On past government affairs

Photo Courtesy of YSU Archives and Special Collections

By Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

Following his appointment as the 10th president of Youngstown State University, Bill Johnson made the Office of Government Affairs, which focuses on conducting government relations.

The Jambar got to know the new office in an edition Feb. 29. Now, The Jambar is taking a look at the department’s past.

The last time the university had a government affairs department was between 2004 and 2018. However, YSU conducted government relations prior to the department’s creation.

Before Johnson, the earlier department relied on a combination of full-time employees and contracted lobbyists to do government relations.

Employees reported to the university president, Academic Senate and board of trustees, as well as working with nearby counties.

Previous involvement in government relations and lobbying extended to Columbus due to budget constraints. There, YSU took part in the Inter-University Council of Ohio, working with other state universities to gain funding from the Ohio government.

George Beelen was a full-time history professor at YSU for 30 years and served as chair of the department for half his tenure. After retiring from teaching, Beelen served as a legislative liaison for YSU from 1996 to 2000.

Beelen said he traveled to Columbus when the legislature was in session.

“This was not high kinds of lobbying where we wined and dined legislators. We did meet them occasionally as a group. The Inter-University Council may have had a couple of legislators come in to explain legislation that related to the universities,” Beelen said.

George Beelen photographed in 1996. Photo courtesy of YSU Archives and Special Collections

YSU’s sixth president David Sweet created a government relations department in 2004, which had one full-time position that was left vacant until 2011.

In 2008, Sweet also named George McCloud vice president for university advancement, where he oversaw government relations and other functions. Sweet also hired lobbyist Thomas Green to represent YSU.

After McCloud moved to a new position in 2011, William Binning, former chair of the Political Science Department, became the government relations representative, holding the position until 2018. McCloud died in 2017.

Binning said it was hard to deal with legislators when only representing YSU.

“These legislators, they all want you to make contributions — and we aren’t talking about anything illegal. We’re talking about political contributions. They all want you to buy tickets to their corn roasts or their receptions or whatever,” Binning said. “Legally, YSU can’t give you money to do that and they can’t reimburse you for it. So, you’re stuck with that.”

William Binning is photographed above. Photo courtesy of William Binning

When Binning left, the university budgeted government relations to be under university relations. Mike Hripko was the associate vice president of External Relations, Government Affairs and Economic Development from 2018 until he retired in 2021.

Hripko declined an interview.

Both Beelen and Binning said YSU needs to be involved in government affairs. According to Binning, YSU should be prepared to fight attacks on higher education.

“There’s some people who are after higher education in Ohio — I mean critically,” Binning said. “You got to at least try and fight some of that, fight for what you want and fight against what you don’t want. You don’t always win, but if you don’t have somebody to say something then you’re not going to have any impact at all.”

Beelen said universities also have less money to work with since the 1970s.

“People hate taxes, and one of the places you can cut is education — in particular university education,” Beelen said. “We can blame a lot of people for the high cost of education, but I blame us, personally. When I say ‘us,’ I mean the citizens who vote for these legislators who cut state subsidies. So, I’m saying we have to get legislators who are more attuned to education.”