What Jim Tressel is Learning as a Student Affairs Administrator

Many of you will remember Jim Tressel.  As the head football coach at Ohio State University from 2001-2011 he played in three BCS National Championship games and won the BCS National Championship in 2002.  He resigned as the Buckeye’s coach in 2011 after an NCAA investigation revealed rules violations that I don’t have the time or inclination to go into in this post.

What is Tressel doing today?  He is the Vice President for Strategic Engagement at the University of Akron, his alma mater.  Tressel is involved in student recruitment and alumni relations.

Allie Grasgreen tells us more in her piece at Inside Higher Ed.  Here is a taste:

…working in administration has also provided Tressel with some clarity when it comes to his old line of work. Back then, Tressel says, he had a “tertiary relationship” with nearly everyone on campus, but didn’t fully grasp the difficulty of working in higher education as a whole – “the number of moving parts” – or the depth of what everyone was up against.
In other words, an athletics department is one unit with a singular objective and — especially at a mega-program such as Ohio State’s — operates largely independently of the institution.

On the academic side, there are sparring colleges, thousands of faculty members, and hundreds of administrative divisions — all of which have different goals, but must work together under the larger university umbrella. When you’re trying to solve a problem — be it signing a new television contract or getting students to graduation when budgets are low but tuition’s at an all-time high — it’s generally easier with fewer people in the room (and with money to spend).

Not only is Tressel realizing the difficulty of working with so many diverse voices, he’s having to consider questions and problems that people in athletics don’t have to think about. How do you define student success when graduates are expected to be so versatile, how do you make success happen when money is scarce on both sides, and how do you generate successful outcomes in today’s job market?

“I think we were a little spoiled in athletics – that it wasn’t hard to come to a common cause and build a team and create that oneness, and it’s a little harder with a larger group,” Tressel said. “You can see a lot more clearly, now that I’ve been here a year, as to what the challenges are in higher ed…. We felt like we were a part of it in athletics, but a smaller part, and now when you’re dealing with the broad range of things that fall in your division, it’s quite a challenge.”