YOUNGSTOWN – Soon after arriving in the Mahoning Valley from Columbus, Brian Hill enrolled at Youngstown State University, where he established a sense of connectedness and pride.
These days, however, both have been watered down.
“It just makes me sad,” said Hill, of Youngstown, referring to the cuts offered in a variety of programs on campus. “I feel less welcome, less proud of the school.”
One of those on the chopping block is the Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts program. 20 additional master’s, bachelor’s, and associate’s programs, many say are essential to the well-being of the region.
Hill, a senior who specializes in professional and technical writing, said he is also interested in YSU’s American Studies, one of six master’s programs that should be phased out.
If the cuts are implemented, Hill said he will have to go elsewhere to pursue higher education and likely leave the area.
In the NEOMFA program, the university shares students and resources with Kent State University and Cleveland State University as well as Akron University. Classes cover fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, dramatic writing, and other related genres.
In addition, NEOMFA, which debuted in 2005 at YSU, is the only national program of its kind, noted Cassandra Lawton, organizer of the rally.
More than 60 students from the four universities, including nine at YSU, are there, she explained.
The program, however, would not end until all students have completed their courses; the cuts would mean no one else could sign up, Lawton said.
“We want the Youngstown community to have it and the administration to know how important this program is,” she continued.
As they walked from DeBartolo Hall to Tod Hall, protesters 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 for the program to remain intact. A petition each was sent to YSU President Jim Tressel, Rector Brien N. Smith and the University Board of Trustees.
Lawton added that she hopes to have a good faith meeting with administration officials about the situation soon.
Earlier Tuesday, Smith, who is also vice president of academic affairs, sent a note to the campus community. He explained that as part of the initiative to improve and efficiency of university programs and the evaluation of the 145 university programs of YSU, the decision was taken to start the process of dismissal, as stated in the agreement. collective between the administration and the YSU-Ohio Education Association. .
“Faculty worked with Chairs and Deans, starting in October 2020, to examine data, ask tough questions, envision tough decisions, and reflect on how each program is aligned with our mission and vision. “Smith said in correspondence. “From there, as part of the APEEI and the departmental review, 26 programs were identified as being in extinction, and the list was shared with the campus community in June 2021.”
The students of the NEOMFA program, some of whom have gone on to become professional writers, “have enriched our community with their tremendous dynamism,” said Phil Brady, one of the co-founders of the program.
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 more than ever.”
Students from various disciplines also took part in the peaceful rally, such as those in assistive technology and medical laboratory technology, two of eight associate-level programs to be scrapped.
Other students, like Canfield’s Anna Zena, a political science major, feared their fields of study would be eliminated, even though the one she hopes to enter was not among the 26 named programs that should be cut.
Zena, who hopes to be accepted into YSU’s Fast Track 3 + 3 program, said she wanted more transparency from the administration regarding the program’s position, but received no response.
The 3 + 3 program is a partnership with Akron University Law School that shortens students’ ability to earn a law degree by one year, and is open to juniors and seniors. It also allows them to pay an undergraduate fee for the first year of law school, she noted.
Zena said she plans to enroll in the program next year to pursue her goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.
Daphne Carr of Youngstown, a local writer who applied to the NEOMFA program, called the proposed cuts “horrific,” saying they add to the stress and anxiety many students are feeling due to the COVID pandemic -19.