Letters to the Editor: Cutting programs and raising concerns

As a retiree who has taken courses through the Over 60 Program, I have grave concerns for degree-seeking students. 

The heart and soul of any university are the faculty and course offerings. Even YSU’s mission statement begins: “Creates diverse educational experiences that develop ethical, intellectually curious students who are invested in their communities; Provides access to a broad range of undergraduate programs.” Many of the cuts are antithetical to these objectives. 

Doubtlessly the university must operate within its budget. But is it to the student’s advantage to eliminate some of the degrees, especially in areas where YSU has inherent strengths? Why, for instance, would majors in music, and faculty, be chopped from the celebrated Dana School of Music? Why cut programs in art when the university owns McDonough Museum of Art and is adjacent to the renowned Butler Institute of American Art? Most of those courses still need to be offered as requirements for other degrees. Where is the savings?

Look at our community: high schools are teaching Italian. Why cut 2 majors? Judging by the endowments (David and Helga Ives Humanities Scholarship, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Endowment for Italian and Italian-American Studies), teaching Italian language and culture have solid community support. The same can be said about the Center for Judaic Studies that lost faculty. This, when you deemed the history department a “grow” category. 

These are a few examples of poor decisions made in the pretext of financial health. 

Reevaluate your top-heavy administration. Why does YSU need a provost, 4 associate provosts, 2 assistant provosts, 4 vice-presidents, 7 associate vice-presidents, and 22 directors? Not to mention the myriad of “sub-directors”, managers, coordinators, etc. (See budgets & positions online)

The number of majors is not a significant indicator of a “successful” program, just as the purpose of a college education is just to get a job – as important as that is. A well-rounded education develops analytical skills and science literacy, expands one’s world view of cultural and religious differences and similarities, and gives meaning to them in a historical context. It’s an opportunity for personal enrichment. It helps teach students to confront ethical dilemmas and identify moral responsibilities as contributing members of society. 

Please be careful of how you prune. Like a tree, there’s a point from which it can not recover. This is a gem of a university, don’t turn it into another mediocre college?  

Susan M. Rossi-Wilcox

Retired, Curatorial Associate, Harvard University

To the Editors, 

As current and former students in the History Program at YSU, we are deeply devastated to hear of the recent layoff of a beloved professor and mentor. Dr. Jacob Ari Labendz has taught at YSU for five years and, in that short time, has left a profound impact on the lives of countless students. Though his courses are challenging, they are also an incredible, unique learning experience. He cares deeply for his students- and his compassion has shown through countless times, especially in the wake of challenges that came with the pandemic- and always goes above and beyond to assist them, whether it be troubles with an assignment or research, or personal challenges. Despite his overwhelmingly busy schedule, he has always been there to lend his students a helping hand, no matter the circumstance. 

Dr. Labendz is one of the most dedicated and passionate professors at Youngstown State University. As head of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, he strives to educate his students and others in the Youngstown community on Jewish history and culture. He also teaches courses on the Holocaust and Holocaust memory, a subject that is incredibly important to learn about because of the lessons it teaches, both about history and the modern world. He has helped run a myriad of events on campus- whether by organizing symposiums or hosting the annual Jewish-Muslim forum or celebrating Jewish culture through events like the Jewish Film Festival or the building of the Sukkah during the Jewish festival of Sukkot- that make YSU a better, more diverse place. As a university that values diversity, we need to celebrate the faculty, students, and programs that create diverse experiences on campus. 

During the summer of 2019, Dr. Labendz led eleven students on the trip of a lifetime to study in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany. The trip was a part of a course entitled, “The Holocaust and Human Rights in Central and Eastern Europe.” During their time in Europe, students had the opportunity to walk the Jewish ghettos and concentration and death camps that were established by the Nazis before and during the Second World War. They also visited sights of Holocaust memory to learn more about the way this event in history is remembered throughout Europe. With an extensive knowledge on the subject, he helped his students gain a better understanding of why Holocaust history matters, and that it should never be forgotten. He truly helped his students change their outlook on the world, and being two of the eleven students that partook on the trip, we will be forever grateful for that. The opportunity to learn from and with Dr. Labendz changed our lives for the better.  

The recent decision by the Youngstown State University Administration to layoff Dr. Labendz is incredibly short-sighted and shameful. It all but guarantees the closing of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies and hinders the ability of future students to learn from a brilliant scholar. We hope the administration comes to recognize the importance Dr. Labendz holds at the university and reconsiders their decision. We can only be Y and Proud when we value those who help the university thrive.   


Brooke Bobovnyik and Alexis Heldreth