Hiring Jim Tressel is a Mistake

According to media reports, former Ohio State head football coach and current University of Akron administrator, Jim Tressel has been offered the presidency of Youngstown State University.

Jim Tressel

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Let me put this as simply as I can:  Hiring Jim Tressel as Youngstown President is a mistake at best.  An insult to the academic mission of the university at worst.

For those unfamiliar, Jim Tressel led the Ohio State Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002.  Tressel was considered one of the top coaches in the game at one of the top football schools in the country.  Prior to his tenure at Ohio State, Tressel coached at Youngstown State from 1986-2000 winning four Division I-AA championships.

A history of winning and national championships isn’t the only similarity between his time at Youngstown and Ohio State.  Both schools were found to violate NCAA regulations.  In both cases, Jim Tressel pleaded ignorant.

In 2011, Ohio State forced Tressel out after reports that several football players traded memorabilia for tattoos.  Many who find the NCAA regulations burdensome might suggest this isn’t a big deal.  They may have a point.

However, Jim Tressel’s actions were clearly wrong and prove a lack of integrity.  He knew about the rule violations and did not report them to the university, the Big 10 conference, or the NCAA.  The NCAA issued a five year ban on any NCAA school that wanted to hire him as their coach.

So the man about to be hired as president isn’t even fit to coach his university’s football team.  Think about that.

Hiring Jim Tressel as Youngstown President is a mistake because he lacks the integrity to lead a university.  Or an other organization for that matter.

I’m more concerned about what this issue and other trends in hiring college presidents means for higher education.  I’m currently working on a study that has shown the number of college presidents getting fired is at a 25-year high.  Is this the time to start hiring questionable candidates?

Apparently, many boards in addition to Youngstown’s board think so.  The controversy surrounding the College of Charleston’s recent hiring of the state’s lieutenant governor proves another example.

Do we have so little faith in the importance of leading a university?  Can anyone do it?

Many have argued that college presidents only need to provide fundraising prowess and the ability to influence political stakeholders.  Of course, these skills are important.  But, I am unwilling to diminish the role of the presidency to these two elements.  The job is much more significant and complex.

A strong university president sets a vision and direction for campus. A strong university president hires an executive team to lead and support the university’s mission.

The days of the president focusing substantial time managing the academic side of the university are gone.  I get that.  Yet, the best college presidents still foster an environment to support the entire university—not just fundraising and government relations.

There are many examples across higher education.

Michael Crow of Arizona State University has won fans and critics for his efforts to innovate and transform ASU as well as all of higher education.

Freeman Hrabowski at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has worked to improve minorities enrolling STEM programs.

Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania has fostered interdisciplinary programs on campus and improved the academic excellence of Penn.

All these presidents have to fundraise, work with federal, state, and local governments, and still manage to provide leadership to their institutions’ academic missions.

I find the statement of Youngstown State Board Chair Sudershan Garg to be most disappointing.  “Mr. Tressel has the personality and leadership skills, in addition to widespread community support, to dramatically raise YSU’s profile and prominence across Ohio and the nation,” Garg said in a news release on the hiring of Tressel.

The “personality and leadership skills,” but a noticeable absence of integrity.  He will “dramatically raise YSU’s profile and prominence.”  I can’t ague against that.  Would I be discussing who Youngstown had hired if they had hired another candidate?  The answer is unequivocally no.

Tressel was willing to throw out the integrity and following the rules to win.  Youngstown’s board seems ready to throw out the integrity and values of the university in order to win at the game of institutional prominence.  Maybe hiring Jim Tressel as Youngstown President is not a mistake after all.  Maybe the board is getting exactly what they deserve.

Question: What do you think of the idea of hiring Jim Tressel as president? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Hiring Jim Tressel is a Mistake

  1. Coming from a state that reveres football – the coaches, the players, everything about it – to the point of elevating it to a religion, I must say, the board of trustees’ strategy is not surprising. It is however, very disappointing and reflects the lack of integrity among the trustees themselves. You, Dr. Harris, are right on the money when you suggest they will get what they deserve.
    Oh, by the way…
    ROLL, TIDE, ROLL!

  2. You’re quite right, Linda. It isn’t surprising. Ohio isn’t Alabama, but Ohio State football is close. I feel bad for faculty, staff, and students who are going to get what they don’t deserve.

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