The Final Four: Provost Finalists Engage Faculty, Students at Tod Hall

cmyk_Torsney_Dr. Cheryl  DSC_1288
Photo courtesy of Bruce Palmer.
Photo by Alyssa Pawluk/The Jambar.
Photo by Alyssa Pawluk/The Jambar.

Forums featuring the final four candidates in Youngstown State University’s search for a new provost and vice president of academic affairs began Tuesday, offering the public a chance to engage the candidates in an open forum before the final decision is made.

The forums, starting Sept. 2 and ending Sept. 5, consisted of the four finalists chosen to speak, each on a separate day, with two sessions a day — one starting at 11 a.m. and the next at 3 p.m.


David Starrett, dean of academic information services at Southeast Missouri State University and the first finalist to speak on Sept. 2, explained the role of a provost.

“A provost’s role is in being an advocate, somebody that can champion what it means to carry out [YSU’s] change in mission, implement it and be able to take it to the president, Board or other executives and make a case for why it needs to happen,” he said.

Starrett is well experienced in the field of academic affairs and has first-hand experience with college students. In addition to serving as a dean at SMSU, he has also served as the director of the Kent Library, accreditation liaison officer to the Higher Learning Commission and an assistant biology professor at SMSU.

Starrett said he analyzed potential opportunities at YSU using data metrics and found the rate of student success.

“This … [data metrics] is looking at all the information we have about the students, student success in particular and then trying to figure out if that can help us predict success,” he said. “We took student successes of four courses and looked at student success rate. We looked for correlations and the most surprising thing that we found was the biggest differences between A’s and B’s. In general, the student that gets an A in whatever course, their chances were about 70 percent of graduating with that degree, while the B student’s chances were lower.”

Starrett highlighted the qualities that he thought made an effective leader, citing transparency, honesty, decisiveness and positivity as among the most important. He also spoke about his own decision-making method.

“I’ve learned to take some time, listen, be inclusive, get the information and voices heard, get the input and at some point a decision is made,” Starrett said.


Graham Glynn, vice provost and executive dean for college-wide programs at Mercy College in New York, visited YSU Sept. 3, indicating that his interest in Youngstown began during his time at Kent State University.

“You truly have a hidden gem here,” he said. “You have great facilities and great people.”

Glynn’s presentation focused on the implementation of learner centric teaching, much of which he drew from his book “Creating the Learner Centric Institution.” He describes this approach as “a philosophical approach to choose the learner first in decision making and to bias the system in favor of the learner.”

Explaining his approach, Glynn emphasized a need to refocus the purpose of instruction. Where, he claimed, many institutional education programs serve to act as job training or simply to produce graduates, education must be refocused to center on creating critically-thinking, yet well-prepared, graduates.

“Educated individuals generate business,” he said. “I support a focus on the liberal arts, but we have to do so responsibly.”

Glynn also emphasized the need for YSU faculty to continue pursuing research endeavors, as well as the need for researchers to have access to support for their projects.

“You can tell the difference between the quality of faculty between research and non-research institutions,” he said. “We need to talk to local businesses … ask them what they need and see if they will partner with us in our research endeavors.”

Following the presentation, Glynn participated in the open forum portion of the event, where faculty raised questions concerning Glynn’s leadership and his commitment to providing institutional support to faculty researchers, both in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

“I’m committed to leading the institution in the direction the faculty want to go,” Glynn said. “I can do nothing if the faculty is not behind me.”


Nathan Ritchey, former chair of the department of mathematics and statistics at YSU and dean of the College of Science and Health Professions at Edinboro University, spoke Sept. 4 about what he thinks provosts of universities need to focus on. He said that cutting programs is not an efficient way to improve these universities.

“Every university in this country needs to figure out where it spends its money and with some detail. Every program here makes something — there’s some positive contribution — however, we don’t contribute enough,” he said. “That’s what a provost needs to do is figure out — work with faculty, work with departments, find ways to do things better and generate more money for students within that. Cutting the program does not lead you to what you think.”

Ritchey said he learned from his experience working as a dean that cutting money out of academic programs to reduce university deficit does not work.

He said that as provost, he would leave behind a legacy of faculty members who were dedicated to research at the university.

“Youngstown State University is an urban research university whose sole purpose of being creative is to help this community at large. It means teaching, it means research and it means helping out the community in any way that we can,” Ritchey said. “I get the fact that an urban research institution has to have the research; it needs to be supported and it also needs to have faculty members that are doing it when no one is looking. That’s the faculty that I’d want to hire in the future. That’s the legacy that I’d leave with the department here.”


On Sept. 5, Cheryl Torsney, the senior vice provost at the University of Texas El Paso, visited YSU to participate in the open forum discussions at Todd Hall.

Torsney, a Youngstown native, focused her presentation on the goals she hopes to meet should she become the next provost at YSU, utilizing the acronym PENGUIN to outline her goals.

PENGUIN — which she said stands for promoting the university, engaging in stakeholders, networking with regional players for the university, generating research funding for the university and enrollment, understanding students’ needs, innovation in ideas for the school and need for excellence at the university — served as the core of Torsney’s presentation.

Throughout the discussion, Torsney emphasized her closeness to the region, pointing out that her interest in YSU runs deeper than a new job opportunity.

“I’m not looking for another job — I was only nominated for the YSU position,” she said. “I’d move back and wouldn’t be moving.”

Torsney has been consistent in her undivided interest in YSU, as shown in a letter she sent in July in response to YSU’s provost search.

“I’m very happy in El Paso. I don’t need a satisfying and challenging job; I already have one,” she said in the letter. “YSU’s distinctive mission, though, piques my interest … the fit between my experience and YSU’s needs seems excellent.”