Lafferty Outlines Plan of Action as YSU Interim President

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Helen K. Lafferty has no desire to be a “placeholder” in her role as Youngstown State University’s interim president.

Lafferty was unanimously approved as the interim president for YSU by the Board of Trustees on Oct. 10. While she says she will not be pursuing the permanent position, she plans on using her short window of time at the university’s helm to build upon President Jim Tressel’s legacy.

“President Tressel has a legacy of leadership that we will appreciate and build on for many, many years to come. But I’m not here just to keep the lights on,” Lafferty says. “I’m here to do whatever is in my capacity to do to advance Youngstown State University and all of her people, so that will really be my force of action.”

Lafferty, born and raised on Fairgreen Avenue in the city, is a self-described “homegrown person.” She attended YSU for her undergraduate degree, and she is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the university that made her who she is today.

“I would not be who I am today if it were not for Youngstown State University. And so, anything that I can do to repay them – I think it would probably take 10 lifetimes for me. But if this is what I can do to repay Youngstown State for all it has done for me, I am happy to accept the challenge.”

The board selected Lafferty because of her local roots and her experience as an administrator. Lafferty boasts 42 years of experience at Villanova University outside of Philadelphia. She has served many roles including university vice president for 16 years, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and interim vice president of Academic Affairs. She is a faculty member in the Department of Education and Counseling, primarily teaching graduate students in the higher education track.

A transition period will start in the next few weeks before Tressel hands the reins over to Lafferty. Tressel, president of YSU since 2014, announced his departure in June. Lafferty says that Tressel has offered to be a guidepost for her as she navigates the interim presidency.

“I will be doing the work of the university and hopefully maintain the spirit and momentum that his leadership has set which has been quite incredible,” Lafferty says. “I will be in touch with him. I asked him, ‘Do you mind if I call you?’ And he said, ‘No. Call me every day if you want to.’ So, I intend to take him up on that.”

Lafferty was appointed as a national/global member of the YSU Board of Trustees in 2020 and will resign her position come Feb. 1. She says her time on the board gave her insight to the challenges she will face as she enters the role, but she plans to spend the first two months of her presidency listening to and learning from students, faculty and alumni.

“I’ve learned enough of some about what’s going on from my membership as a board of trustee, but that’s from a different place. I am now on the ground with the people that it actually affects. So, I will be relying on the insights and judgments I’ve received from them,” she says.

Financial and enrollment uncertainty, Lafferty says, are a few of the challenges facing YSU and universities nationwide. She plans to speak with those directly involved in and affected by the challenges to work towards solutions.

Last month, the university identified 11 departments that may face retrenchment or non-renewal due to low enrollment. Enrollment numbers collected from the Fall 2022 14th day enrollment census indicate YSU’s overall 2022-23 enrollment will be down 4% in full-time equivalent students.

Lafferty says she is aware of the looming threat of cuts and the worry it has placed on the shoulders of students, faculty and staff, but she remains optimistic and looks at the challenge as opportunity for growth.

“I actually see challenges as helping us get to the goals we’ve established. So, I don’t tend to look at them as impasses we cannot get through. We are all working for the same thing, and that’s the growth and well-being of our students,” she says. “We want to give them everything we can all the resources that we can so that when they graduate, we put a diploma in their hand, they know they can excel in the fields that they’ve studied.”

Lafferty says she is excited to come home again, and Youngstown has always held a special place in her heart.

“No matter where I am, no matter what job I have, Youngstown, Ohio has been where my roots began. And it will always be my favorite place,” she says. “The university itself is such a beacon in Youngstown and I just really want to do my very best to keep it shining as brightly as it is shining now.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.