summer, a fact emphasized by The Jambar in its reporter’s questioning of Dunn following Monday’s trustees meeting.

We appreciate there are administrative functions that a university president has to execute, but six months is too long to have someone on the payroll whose attention is obviously focused on his next job.

Ryan and the business leaders who signed the congressman’s letter deserve praise for taking their stand, lobbying for Tressel and urging expeditious action.

Trustees must restore public trust in their judgment. They must show Dunn the door NOW, either by appointing an interim president or by recruiting Tressel to return to what he famously called the “State of Youngstown.”

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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