Letter to the Editor

On behalf of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown and the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation,
we are jointly expressing our deep concern about YSU’s decision to non-renew the contracts of Dr. Mustansir
Mir, Professor of Islamic Studies (Department of Humanities and Social Sciences) and Dr. Jacob Labendz,
Assistant Professor of History (Department of History). The separation from the University of these two
scholars will result in the de facto elimination by the YSU administration of two critical academic programs,
Religious Studies, and Judaic and Holocaust Studies.

The importance of religion and its influence on world affairs is undeniable. Religion has literally
shaped the world in which we live and will continue to do so. It is extremely important for students today to
understand world religions, especially Islam and Judaism, and how they impact current life. This
understanding will help prepare them for whatever they face personally and professionally, given the diverse
and closely interconnected global environment in which we live.

Because YSU has not replaced several Religious Studies faculty members who have either retired or
sadly passed away, Dr. Mir, who teaches classes on a variety of world religions, is currently the only full-time
faculty member in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences with expertise in religion (the remaining
full-time faculty in the department are Professors of Philosophy). His loss will mean the end of the study of
religious traditions around the world at YSU, something that clearly will be a detriment to the students and the
community at large.

The study of the historical lessons of the Holocaust is equally as crucial. During these perilous,
polarized times, where we are seeing a substantial uptick in antisemitism, Islamophobia, and political
misappropriation of Holocaust history, it is more vital now than ever that a pedagogically qualified historian be
present on campus to teach about and direct programming on this material. Because Dr. Labendz is the only
current YSU professor who is qualified to teach Judaic and Holocaust studies, and because of the
administration’s apparent decision to shrink the footprint of history education at the University, any future
efforts to present Judaic/Holocaust opportunities, without an appropriate scholar as a full-time member of the
faculty, will dilute the impact of this education to the point that it is rendered meaningless. The history of the
Holocaust matters and cannot be forgotten.

YSU has presented itself as a strong promoter of diversity, equity, and inclusion principles. However,
the elimination of these two academic programs belies the administration’s characterization of a campus
environment that is truly committed to these concepts. The retention of strong, detailed, and diverse education
in both Religious and Judaic/Holocaust studies will send the message that YSU is committed to its students
and their futures. Now is not the time to cut back. The students of today are our leaders of tomorrow, and it is
vital that YSU prepare them fully for the challenges that lie ahead.
Accordingly, for the reasons we have stated here, and for the reasons we have articulated separately
on behalf of our communities, we strongly urge YSU to reverse its recent employment decisions, retain Dr.
Mir and Dr. Labendz, and continue to enhance the study of religion and history in light of the long-term
benefits to their students.

Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown Youngstown Area Jewish Federation
Randa Shabayak, President Suzyn Schwebel Epstein, Board President
Phone: 330 707 0750 Phone: 330-759-7948

Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, Executive
Director, Community Relations,
Government Affairs
Phone: 330-770-8702