Guest Commentary: Continue Support for YSU

Submitted by Bruce R. Beeghly, former Youngstown State University trustee.

I am a former Youngstown State University trustee and served eight years on the Ohio Board of Regents, the statewide body for higher education. I’m also a donor with my family’s name on two buildings at YSU. Put me in the category of concerned stakeholder.

The YSU Board of Trustees and Bill Johnson, the congressman appointed the 10th president of the university, have been on the receiving end of some heavy artillery lately. This decision by the trustees has brought an unprecedented amount of criticism, and emotions have run high. 

Presidents deal with matters like financial management, fundraising, contacts with the legislature, overall university structure, etc. Fortunately, the core of the university – its academic organization and classroom teaching and learning – is mostly unaffected by turbulence at the top administrative level. But there has been damage that could affect future enrollment – already declining – recruitment and fundraising potential. That’s a reality confronting the new president.

Johnson is not the first politician to become a university president. You can Google this subject and find a number of articles. I will point out one example in particular. Mitch Daniels, a conservative Indiana governor, became president of Purdue University in 2013, describing himself as a “freshman in higher education.” His appointment was not without dissent, but he went on to serve as president for 10 years, focusing on student success and affordability. 

That’s a model that could work well for YSU.

Johnson faces a big challenge in validating the confidence that board members have placed in him. Like any new president, he will need support from within the university and the community at large to achieve a successful presidency. Accepting that he is a “freshman in higher education,” let’s judge Johnson on his work and statements starting Jan. 22. That’s the test that matters now.

Consider the larger picture. Think about all the benefits the Mahoning Valley derives from YSU. It’s an economic engine for the region. There’s a variety of programs the public can enjoy – an athletic event, the performing arts, the planetarium among many others. Most importantly, the opportunities and challenges for YSU students remain as before. These are young people earning their degrees to compete in the world and make a better life for themselves. These factors transcend the recent turmoil and warrant our continued support for YSU.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary has been updated to add omitted text.

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