By Molly Burke
Youngstown State University President William “Bill” Johnson was the guest speaker at a Student Government Association meeting Jan. 29
During his speech in the Rossi Room of Kilcawley Center, Johnson spoke about goals for his presidency, including increasing enrollment, fundraising and working with the Government Affairs Office. Johnson said his highest non-academic priority is to complete construction of a new student center.
“We’ve got about a $41 million project to renovate this place, to make it state of the art. For me? No. For the faculty? No. This is yours,” Johnson said to students at the meeting.
Johnson announced Jan. 31 that he and first lady Lee Ann Johnson will donate $100,000 to the construction of the student center, according to a press release from the YSU News Center.
After Johnson’s speech, SGA executive members and representatives had the opportunity to ask the president questions.
Jordan Pintar, SGA’s executive vice president, asked Johnson if he would aid SGA in combating food insecurity on YSU’s campus with the Penguin Pantry. Johnson said he visited the pantry and wants to help expand it.
“I visited [the Penguin Pantry] last week. I was really surprised at the scarcity and the size of the offering that we have in there. So yes, I do. I’m not going to lay it out for you today, but yes that’s on our radar,” Johnson said.
Pintar also asked Johnson if he would aid SGA in expanding its budget to help fund student organizations. Johnson said he would look into it as he settles into his presidency.
SGA Rep. Zayda Stromer asked Johnson if he believes it’s necessary to include “things like racism in history and sexism in history” in school curriculum. Johnson said the topics are important to teach.
“If we work together and we learn from the mistakes of our past, we can become more perfect in the future — if we’re willing to learn those mistakes too. So, absolutely I think we need to learn from the mistakes that we made,” Johnson said. “Diversity, inclusion — that’s all part of it.”
Several students attended the meeting wearing all black in support of the Dana School of Music. At the start of the semester, four degrees in Dana were announced to be sunset. The cuts prompted a “Save Dana” petition that garnered over 20,000 signatures followed by community protests.
Johnson said he doesn’t want to see programs sunset, but he explained the university has to make decisions to continue earning a profit.
“Those decisions were made before I was even ever in the pipeline to come here,” Johnson said. “Nobody wants to see a program cut. I don’t want to see a program cut … at the same time this is an educational institute, it is a business.”
According to Johnson, enrollment needs to improve to combat cuts. However, Johnson said he promises to advocate for the arts.
“I’m going to do everything that I can to emphasize the validity and the necessity of our music and arts programs,” Johnson said. “People will not always remember what you say, they will not necessarily always remember what you do, but they will never forget how you make them feel. Music, the arts, the humanities, that’s the ‘how’ that glues us together.”
Johnson left before public comments were heard by the executive board.
During public remarks, several attendees expressed their concerns for the Dana School of Music and potential faculty retrenchments.
“As Mr. Johnson said, we want an institution where our students and our faculty are excited to come to school and to work, and I can tell you that none of our professors are excited to come to work. They are scared, they are stressed,” said Sami Weinkoetz, a graduate student in the Dana School of Music.
Following public comments, Stromer addressed attendees in support of Dana and said they should understand cuts are happening to other programs, but SGA can help their voices be heard.
“Other departments make a huge difference when it comes to making your voice heard — especially in SGA, we can better represent you now. No matter what side of this you are on, please understand that this is not something central to Dana,” Stromer said.
According to Pintar, Johnson met with SGA’s executive committee Jan. 23 to discuss student government’s initiatives. Pintar said SGA is looking forward to working with Johnson and the Government Affairs Office.
“Some of our plans that we discussed were how a relationship between student government and the Government Affairs [Office] would look for the students. I really want to see a student role in that,” Pintar said.
At the meeting, SGA informed Johnson of its goals to expand its Aunt Flow initiative and add solar-powered tables to the M60 Parking Lot on Lincoln Avenue. Pintar said Johnson also proposed ideas to improve student mental health on campus.
“We’re going to sit down in a couple weeks and really start to talk about the little projects on campus that we want. I know that he has discussed a lot of initiatives that he has for student mental health on campus and a lot of our things that we do align within that,” Pintar said.
SGA President Alexander Papa is on a leave of absence and was not at SGA’s meetings.