Program Cuts at Youngstown State University Spark Public Outrage

Program Cuts at Youngstown State University Spark Public Outrage

The future of liberal arts programs at Youngstown State University is being threatened as program cuts and uncertainty causes both staff and students to worry. 

Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music will be celebrating its 155-year anniversary in October of 2024. Despite being a cornerstone of music education for well over a century, many locals worry that the school may be closing soon. 

Infogram graphic detailing the history of the Dana School of Music in Youngstown, Ohio.

On November 16, 2023, Ohio Congressman William (Bill) Johnson was chosen to be the tenth president of YSU. This came as a shock to much of the faculty and student body. Johnson’s hiring was voted on and decided during a closed-door meeting attended by the board of trustees. 

Soon after the announcement of his presidency, members of the community took to protesting this decision. Johnson’s personal and political past is a cause of concern for students, faculty, alumni and donors. Johnson has made comments in the past regarding his beliefs in politics that are a cause for concern to many people who want to keep YSU a safe and welcoming environment. The former congressman has opposed gay marriage, is anti-choice and has denied the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

In addition to his politics, Johnson has made several questionable comments regarding higher education. In a February 4, 2021 social media post, Johnson stated “Don’t these colleges and universities – who are charging an ever-rising, astronomical tuition with huge administrative overhead and salaries, who are advancing this cancel culture philosophy in their liberal halls, and with what appears to be a low return on student investment – bear some responsibility too?” 

Johnson has also explained that he is against “indoctrination” in schools—a code many republican officials use in order to criticize the liberal views that are held by many institutions of higher education. 

Despite public outcry, including “Modern Family” actor Ed O’Neill, who is planning to return his honorary doctorate to the university in protest, Johnson began his presidency on January 22, 2024. In the months before Johnson’s first term as president started, program cuts and a loss of job security plagued the liberal arts department on YSU’s campus. 

“It’s really sad to just be reducing programs like this, to be reducing student choice,” said a Dana School of Music professor who would prefer to stay anonymous. “We were completely blindsided by it. We all found out about this in the newspaper. And even then, we still didn’t know what programs were being cut exactly, we just knew that they were about to slash our programs and start firing us without cause.”  

Auditorium at the Dana School of Music. Image source: Elizabeth Jadue

“Music is a great training tool for just getting better at a of areas of life. And of course, music is important just as music. Music is a human universal. We don’t know of societies that don’t have music. There’s not that many human universals, but music is one of them. Every known culture throughout human history has made music in some way or another. We don’t function without it… or at least we never have.” 

“It’s really sad to just be reducing programs like this, to be reducing student choice.”

YSU Professor

Many people are worried that universities are becoming to politicized. Whether it be transparency issues or hiring political leaders, bringing politics into what is supposed to be considered a safe space for people from all backgrounds can create more harm than good. 

“There is an attack on education and the value of liberal arts within the state of Ohio. And we’ve seen it in Florida, what happens when that goes down, and we’re now seeing it in Ohio too. And I think that things are about to get way worse,” said the professor. 

Student Elizabeth Jadue performing at Youngstown State University. Image source: Pam Jadue

In addition to the uncertainty this entire situation has caused for YSU faculty, it is also causing a lot of issues for the student body. Elizabeth Jadue, a freshman Guitar major at Youngstown State University is one of those students. “Most of the faculty I see every day will be fired and replaced with adjuncts who have no education requirements. So, technically, I could be teaching my classmates,” she said. 

Students rehearsing in a practice room. Image source: Elizabeth Jadue

“Because of these program cuts, many of the teachers have advised the underclassmen to transfer or change their major, and most of the students plan to do so. This will leave less room for collaboration and learning opportunities. I too plan to leave Dana after this semester. I will continue on as a minor, but the school already feels like a shell of what it was.” 

Although the school has denied claims that Dana will be shutting down, most people agree that it is unlikely to survive the program cuts under the guidance of Bill Johnson. Despite the decisions being made before his presidency began, many speculate on whether YSU will continue to cut more programs in the coming years. 

Bill Johnson declined to comment. 

“The school already feels like a shell of what it was.”

Elizabeth Jadue

For now, students and faculty at Youngstown State University are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It is expected that as the faculty of Dana continues to lessen in size, student interest will decrease exponentially. With lower student interest, additional program cuts are imminent.

If the Dana School of Music fails, blame will lie solely on Youngstown State University’s Board of Trustees and administration. Treating the arts as a disposable field of study and allowing politics into university decision making can quickly lead to discrediting the institution entirely. The Dana School of Music is a cherished part of Youngstown’s history, and the community hopes that will not change anytime soon.

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