Group rallies against YSU cuts

Staff photo / Sean Barron About 60 students, faculty and supporters attended a peaceful rally Tuesday at Youngstown State University to call on the administration not to cut the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program and other programs in an effort to save money.

YOUNGSTOWN — Soon after arriving in the Mahoning Valley from Columbus, Brian Hill enrolled at Youngstown State University, where he established a sense of connectivity and pride.

These days, however, both have been diluted.

“It just makes me sad,” Hill, of Youngstown, said, referring to proposed cuts to a variety of campus programs. “I feel less welcome, less school pride.”

One of those on the chopping block is the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program, so Hill joined an estimated 60 fellow students, faculty and supporters in a peaceful on-campus rally Tuesday to call on the administration to reconsider cutting the NEOMFA and more than 20 additional master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s level programs many say are vital to the area’s well-being.

Hill, a senior who’s a professional and technical-writing major, said he also was interested in YSU’s American Studies, one of the six master’s level programs slated to be eliminated.

If the cuts are implemented, Hill said he will have to go elsewhere to attend graduate school and likely leave the area.

In the NEOMFA program, the university shares students and resources with Kent and Cleveland State universities as well as the University of Akron. Coursework covers fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting and other related genres.

In addition, the NEOMFA, which debuted in 2005 at YSU, is the nation’s only program of its kind, Cassandra Lawton, rally organizer, noted.

More than 60 students from the four universities, including nine at YSU, are in it, she explained.

The program, however, would not sunset until all of the students complete their courses; cuts would mean that no one else could enroll, Lawton said.

“We want the Youngstown community to have this, and the administration to know how important this program is,” she continued.

As they walked from DeBartolo Hall to Tod Hall, marchers chanted “Stop the cuts!” and “No funding, no future.”

At the end of Tuesday’s rally, Lawton and Karen Schubert of Lit Youngstown delivered three petitions to the administration asking that the program remain intact. One petition each was sent to YSU President Jim Tressel, Provost Brien N. Smith and the university’s board of trustees.

Lawton added that she hopes to soon have a good-faith meeting with administration officials about the situation.


Earlier Tuesday, Smith, who’s also vice president of academic affairs, sent out a memo to the campus community. He explained that as part of the Academic Program Enhancement and Effectiveness Initiative and assessment of YSU’s 145 academic programs, the decision was made to start the process of retrenchment, as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the administration and the YSU-Ohio Education Association union.

“Faculty worked with chairs and deans, starting in October 2020, to consider the data, ask hard questions, consider tough decisions and reflect on how each program is aligned with our mission and vision,” Smith said in the correspondence. “From there, as part of the APEEI and departmental review, 26 programs were identified to be sunset, and the list was shared with the campus community in June 2021.”

Students in the NEOMFA program, some of whom have become professional writers, “have enriched our community with their tremendous drive,’ Phil Brady, one of the program’s co-founders, said.

Also among those who spoke outside of Tod Hall was Christopher Barzak, who teaches fiction writing in the NEOMFA program and has published several short stories and books.

“You deserve a university that recognizes who you are,” Barzak told the crowd, adding, “Youngstown needs dreamers, now more than ever.”

Students with a variety of majors also took part in the peaceful rally, such as those in medical assisting technology and medical laboratory technology, two of the eight associate’s level programs to be eliminated.

Other students, such as Anna Zena of Canfield, a political-science major, were worried that their fields of study could be eliminated, even though the one she hopes to enter was not among the 26 named programs slated to be cut.

Zena, who hopes to be accepted into YSU’s accelerated 3+3 program, said she wants greater transparency from the administration regarding where the program stands, but has received no response.

The 3+3 program is a partnership with the University of Akron’s School of Law that shortens by one year students’ ability to earn a law degree, and it is open to junior and seniors. It also allows them to pay an undergraduate rate for the first year of law school, she noted.

Zena said she intends to enroll in the program next year to pursue her goal of becoming a criminal defense attorney.

Daphne Carr of Youngstown, a local writer who applied for the NEOMFA program, called the proposed cuts “horrible,” saying that they add to the stress and anxiety many students have been experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today