Getting to know government affairs

Maria Bova (left) and Sarah Keeler (right) run the Office of Government Affairs located in Tod Hall. Photo by Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

By Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

When Bill Johnson became the 10th president of Youngstown State University, he created an Office of Government Affairs. The office’s purpose is to conduct government relations and lobby for YSU on local, state and federal levels.

YSU has not had a department with this purpose since 2018. 

The office is run by Sarah Keeler, special assistant for government affairs, and Maria Bova, associate director of government affairs. Keeler and Bova were Johnson’s staff members while he served in Congress.

Many students, faculty and alumni criticized YSU’s decision to invest in a government affairs department while the administration has made academic, faculty and program cuts over the last few years.

Despite the pushback, Keeler said the office is needed for the university to gain additional funding.

“I’ve been told there has been funding opportunities through the state government, and because there was nobody there at the capital, at the state house trying to get that money for YSU, it has been given to the universities who do have a presence there,” Keeler said.

Bova works with local and county governments, while Keeler focuses on working with the state and federal governments.

When outlining her work with local government, Bova said she will rely on former connections.

“We have [had] good relationships with the [county] commissioners previously. So, I plan to continue those relationships, go to commissioner’s meetings that they have, and also keep relationships with the mayors,” Bova said.

According to Keeler, it’s important to have a voice in both state and federal government affairs. However, she said she currently doesn’t have many plans to travel to Washington D.C.

“Important decisions are made in our nation’s capital and our state’s capital. We don’t want to be left behind in those policy decisions in either place. There are also appropriations decisions that go through Washington D.C. and Columbus,” Keeler said.

In addition to working with governments, Keeler also attends meetings of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, where she meets with other Ohio universities’ government representatives and discusses state legislation.

Keeler said she is responsible for changes to an amendment of Ohio Senate Bill 104, a bill that aims to improve enrollment for Ohio’s College Credit Plus program by requiring schools to inform students on CCP.

“They added a 50/50 cost share for textbooks that the university would be responsible for,” Keeler said. “I was able to flag that change early, work with our staff at Youngstown State — get those concerns on paper, relay those to both the IUC and [Republican State Sen. Jerry Cirino’s] office, and because of that, the language has been removed.”

Throughout pushback toward Johnson’s hiring, many have expressed concern toward Ohio Senate Bill 83. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, the bill “would allow universities to fire tenured professors for a broad list of reasons” and targets indoctrination of “any social, political or religious point of view.” 

Johnson addressed the concerns in an interview with The Jambar and said his appointment is not connected to SB 83. 

Keeler said she is keeping an eye on SB 83.

“I know SB 83 is a pretty hot issue, and it just kind of reworks the inner workings of a university. We would be interested in that when it comes to a vote,” Keeler said.

Cirino, a sponsor of SB 83, wants all Ohio university presidents to testify at the state capital on their spending. Johnson will present May 8.