Journal Opinion: A Post-Tressel Future at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The announcement by Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel that he would step down Feb. 1, 2023, heralds the end of his championship era.

Tressel – best known to the Mahoning Valley as the YSU head football coach who guided four teams to national titles during the 1990s before moving on to Ohio State (and another national title) – was certainly an unconventional choice to lead the academic institution when he was named president in 2014.

Yet putting in place someone who had long been seen as an inspirational leader was exactly what the university community and the region needed following the short – though arguably not short enough – tenure of Tressel’s predecessor, Randy Dunn. That certainly was the view of the community and business leaders who aggressively promoted Tressel for the position.

Accomplishments of the Tressel era at YSU include the record-setting We See Tomorrow capital campaign, which generated $126 million for the university, and the creation of the Excellence Training Center, a much-needed workforce development resource for local business.

Susan Clutter, president of the YSU-OEA, calls Tressel “the best fundraiser and spokesperson that YSU has had” and called on the Youngstown Foundation “to find a spot” for Tressel and his wife, Ellen, “so they can continue to promote the value of YSU.”

Tressel, who briefly served as an administrator at the University of Akron before returning to YSU, faced criticism that academics would take a back seat with a former football coach and athletics director at the helm. That impression, fair or not, certainly was not dispelled with mergers of departments and colleges that often didn’t make sense to the instructors affected. Course eliminations driven at least in part by declining enrollment – a problem throughout higher education – were met with vocal  dissatisfaction.

More downsizing lies ahead.

“In five to 10 years from now, we’re going to have less students on this campus than we do now for a lot of different reasons,” said John R. Jakubek, chairman of the YSU Board of Trustees, at its meeting following Tressel’s announcement. He cited the falling enrollment numbers nationwide as well as the increase of online degree programs.

“We have got to do our part to repopulate this area,” Tressel said. “Which means we’ve got to turn out people who can do the jobs so that people live here, work here, have families here and send their children to Youngstown State. That’s what YSU has been all about.”

As we await the process for choosing Tressel’s successor, we thank him for his unparalleled outstanding service and contributions to YSU and the Mahoning Valley.

The next YSU president must also be an inspirational leader. We urge a robust national search with all stakeholders included in the process.