YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Officially, Jim Tressel doesn't begin his term as the ninth president of Youngstown State University until July 1. Unofficially, he has been on the job since the board of trustees chose him May 12.
Friday, with interim President Ikram Khawaja using his remaining vacation days until his contract expires, Tressel moved into the president’s office in Tod Hall as acting president, giving himself a 10-day head start.
He is serving those 10 days without pay.
“From the time I was named, I spent every vacation day I had from [the University of] Akron because I needed to learn all that I could possibly learn. There was no way that July 1 could be my first day. This is just a little bit of a bonus,” Tressel said.
His time in Youngstown has been spent “building relationships and just hearing from people as to where they think we are and what we do well, what we need to do better,” Tressel said.
Among the duties looming on the horizon are the contract negotiations the university has with the four unions that represent faculty, police department, administrative staff and classified staff.
“It's hard for negotiations to go well when you have budget constraints. It's easier when you can go in and have on the table exactly what people want to have,” Tressel said. “If we can get some strategy in place and get our vision going quickly, perhaps we can create a situation that both sides won't love but both sides can live with.”
The acting president also added that he would allow the people who have been working on the negotiations to continue with little interference.
Soon after he officially takes office, Tressel will attend the Harvard University Seminar for New Presidents, a five-day program intended to teach new university presidents “productive, articulate, responsive leadership.”
The benefits of the program, Tressel said, are accelerated learning about a job he hasn't had before and, perhaps more important, the opportunity to network with other university presidents.
“There are 45 seats at this seminar. You'll be able to pick up the phone and call someone who's going through the exact same thing that you're going through at the exact same time in your career,” he said.
Seminar or not, many believe that Tressel will excel in his new position and the sooner he starts, the better.
“It's good that he's starting to do things and it's good that he's starting here in the summer before things get crazy in the fall,” YSU sophomore Sara Pretoka said. “It'll be good morale here for Youngstown after President Dunn leaving and then [Tressel] coming back. It'll be good for the campus and the community.”
Victor Wan-Tatah, director of the Africana studies program, said he's “very enthusiastic about [Tressel] being on campus.”
“It marks a major high point for our university. … We have somebody who knows how to bring people together and knows the university and community. He also has an extensive understanding and exposure to higher education in ways that will benefit us all immensely,” Wan-Tatah said.
While faculty and staff at YSU knew of Tressel's early arrival, many students were unaware of his temporary position as acting president, leading to more excitement about his return.
“He's accomplished so much on and off the field at Ohio State and Akron, but his roots are here. I'm glad he's coming back to the university to pick up where he left off,” Dylan Derthick, a junior, said. “I hope that can revamp the university and get kids’ interest back.”
From all appearances, Tressel is glad to be back at YSU as well. With 10 extra days, Tressel said, he can be better prepared to make decisions that will affect the university.
“It gives you a little comfort that there might be enough hours in the day for you to make decisions that you'll have to live with for a year,” Tressel said. “I can feel a little more informed and a little more comfortable and a little more prepared. Every minute you can get in preparation affects your performance.”
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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