YOUNGSTOWN – It’s slightly less than seven months before Jim Tressel formally resigns as Youngstown State University’s ninth president, but he’s not shy about saying he wants to be part of a lot of work that remains.
“While I’m still here, we need to work on everything,” Tressel said during a news conference Thursday that followed the YSU Board of Trustees ’quarterly meeting at the university.
Tressel, 69, who was named YSU president in July 2014, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down after eight years at the post, effective Feb. 1, 2023.
Specifically, the former YSU and Ohio State University head football coach said greater efforts need to be made to “repopulate the (Mahoning) Valley,” meaning to entice more people to live and work in the region, and send their children to YSU.
He also intends to work daily toward providing what he feels is in students’ best interests and community needs as part of continuing efforts to build a strong, vibrant and competitive workforce, Tressel added. To that end, he touted the partnership the university has with Ultium Cells in Lordstown to build a $ 2.3 billion battery-cell factory that promises to employ about 1,500 workers.
Even though he’s relinquishing his position as YSU president early next year, Tressel has no intention of detaching himself from the university. While he offered few specifics, Tressel said he will rely on the board of trustees regarding how he can be helpful to the university, and he hopes to “have a role in YSU for the rest of my life.”
After stepping down, Tressel also plans to spend more time with his four children and his grandchildren, he added.
Tressel also joked that during his recent 50-year high school reunion, which was delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was voted in high school as being least likely to be a university president.
During the news conference, John R. Jakubek, the board of trustees’ chairman, praised Tressel for a list of achievements under the president’s tenure, including the high increase in graduation rates and a greater number of graduates. Also, the university saw a dramatic uptick in student and private housing on and near the campus, along with higher overall student grade-point averages, he noted.
Other accomplishments under his leadership include philanthropic efforts such as the seven-year “We See Tomorrow” fundraising campaign, which, last year, far exceeded its $ 100 million goal. Also established was the Jim and Ellen Tressel Student Opportunity Work Endowment Fund that began with a $ 1 million gift.
In addition, Wick and Fifth avenues underwent numerous improvements and upgrades, Jakubek noted. He added that one of Tressel’s top priorities continues to be student retention.
“We need somebody with the same characteristics he had to carry this university forward,” he said about Tressel’s successor.
Nevertheless, the university continues to face daunting challenges, such as likely decreasing enrollment figures this September, needing to make changes to adjust to an uncertain correct size of YSU and having to re-examine the university’s budget against a backdrop of projected revenue losses.
Part of the reason for fewer students on campus is that more of them are studying online, Jakubek pointed out.
As a result, YSU officials will need to figure out what type of changes will be implemented to maintain the university’s sustainability and best address such difficulties, he continued.
The YSU-OEA, the faculty union at YSU, responded to the news of Tressel’s retirement in an emailed statement.
“We would like to wish Jim and Ellen the best of luck in their future endeavors and thank them for their service to YSU. Jim Tressel being President improved the public profile of YSU, and he has worked tirelessly to improve the campus as well as our surrounding community, ”YSU-OEA President Susan Clutter said. “Jim Tressel is the best fundraiser and spokesperson that YSU has had, and we hope the YSU Foundation will find a spot for the Tressels so they can continue to promote the value of YSU.”
The statement also noted the union urges the YSU Board of Trustees and administration to conduct a national search and appoint a hiring committee made up of all the unions on campus for the hiring process.
“We have some big shoes to fill, and hiring the next President will be of paramount importance for all of us at YSU. Faculty are eager to work toward a seamless transition in our leadership and to carry on President Tressel’s good work, ”Clutter said.
In his report during the trustees meeting, Tressel offered an optimistic view of YSU’s continued growth. Nevertheless, such efforts remain a work in progress, he said.
“We have seven months of work to do, from my vantage point,” Tressel added.
Also at the session, Laura Lyden and Julie Centofanti were sworn in as new trustees, with two-year terms that took effect this month.
In addition, Trustee James E. “Ted” Roberts will be stepping down this summer because his nine-year term has expired, Ron Cole, a university spokesman, said. Cole was unable to provide a date.
Roberts is a senior counsel for the Youngstown law firm Roth, Blair, Roberts, Strasfeld & Lodge.