University Presidents Discuss Possibilities For Partnerships

By Justin Wier
The presidents of Youngstown State University, University of Akron and Kent State University have held several discussions about possible partnerships and collaborations that could help the universities cut costs.

Jim Tressel, president of YSU, said the three have had preliminary discussions about possible collaborations.

“We’ve just had general discussions about making sure that anything we can do to help one another in these challenging times would be a good thing,” Tressel said.

Eileen Korey, chief communications officer at the University of Akron, said the presidents have met several times in an attempt to meet two different criteria.

“They’ve had many opportunities to sit down and talk about what are the possibilities for partnerships or collaborations that could accomplish two different things: one, to reduce costs, and two, to contribute to regional economic development,” Korey said.

Scott Scarborough, president of the University of Akron, sees the installation of new presidents at all three universities as an opportunity to work together, according to Korey.

“I remember Dr. Scarborough saying it really was a unique opportunity because you had so many new presidents to be able to even talk about these kinds of things, or have these discussions where previously they really haven’t happened before under previous leadership,” Korey said.

Tressel echoed this point.

“Three of us are brand new, and so we’re like let us get our feet on the ground and figure out where are some areas that we already do partner and that it might make sense to get together on,” Tressel said.

Korey said that while rumors and earlier reports have used words such as consolidation and merger, those terms are “completely inappropriate.”

“Dr. Scarborough was very careful to talk about using words like partnerships and collaborations which mean something completely different in the world of academia and organizations,” Korey said.

Eric Mansfield, executive director of University Media Relations at Kent State University, said that President Beverly Warren is interested in collaborations but agreed with Korey’s statement when it comes to potential mergers or consolidation.

“Dr. Warren has been very open about wanting to collaborate with area universities where it makes sense and benefits students,” Mansfield said. “But the words consolidation and merger are not on the table. Unequivocally not on the table.”

To date, nothing tangible has come from the meetings.

“The discussions have really been early discussions having to do with partnerships and collaborations, and they have been promising discussions, but that nothing has come out of them at this point,” Korey said.

Tressel said one area where there is potential for collaboration is purchasing.

“You see a lot of restaurants get together, and they do purchasing together because everyone needs forks and spoons and Styrofoam cups and that kind of thing,” he said. “What kind of things are there that perhaps we could figure out from a purchasing standpoint.”

Korey said Scarborough also sees possibilities surrounding shared services.

“He did say that this could cover the gamut from shared services of some kind, whether those were IT or on the financial end, he said they could be academic partnerships and they could be research partnerships,” Korey said.

Harry Meshel, a member of the Board of Trustees at YSU, said the board has not been involved in any of these discussions, but he sees potential in the universities cooperating going forward.

“We really shouldn’t be competing as much in this part of the state. There’s a tendency to take things away from each other rather than to join forces and make them stronger,” Meshel said. “We shouldn’t be enemies. We shouldn’t be strangers. We should be cooperative brothers in education.”

Martin Abraham, interim provost at YSU, said that while nothing concrete has been examined, it’s logical to think there could be advantages to establishing partnerships between the universities.

“It’s a reasonable conversation to have; there might be opportunity here,” Abraham said. “We’re close. We run universities. We do similar types of things. It would make sense to think that there would be ways we could save money.”