The Tressel Transformation: Year One

We are closing in on the first anniversary of the Tressel administration, and he has assembled his team of administrative avengers.

When he came in last year, he spoke to us about assessing whether or not the way things were set up was best for the university. He has determined that it was not.

Departments have been eliminated. The Division of Student Affairs has been replaced by two smaller, more focused divisions. The Division of University Advancement has been repurposed into the smaller Division of University Relations with the YSU Foundation taking over fundraising for the university.

These changes resulted in a leaner administrative staff and saved the university nearly a million dollars. Tressel has said he doesn’t think he can ask faculty and staff to cut budgets unless the administration is willing to cut their budget as well. With the new administrative organization, he has lived up to that.

He also established Pete’s Pride — a program that motivated YSU alumni to volunteer on campus. It provides students with role models, successful people who have been right where they are, and also aids in reducing costs by providing volunteers to staff events.

If you sit down and talk with Tressel, you will quickly understand that he places retention efforts above all else. He wants to increase student success and make sure people who come here complete their degrees. For the most part, his efforts have followed through on this.

He’s also stated a desire to improve the student experience — a positive experience being one that keeps students coming to campus and continuing on to graduation.

He has made efforts to improve student experience, but they have been to some degree undermined by his unwillingness to participate in Safe Zone training as requested by the campus LGBT community. It’s not required, but it wouldn’t take much to extend that olive branch.

The restructuring of the Honors College was led by Tressel and intends to reduce the number of students in the Scholars program in favor of distributing that scholarship money to a greater number of students, which has proven controversial.

It’s not the only speed bump he’s come across in his first year. His popularity in the community and status as a celebrity football coach has helped draw people to the campus and invigorated fundraising efforts, but it undermines other initiatives.

There was a bitter union negotiation with the faculty and we’re in the midst of one with the university’s classified employees. The blame for this can’t be laid directly at his feet, but the “Academics over Athletics” pins seen around campus and “President Football” memes seem targeted at his leadership, voicing worries that his history as a football coach will color his administrative decisions.

Critics have voiced concerns that he often acts unilaterally. They point to his appointment of Martin Abraham as interim provost. This too may stem from his athletic past — his word was always the final one on the field.

It’s been a learning process — for Tressel and the students — but for the most part he has held true to his stated goals of targeting resources where he feels they will do the most good and focusing on student success and retention.

Time will tell whether or not the changes improve things at YSU. We will see if the areas Tressel has targeted prove to be the right ones.

But at the very least, the changes represent an attempt to reduce spending and improve our financial situation. At a time when the university is in dire straits, with faculty and employees fighting for every last dollar, this has to be recognized as a necessary and meaningful move in the right direction.