YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Jim Tressel, the Youngstown State University trustees’ choice for president, formally committed Monday night to lead the university where he was head football coach 14 seasons.
Under the terms of the letter of understanding he and trustee Chairman Sudershan K. Garg signed, Tressel will be paid $300,000 annually the first two years of his three-year contract. The third year will be “based on performance evaluation,” the parties agreed.
This is $75,000 less than his two immediate predecessors, Cynthia Anderson and Randy Dunn, were paid their first years as president.
Tressel could have been paid more but he declined, he told reporters at a press conference following the trustees meeting, but didn’t elaborate.
Afterward, a trustee confirmed that the board offered Tressel $375,000 for first year and was prepared to pay more but the president-designate talked them down. Their concerns that they couldn’t match what the University of Akron might offer proved unfounded, the trustee said. Tressel was a finalist for the presidency of that public university as well.
Asked if his willingness to be paid $300,000 was to send a signal to the four unions that represent faculty, campus police and administrative staff, Tressel dismissed the suggestion out of hand.
The university confronts a shrinking budget; collective bargaining to reach new contracts will be one of the first items on his agenda when he takes office July 1. Tressel allowed “great challenges” face the university and “We’ve got to be as selfless as we can be.” Pressed whether he is trying to set an example by accepting less than his predecessors, Tressel was explicit that such is not the case. “It’s just a symbol of the right thing to do,” he stated. “It was a personal decision. … We have been blessed," he said.
In Tressel’s tentative agreement -- trustees are scheduled to vote on the completed contract June 18 at their next regular meeting -- he agrees to pay the university $200,000 should he unilaterally quit within the first year, $175,000 within two years and $150,000 before the end of the third year.
The clause is based on the university community and trustees’ vivid memory of Dunn’s decision to resign, as provided in his contract, after only seven months in office.
The remainder of the tentative contract is similar to Dunn’s. Among other provisions, YSU will provide Pollock House as the residence for him and his wife, Ellen, rent-free and pay the utilities and real estate taxes. He will be given use of an American-made vehicle bought at a nearby dealership to carry out the duties of his office.
The eagerness to see Tressel sign an agreement with the board of trustees was palpable in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Student Center. Following an executive session of 35 minutes, the audience of faculty, administrators, staff, a few students and many well-wishers waited for the Tressels to emerge from the back and walk to their front-row seats and hear Garg make it official. Terms of an agreement for Tressel to return to the university where he is greatly admired, if not revered, had been reached.
Garg walked from the dais where the trustees sat to the table where copies of the tentative agreement sat. “Mr. Tressel, will you please join me in signing?”
The former coach arose and walked the 10 feet to the other side of the table and sat down. Members of the audience stood to take pictures with their cell phones as the two men sat and signed or initialed the several copies. Most of the trustees looked down and smiled.
Tressel kept biting his lip until he finished signing first, then smiled as Garg, who kept a poker face throughout, wrote his name on the last copy. As they shook hands, loud applause broke out and the audience rose from their seats.
“Today Jim is here to become president of Youngstown State University,” Garg said. “Welcome home, Jim and Ellen. You have been on vacation too long.” (Laughter.)
Tressel fiddled with his microphone before exclaiming, “Wow!” Long pause. “This has been quite a couple of days,” and reminisced how he had spent the previous Monday. That was his day on campus as a finalist candidate and he met with a large audience in the trustees meeting room to take their questions. That overflow audience prompted the decision to meet in the much larger Chestnut Room last night.
“On Saturday it took me seven hours to return all the texts [text messages of support] I received,” he began. “On Sunday it took me just under six hours to return all the emails.”
He briefly told, and named, some of the people whose support and friendship had meant so much during his years as a coach at YSU. “And this is what life, is about, the people in your life,” he said. “That’s why I’ve got to do a good job. I owe all these people. … Ellen and I owe a lot to the students, faculty and staff.”
To the audience, and again when he met with reporters, Tressel mentioned a Latin phrase he might take as his theme, “Macte Virtute,” which he translated as “Increase Excellence.”
“It is imperative that we increase that excellence [found at YSU],” he declared. I pledge to you that we’re going to work hard, extremely hard, and make you proud. Go Penguins!”
In his meeting with the press, which included a reporter from Sports Illustrated, Tressel returned to the themes he’s often mentioned before: the need to improve the graduation rate at YSU, its retention rate and ability to place students in jobs for which they are qualified after they graduate.
He also talked about YSU becoming even more involved in the region, strengthening the informal partnerships with other colleges and universities in the region, and the need to raise funds.
He is willing to go to Columbus to lobby for more funding for public education. On May 5, Tressel noted that the Ohio Legislature once contributed somewhere between two-thirds and three-fourths of public universities’ budgets. That was four decades ago.
Today that figure is closer to one fifth.
“We can’t count on that [those levels of 40 years ago] to return, even in part,” he said. The revised state funding formula is based on graduation rates and not enrollment, “That’s why retention is so important.”
The president-designate singled out the YSU faculty for praise because of their efforts and their commitment to teaching. That’s one aspect of boosting retention, he said, a “teaching university.”
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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