Faculty Survey Shows Disapproval for Board of Trustees’ Leadership

In the midst of concerns for the health of the faculty and administrative relationship at Youngstown State University, the 2014 Employee Satisfaction Survey indicated that the majority of YSU faculty lack confidence in the leadership abilities of the University’s Board of Trustees.

The YSU Strategic Plan requires an employee satisfaction survey to be administered on a biennial basis. As part of the survey, 57 percent of faculty and 67 percent of full-time faculty answered with “disagree” or “strongly disagree” when asked if they agreed with the statement, “I am confident in the Board of Trustees’ ability to lead.”

While only 23 percent of part-time faculty disagreed with the statement, 34 percent chose to reply with “neutral” rather than “agree” or “strongly agree.” 20 percent claimed they were “unaware.”

Eric Shehadi, a student trustee, said he wasn’t surprised by the results and suggested the recent presidential search exacerbated things.

“I know there were a lot of faculty members upset that a faculty member wasn’t on the search committee,” Shehadi said.

Harry Meshel, a member of the Board, thinks the survey is inadequate, as it does not elaborate on the reasons why the Board lacks confidence.

“Okay, we’re not trusted. Why aren’t we trusted? Give us a reason,” Meshel said.

Carole Weimer, chairperson of the Board, shared these concerns.

“I would love to see some of the thoughts behind it, what is it that they feel we could all do better? I’m not sure, from their perspective, where that feeling of dissatisfaction comes from,” Weimer said.

Shehadi suggested that the amount of change that has occurred at YSU has left a lot of people upset and much of that displeasure lands on the shoulders of the Board — as is common in most university settings.

“The first people that get the credit for anything are the administrators and the people on top, but they are also the first people to get blamed when anything goes wrong,” Shehadi said.

Nonetheless, Weimer, Meshel and Shehadi all acknowledge a lack of understanding between the Board and the faculty.

“The Board interacts on a limited basis with faculty. We don’t hear from faculty directly,” Weimer said.

Meshel added that there is limited communication to the Board about the workload of professors, including their activity outside of classrooms with research, running separate agencies and interactions with students and groups.

“We don’t really have a good notion about the workload of the professors,” Meshel said. “Exactly how much time are they spending in class, what else are they doing? That’s the kind of stuff we don’t know. No one makes those reports to us.”

Weimer said an important step in bridging this divide was gaining more extensive knowledge on the daily life of the typical faculty member.

“I think it’s important that we all come to understand what that typical day in the life of a faculty [member] looks like and how important those other pieces of what they do are in growing the institution and enhancing the student experience,” Weimer said.

Weimer said she has discussed increasing the level of communication between the Board and faculty with President Jim Tressel, and they both feel that creating opportunities for the Board and faculty to interact will improve understanding.

“Social gatherings will help us get to know each other better as individuals and what our roles are,” Weimer said.

Shehadi said he did not believe that a similar disconnect exists between the students and the Board. He stressed the student trustees spend a lot of time talking to board members about the students’ experiences on campus, and that they interact with the student government regularly.

Weimer echoed Shehadi’s comments.

“I feel very confident that the communication flows pretty well between students and the Board. We probably often have more student representation at some of our committee meetings and board meetings than we have others,” Weimer said.

Shehadi also added that student trustees play a similar role as a link between faculty and the Board.

“I interact with faculty members every day, and we try to bridge that gap as much as possible,” he said.

The results of the survey suggest more needs to be done.

During his time in the Ohio Senate, Meshel pushed for legislation that would add student and faculty trustees to the Board to enhance the dialogue between groups. YSU has two student trustees on its board, but faculty trustees left a door open for legal challenges and ethical issues that result from employees advising management.

“The faculty member couldn’t be in there arguing for their own pay raise,” Meshel said.

Shehadi considered the possibility of a retired faculty member being appointed by the governor to serve in an advisory capacity.

“For example, student trustees can vote in committee, but they can’t vote in the regular board meetings, maybe have a faculty representative on the Board like that,” Shehadi said.