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January 31, 2013

Berkman strives to continue CSU transformation in next term

By Samah Assad

On Jan. 17, Cleveland State University’s Board of Trustees announced their unanimous approval of a three-year contract extension for President Ronald M. Berkman, who will continue his leadership with the university through 2017.

With this extension also comes the continuation of Berkman’s efforts to revitalize and better connect Cleveland State to the city, as well as focus on student success.

In his next term, he strives to foster the partnerships he recently established throughout the community, including a key collaboration with the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). With the recent demolition of Viking Hall comes Cleveland State’s Center for Innovation in Health Professions — the home of NEOMED — that will serve as a student health care and learning facility once it is completed in January 2015.
Berkman explained that this change “absolutely has to be done” in order for Cleveland State to establish itself as a strong presence in health care, especially in a health care-oriented city like Cleveland.

“It’s not just a building,” Berkman said of the future medical facility. “It’s an idea about how we transform the health care work force.”

He also considers it to be crucial that the university is looked at as a top school that future students want to apply to. Building a close-knit community with opportunities that excite students and provide off-campus experiences was the driving force behind Berkman’s vision for their success, he explained.

“One of the main ingredients of creating success for students is creating a place where students want to be,” he said. “That was really the inspiration in many respects, between trying to not only improve life on campus and build more residences, but also to build a neighborhood.”

When he first took presidency in 2009, Berkman noticed the minimal locations for students to socialize, and although much had already been done to transform the physical look of the university, he saw more potential both physically and internally. It struck him that Cleveland State needed to be better integrated within the region, and he envisioned a university with its face to the city.

“You don’t know this until you come, but I think I came to Cleveland at a moment in which there was a kind of transformation in the air in Cleveland,” Berkman noted. “I think it’s a city where partnerships were there for the taking if you could bring the right things to the table. I couldn’t have found a more welcoming and interested canvas to work.”

In 2009 Cleveland State’s graduation rates were the worst in the state, and Berkman told Faculty Senate that he would never feel good about the university until they could substantially raise the success level of its students. Emphasizing student success in his first term, Berkman initiated various systems within the curriculum, such as the new online degree audit program and multi-term registration opportunities available to students.

According to Joe Mosbrook, director of strategic communications, the university has also seen growing enrollment as it welcomed its largest freshman classes in history for the last three consecutive years, with last fall’s freshman class having the highest GPA and ACT scores.

Cleveland State is also currently second in the state in number of applicants.

Mo Al Bitar, president of the student body, believes that the university has vastly transformed with Berkman at the forefront in the last three years. He credits this to what he said is Berkman’s advocacy for students and commitment to making Cleveland State “one of the best urban campuses in the nation.”

“[Berkman] is not afraid to make bold decisions and enforce change,” Al Bitar said. “He is also very good at soliciting feedback and advice. If he is able to maintain that balance, I foresee an equally successful new term — if not more successful.”

Although Cleveland State has seen success, Berkman believes more can be done to greater elevate the university and its students. He aims to continue focusing on student success and shaping the university into a neighborhood within Cleveland during his next three years.

“I’m not prepared to declare victory,” Berkman said, “but I think we’re seeing some really good signs.”