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Rally against cuts coincides with meeting

YSU trustees look to data to move forward

YOUNGSTOWN — When Youngstown State University students Jenna DeLuca and Mark Pompeo discuss why they feel that the Italian education program should not be eliminated, their reasons extend beyond the campus — both in time and distance.

“It’s a heritage thing. YSU should reflect community values,” Pompeo, president of YSU’s Italian Club, said.

He and DeLuca were among an estimated 40 students, faculty members, alumni and others who took part in a peaceful on-campus rally Thursday morning to call on the administration to cease making what they feel are harmful and draconian cuts to academic departments as a cost-saving strategy.

The gathering took place at the same time as Thursday’s quarterly YSU Board of Trustees meeting.

Heading the one-hour protest was the YSU-Ohio Education Association faculty union, which has been critical of the administration’s decision to cut 26 programs — despite YSU being fiscally sound now.

DeLuca and Pompeo added that the Mahoning Valley has for generations been home to many Italian immigrants, so cutting Italian education could be detrimental to maintaining many traditions. Also, if such programs stop, it’s possible they may not be replaced, said Pompeo, who’s majoring in human resources with a minor in Italian.

DeLuca, an Italian major whose family came to the U.S. from Italy about 100 years ago, said Italian heritage also is a large part of Youngstown’s identity and backbone.

“I may have to go to a different university,” Mary Dippolito, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said, referring to the Northeast Ohio Master in Fine Arts program for which she intended to apply, but is on the chopping block.

Mark Vopat, the YSU-OEA spokesman, said the cuts reflect “misplaced priorities,” and that the administration should reconsider its approach. He was especially critical of plans to cut the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies, saying that such a move could occur at a time of increased anti-Semitism in the U.S. In addition, both programs are valuable community assets, he added.

Vopat also expressed concern about the possibility of cuts to full-time lecturers taking place in January. Over time, YSU could become something akin to a community college, he continued.

He and others also are critical of what they feel is the administration’s unbalanced and myopic approach to cutting needed programs while allowing the budget for athletics to remain untouched.

“The administration needs to know that the YSU community is not on board with cutting academics, sunsetting programs and retrenching faculty, especially when the administration refuses to audit or institute cost savings within any of the university’s nonacademic units,” YSU-OEA President Susan Clutter said in a statement.

During the board of trustees meeting, John R. Jakubek, board chairman, said the university is in the process of optimizing its academic portfolio, and that the board supports the administration that has had to make a series of difficult decisions based primarily on enrollment drops.

YSU’s enrollment is 11,298 students, down 1,398 students, or 11 percent, from three years ago.

He also encouraged the administration to continue communicating effectively with faculty and students, adding that YSU’s goal is to “attract students, be sure they’re successful and that they stay here.”

Ron Cole, YSU spokesman, explained that the university was told by its national accrediting agency to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of the more than 140 programs to better determine into which of five categories they needed to be placed.

After the review, in which faculty, deans, department chairs, administration officials and others took part, programs that likely would need to be eliminated were identified. That information was shared with the YSU community before any decision was made, Cole explained.

“The hard reality is that we have enrollment challenges, which causes financial challenges,” he said.

Cole added that he supported the protesters’ right to express their feelings about the board’s decisions.

Also at the meeting, YSU adopted a resolution to update its anti-hazing policy, which is aligned with a new state law against hazing.

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