When Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel wakes up in the morning, he’s in the spotlight the moment he opens his front door.
Tressel lives in the heart of campus in the Wick Pollock House, an historic 17,000 square foot mansion about a two-minute walk from his office.
In 2012, the university spent $4.47 million renovating the mansion, which was once used as a hotel and restaurant.
Tressel’s living situation is unusual.
Of the 13 public universities in Ohio, Tressel is one of only two university presidents who live on campus.
“Tressel is a very visible individual, but having him live right across the street from campus is obviously a great advantage,” said Ron Cole, communications director at Youngstown State. “He’s extremely visible and a recognizable presence on campus and in the community on a constant basis.”
It’s an ongoing trend that public university presidents in Ohio are moving off of campus and into residential neighborhoods. Eight of the 13 public universities in Ohio have offered on-campus housing at some point, but today, only two remain.
While most of Ohio’s public universities provide an “allowance” or stipend for its president, having the president live on campus enables the university to spend a great sum in the short-term, but less in the long-run. At least that was the idea the Youngstown State Board of Trustees had.
“Instead of paying $30,000-50,000 every year, the idea was to renovate (the house) and make it the president’s house moving forward,” Cole said. “It was all part of the equation.”
Aside from Tressel, the 11 other public university presidents live in off-campus private housing, distanced from the hustle and bustle of campus life.
Ohio University President Roderick McDavis and his wife Deborah transitioned to off-campus housing last month.
The president and his wife moved out of their 29 Park Place residence — which has been used by many other OU presidents — after discovering bats in the house. The university entered a lease agreement for an off-campus house costing $1.2 million, but eventually didn’t follow through with the deal.
Before the university vetoed the possible lease agreement, hundreds of OU students rallied outside of the president’s 29 Park Place house on campus, arguing against the university’s use of money. Almost 100 OU faculty signed a letter urging the university to reconsider buying a new house.
The Board of Trustees at Youngstown State spent far more renovating the president’s house, but there wasn’t any serious opposition to the decision, Cole said.
While many university presidents in Ohio live in large houses — the average square footage for a presidential home in Ohio is around 8,200 — not all presidents live in luxurious mansions.
Cleveland State University President Ronald Berkman is the only public university president in Ohio who lives in an apartment.
Berkman moved into a modest apartment a few blocks from campus last year. His monthly rent is about $3,600 a month — a fraction of the cost of his former Shaker Heights home, which the Plain Dealer reported cost about $1.2 million.
“He’s from New York, so he’s used to living in the city,” said Rob Spademan, Communications Director at Cleveland State. “It’s good for (the president) to live so close to campus and he’s comfortable where he’s at.”
Although it’s strictly subjective whether having an on-campus president helps with visibility, Cole said having Tressel live on campus has been beneficial to campus life.
“I can’t say whether other universities should, but it’s worked for us,” Cole said. “It’s been a roaring success.”