A Constitutional Crisis

By Brian Brennan

Neil D. Humphrey had been President of Youngstown State University since 1984. With his retirement pending in 1992, the Board of Trustees set up a process to identify, interview and select candidates for the job.

Both the faculty and Student Government Association would be involved in the search; however, a “backroom deal” within the board would derail the proceedings and lead to what can only be described as a constitutional crisis. On June 19, 1991, YSU rose up in revolt, with SGA leading the charge.

After a nationwide search, six candidates were selected. Five possessed executive experience in higher education. One of them, Bernard T. Gillis, was YSU’s provost at the time and the only in-house contender.

The sixth applicant, however, had no such experience. He was Paul H. Dutton, a local attorney whose only connection with academe was his seat on the Ohio Board of Regents, the government agency that oversees the state’s publically-supported colleges and universities. His inclusion with the other candidates struck many as odd.

Enter Brian Fry, who was in the final weeks of his SGA presidency when he received word that Dutton was on the list of finalists.

In addition to Dutton’s lack of qualifications, Fry was disturbed by the candidate’s close friendship with trustees Michael J. “Mickey” Monus and John F. Geletka. To complicate matters, Dutton had provided legal services for both Monus and his company, Phar-Mor, Inc.

To Fry, Dutton’s candidacy represented a clear conflict of interest. He wrote a letter of protest to the board, but to no avail.

In May, Dutton was brought in to interview, but withdrew his name without finishing the process. Perhaps Dutton realized that he was in over his head, some even heard him speak about dropping out of contention the night before.

Fry praised Dutton for his decision, while Geletka blamed Dutton’s withdrawal on political forces within the university. Even so, five other qualified candidates remained. In accordance with the board’s own process, SGA recommended two to the board, as did the faculty.

Then, the crisis began.

During the Board’s meeting on June 14, Paul Dutton was selected to be YSU’s new president, despite the fact that he had already withdrawn.

On June 19, an emergency session of the Academic Senate was called. With the backing of the newly elected SGA president, Scott “Gus” Smith, Brian Fry presented a resolution condemning the board’s selection.

Similar statements were made by Frederick J. Blue, who represented the faculty. A roll call vote resulted in 60 “yes” votes in favor of the resolution with four abstentions. Not a single “no” vote was cast. A Dutton presidency was now untenable.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Paul Dutton stepped aside. The board set up a new search process, which led to the selection of Leslie H. Cochran as YSU’s fifth president.

The crisis was student government’s finest hour. Brian Fry graduated and moved on to other things. Mickey Monus ended up in prison after embezzling funds from Phar-Mor.