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President Ronald Berkman has a successful first year at CSU, gets 25 percent bonus

BY GLORIA EADEH
JULY 12, 2010

President Ronald Berkman, a man who once openly admitted he had no desire to attend college upon receiving his high school diploma went on to earn a PhD from Princeton University and, most notably, completed his first year as the sixth president of Cleveland State University.

Berkman had an eventful first year at CSU. Upon his arrival, Berkman promised to turn CSU into a university instrumental in shaping the city. He came into office making promises to the campus community which includes starting an international school, easing dependence on state funds for university improvements and bringing a medical program to the city. Berkman kept his promises, but when asked how he would grade himself on his first year achievements he feels there is room for improvement.

“I’d say I would give myself an A minus, I’m a tough grader,” said Berkman. “There is always room for improvement.”
The president feels giving himself an A minus will give him something to strive for in the coming year.

Ronald Weinberg, chairman of the Board of Trustees feels Berkman’s first year achievements are A plus worthy.

“I think probably not a day goes by that people come to me and tell me what wonderful things the university is doing,” said Weinberg. “I see alumni all over town and people who don’t have a direct connection are very enthusiastic.”

In order to improve his grade Berkman said he would like to spend more time on the academic and student issues on campus.

“I spent a lot of time getting to know Columbus, getting to know Washington and Cleveland and getting to know the foundations,” said Berkman. “I have spent a fair amount of time on student issues, but I would dig in a little more in terms of how we can improve student life here on campus and how we can improve the success rate,” he continued.

Berkman said he will continue town hall meetings with the students and faculty and work closely with the Student Government Association. Berkman feels he could have “dug-in” a bit more in terms of addressing student concerns. However, members of the SGA are pleased with the president’s achievements thus far.

“After the first Town Hall event in the fall Berkman asked the SGA to hold these forums once every semester in which we agreed,” said Mohammad Faraj, president of the SGA. “Furthermore, Dr. Berkman has always made himself available when it comes to students.  After the firearm issue in the Viking Hall, Shauna Jackson and I went to his office unannounced as concerned students. Within two minutes we were sitting in President Berkman’s office discussing the facts,” Faraj continued.  

Berkman’s first initiative upon arrival was the launch of the K-12 school with the International Baccalaureate program. Although the I.B. program has run into subsequent problems, such as enrollment issues, it is well on its way to opening its doors in the fall for grades K-2.

“The turning point should be when the new principal arrives, Julie Beers,” said Berkman.

“When admissions are decentralized and the principal has oversight over the process I think things will improve.” He continued. Berkman hopes to see the I.B. school add more grade levels in the coming years and become a full-fledged K-12 program in about four years.

The president spoke of creating more partnerships between the city and university. CSU and Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy entered a partnership program for students on the pre-medical track at CSU, the first partnership of its kind at the university.

In the coming year the president will continue to make NEOUCOM a priority.

“Next year getting the collaborative program with NEOUCOM in place is going to be extremely challenging. Having a medical school presence on campus is a very big challenge and I think it is one that needs to be fulfilled,” said Berkman.

Recently President Berkman hired George Walker into the science and research department. Walker’s presence and experience in grant writing is vital to CSU’s research department.

“I think that we need to focus also on the quest to raise the number of research dollars we generate,” said Berkman. “That has to be a goal for next year.”

Though there have been many positive reviews of Berkman’s achievements thus far, he is no stranger to controversy.

Upon his arrival at CSU Berkman’s contract made him one of the highest paid presidents in Ohio, receiving a whopping $400,000 per year. Yet the controversy has not prevented Berkman from attaining a 25 percent bonus on his base salary in June.

Faculty and staff are in an uproar about his bonus. Yet members of the American Association of University Professors would not speak on the record because contract negotiations are currently taking place. Several attempts were made to contact Faculty Senate members without any success.

Berkman responded kindly to critics, but defended his bonus.

“I think if you look you will find that probably every president in Ohio has a performance budget structure. It is a part of what was a condition of employment if I succeeded,” said Berkman.

Weinberg said based on his review Berkman excelled in his first year and earned his bonus.

“What we did when he first came aboard was asking him to list the things he intended to accomplish during the first year,” said Weinberg. “Five things were picked out. Those were bench marks to assess how he did. If you look at the report card, so to speak, he really did well.”

Still, Berkman understands the hard times Cleveland and the rest of the country are enduring.

“I recognize these are difficult times, but we haven’t had any people that have taken pay cuts at the university, but recognizing these are difficult times I have donated $50,000 to scholarships,” said Berkman. “I understand why there is people who question it, but again I try to do what I can to give back to the students and to the institution.”

Among President Berkman’s list of goals for the coming year is the North Campus Neighborhood project. Berkman was able to fund the North Campus in full through private donors. CSU is providing the land for the developers to build the neighborhood. Previous proposals required a substantial amount of funding from CSU.

In the coming year the president intends on finishing what he has started. Some of the accomplishments this year have only begun.

“I think it has been a very good year. I have had a very positive experience in Cleveland,” said Berkman.