Flying the Coop

By Brian Brennan

On the fifth floor of Maag Library, the Archives & Special Collections Department preserves many types of documents and publications relating to Youngstown State University.

Among these are student handbooks, with the oldest one issued in 1928. However, the most noteworthy of these was prepared for the 1971-72 academic year. It holds this distinction because it was suppressed by the YSU administration, due to its controversial content.

The official student handbook has served as a handy and compact guide to campus policies, activities, and services.

In 1969, a parallel publication with similar information was printed by the students themselves. It was called “The Penguin Coop” (or sometimes simply “The Coop”).

While not specified in the booklet, the title probably was inspired by the quarters occupied by YSU’s last live penguin mascot: a dog house surrounded by a chain-link fence adjacent to the University Library, which is now Tod Hall.

For Pete the Penguin, these accommodations surely failed to conform to the standards of his previous Antarctic abode.

While previous editions of “The Penguin Coop” closely mirrored the official university handbook, the editors of the 1971-72 steered the publication in a different direction. Readers were warned that this edition of “The Coop” would be unlike any other. Expressing opinions with utmost frankness, the editors came out swinging. Indeed, no punches were pulled.

Students are told it is easy to get a degree at Youngstown State, but much more difficult to obtain a real education or employment after graduation.

Obstacles, such as grades, the bell-shaped curve and lazy instructors block the way to true learning — and this is just on page one!

The editors freely vent their spleens at parking services (“Mud lots … poorly-lit streets, thievery, rude gate attendants …”), the faculty (“The Good last a very short while. The Bad last a little longer. The Mediocre last forever.”), and housing (“There is only one dorm at YSU. No other housing facilities are planned … Suitable off-campus housing is very difficult to find.”).

The Board of Trustees is depicted as, “a tragic comedy of political patronage, puppetry, and procrastination.” The bookstore is criticized for the being “impossible to keep … in the black,” despite its 15 percent markup on textbook prices. Other university operations receive similar criticism.

Yet, all is not darkness and gloom. Meriting editorial praise are the intramural program, Black Studies (now Africana Studies), the work of Campus Cooperative Ministry and the nurses at YSU, though student medical facilities are deemed inadequate.

Soon after it came off the press, most copies of “The Coop” were quietly seized by the university administration and destroyed. Publication would resume, but it returned to its previous, inoffensive style. As the 1970s drew to a close, “The Penguin Coop” ceased publication.

Three surviving copies of “The Coop” from 1971-72 remain and are part of the YSU Archives collection. The ultimate motivation of the three editors remains unclear. The fate of two is unknown to this writer; however, the third — Cynthia Anderson — would become YSU’s seventh and first female president in 2010.