YSU Faculty Union Calls for Performance Audit Before Cutting Programs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The Youngstown State University chapter of the Ohio Education Association is calling for the board of trustees to conduct a performance audit of nonacademic divisions before making cuts to academic programs and faculty positions.

In a press release Friday afternoon, the YSU-OEA stated there hasn’t been an institutional performance audit at YSU in the last 10 years, and such an audit has received support from the union and the university faculty senate.

“It is bewildering to us that the Board of Trustees has approved massive cuts that will negatively impact students’ educations here at YSU, while refusing to apply the same cost-benefit analysis that they claim is informing these cuts to the university in its entirety – including administration and athletics,” Mark Vopat, union spokesman, said in the release.

The YSU Board of Trustees voted Monday to clear the way for budget cuts across the campus that could mean future staff reductions and the elimination of a number of programs. Following a meeting Thursday, news broke that as many as 25 programs will end before the fall 2022 semester.

Programs include:

Associate programs in electric utility technology, medical laboratory technology, emergency medical services, dietetic technician, computer information systems, medical assisting technology, drafting and design technology, and social services technology.

Baccalaureate programs in gerontology, Italian and Italian education, manufacturing engineering, religious studies, music theory, music history and literature, family and consumer students, computer information systems, dance management, French and art history.

Master’s level programs in music history and literature, art education, American studies, interdisciplinary visual arts, gerontology and creative writing.

During a phone call Friday with The Business Journal, Vopat, a professor of philosophy at YSU, said the union had been working with the university for about two years to improve academic efficiencies. The union anticipated that programs, some “admittedly had low enrollments,” were scheduled to sunset, he allowed. Others, however, were popular among students and the community.

Gerontology, for example, is a smaller program but “very successful” and “very well regarded in the area,” with graduates going on to work in area nursing homes, he said.

However, the union feels the board is going right to cutting faculty before “putting a critical eye on their own operations,” he said. Losing faculty should be “last on the list” after considering other areas not related to academics, he said.

In the next year, YSU looks to increase athletic expenses by $885,000 and is adding three new Division I athletic programs. “At the same time, they’re letting go faculty and closing down programs,” he said. 

The YSU athletic budget is $13,835,644, of which each student pays about $1,000 annually – about 10% of their tuition, he said.

After Monday’s trustees meeting, Brien Smith, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said it’s his objective to realize “millions of dollars” in cuts by the fall semester of 2022. 

“Maybe less than five million, but certainly millions of dollars in reductions,” Smith said.

Vopat argues it’s hard to justify the increase in Division I athletics “when you’re claiming we have a budget crisis,” one that will likely continue as demographic changes in the region result in fewer college applicants each year, he said. It calls into question the primary purpose of the university, he said.

“If it’s not to teach, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here,” he said.

Additionally, the board approved raises of up to 10% for some administrators and created additional administrative positions, according to the release.

In its release, the YSU-OEA states YSU has lost 42 faculty to resignations and retirements since last year, 25 of whom took a separation incentive offered by university administration, equating to a $2 million cut on faculty, offsetting $2 million of YSU’s tuition losses. The union argues that faculty, who comprise 25% of the total budget, “are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the budget deficit caused partly by mismanagement of funds and increased spending on nonacademic units.”

“It’s often said that budgets reveal values, and it’s both troubling and telling that this administration cuts the academic division to remedy a deficit of its own making,” Vopat stated in the release. “These cuts will increase student to faculty ratios (in general and in the classroom), hurt the overall quality of a YSU education, and ultimately make the university less attractive to future students.”

In the university’s 2022 budget, academic excellence and support will take a 2% cut, while other programs see year-over-year increases, including student success and student experience (6.5%), institutional support (15.2%), plant operation and maintenance (3.7%) and intercollegiate athletics (6.8%).

Attempts to connect with members of YSU administration during the day were unsuccessful.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.