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YSU faculty, students raise alarm about faculty cuts, program eliminations

A sign inside Youngstown State University's Tod Hall in Youngstown.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
A sign inside Youngstown State University's Tod Hall in Youngstown. Students protested outside Tod Hall on Jan. 10, 2024 against cuts in programs in the fields of music, art and geography.

Youngstown State University is eliminating five programs and cutting 13 faculty positions, a move which has prompted concern and protest from faculty and students, and a petition with over 20,000 signatures.

The university says the elimination of the programs in art education, geography, music composition, jazz studies, and public and professional writing is necessary because they have low graduation rates and low student demand. Two of those majors are in the Dana School of Music – which has 20 faculty total - which prompted an online petition alleging that YSU is “effectively dismantling” the school.

During a meeting Wednesday with YSU’s academic senate, vice provost Jennifer Pintar said that across the five programs being eliminated, there were only 23 graduates in 2022-2023, and about 175 students.

“This is not an attack on the music or the arts,” Pintar said. “It is a decision that would be made with any program on campus with such an imbalance of faculty to graduation (rates).”

That same day, roughly 100 students and others protested outside Tod Hall in Youngstown in support of the school of music.

Faculty member Ewelina Boczkowska, who said she was representing the music school in her remarks, said the university’s assessments of the music programs contain “objective errors” that ignore growth in the increase in graduate students and a flawed assessment of low demand for employees in those fields. She also said the university has mismanaged the school, assigning music school faculty to majors “different than their employment letters,” while other faculty have left and not been replaced.

“Imagine sporting events, churches, schools, bars and restaurants, museums and concert halls throughout the region without music,” she said.

The YSU OEA, the union representing faculty at the university, noted that art, music and geography faculty and students do a lot to help boost community vibrancy throughout the region, from performances, to painting murals, to securing grants to support environmental science research in the region.

“The effects of losses in these programs will be felt well beyond the walls of YSU, and we heard from some of the students and faculty about those damaging effects in the meeting today,” YSU OEA President Mark Vopat said in a statement

Pintar said that the Dana School of Music and other music- and art-related majors – including music performance - will continue, although programs will be evaluated and restructured if they’re not meeting student demand or have low graduation rates.

She also said the university is adding faculty positions to keep up with demand in programs like nursing, biology and computer science.

“The students are showing with their enrollment and retention whether programs are filling their needs or not,” Pintar said. "The message we are getting loud and clear is that adjustments must be made.”

Pintar did not say that the university needs to cut these programs to meet any looming budget deficit; she said the cuts are coming after several years of reviewing the programs to look at overall efficiency at the college.

The faculty members will be offered voluntary separation or retirement agreements which will pay out up to 80% of their salary for their year, while students still in the programs being shuttered will be allowed to complete their degrees.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.