By Molly Burke and Christopher Gillett
Students at Youngstown State University walked out of classes at 10 a.m. on Jan. 22 in protest of President William “Bill” Johnson’s first day.
A group of about 50 students gathered outside Tod Hall with posters and a banner that read “Students deserve a say in YSU’s future.” They marched from Tod Hall to Johnson’s university residence, the Pollock House, while chanting, “Shame on you, YSU” and “Hear our voice, we want a choice.”
The walkout was planned by a group of students at a community meeting at a branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County on Jan. 8. The group included Rose McClurkin, Aidan Holderfield, Chris Cremers, Jenna Knowles and Grace Persing.
Holderfield, a fifth-year theater and psychology major, created the flier for the walkout. He said the purpose of the walkout was to show the university that its students don’t want Johnson as president.
“We can stand up and say something and make a difference in saying something, hopefully, whether now or later. My real hope is that Johnson would decide to not be the president here for the good of the university,” Holderfield said. “I think that we have a fighting chance … it’s happened before, it can happen again.”
Students, alumni, the faculty union, past presidents, retirees and community members have spoken out against the board of trustees’ selection of Johnson through a confidential search process.
Currently, there is no policy for hiring a president that requires community input. McClurkin, who is a senior political science major, said the walkout was a way to demand one.
“One of the most important parts of making a college campus a community is having community buy-in, having the approval and the support of your students who you’re going to have to interact with every day on campus [and] the faculty who literally make your college campus run,” McClurkin said. “Having an open process is one of the main ways we get that support.”
Several alumni and community members joined students at the walkout, and cars honked in support as they arrived at the Pollock House. McClurkin said she feels supported by the community despite apathy from students.
“Silence, if anything, is a sign of apathy of our students, and it’s because we’re tired. We’re busy, we have jobs, we have classes,” McClurkin said. “This support from the people driving on the street is a sign that though we’re busy, though we’re going places, we do know what’s going on and they support [us].”
McClurkin said she will continue to gather public input on more demands for the administration.
Daniel Catello, a YSU alumnus who spoke at the protest, was among many expressing concerns over recent cuts to degrees in the Dana School of Music.
Catello said he believes Johnson lacks proper qualifications and it’s unfair Johnson will receive a generous salary while the university cited lack of funds to keep the programs open.
“We are protesting the actions of the past few months of this administration to hire, in secret, a president … offering them the highest salary that we’ve seen of a university president at YSU, hiring their congressional staff with no reason — to the tune of close to a million dollars when you total all the salaries, compensation, benefits. At the same time, they announce cuts to the premiere music program in the [Mahoning] Valley, the Dana School [of Music],” Catello said.
Audrey Jobe, a senior music education major who spoke at the walkout. For Jobe, it was important to show the administration that students won’t be silent.
“I’m glad my voice was able to be heard today, but it’s really important to show administration and the community that the student body is unified and that we are here to fight the good fight and that we aren’t going to just sit silently and let things happen,” Jobe said. “No one’s getting extra credit for being out here today. People are out here because they want to be.”