Banning Cell Phones and Avoiding the Real Problems

[Letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal]

To the Editor,

Just over two months ago, at a regular meeting of the Akron Board of Education, there was an outpouring of concern regarding the safety of our public schools. At that meeting, several parents stood up and stated that they feared for their children’s safety. Some went so far as expressing concern that their children would not make it home. Teachers were also particularly vocal about the issues they face on a daily basis—from plumes of vape in the bathrooms to fights in those same places. Several teachers noted that they and their families fear for their safety—a fear that is justified given the reported assaults against teachers. Add to this the separate instances of the discovery of a gun at Firestone High School, a loaded gun at Litchfield, and a bathroom fight that resulted in one student being stabbed. The concern over school safety and the lack of meaningful actions on the part of the administration were deemed so important that it nearly led to a strike. But two months later the logic of the response by some members of the Board of Education to this violence eludes me.

Facing these serious safety issues, what measures did the board take? Did they propose increasing the number of security personnel monitoring bathrooms and hallways during and between classes? Did they consider hiring more counselors or intervention specialists to address the root cause of the violence? Did they examine the possibility of implementing ID badges that also allow the school to track the location of students? No, they didn’t. Instead, they are proposing removing the one lifeline parents have to make sure their child is safe, namely, a student’s cell phone.

How is banning cell phones going to make my child safer? It won’t stop fights from happening. And it doesn’t come close to addressing the underlying causes of the reported violence in the schools. What it will do is remove the one means parents have to ascertain whether their child is safe in the event of a lockdown. It also removes the psychological comfort students may have knowing a parent or guardian is just a text away.1

Cell phones have been in schools for over 10 years. Policies are already in place that hold students accountable if they are misused. What seems to be lacking is the will to consistently and fairly enforce those policies (and to support the teachers that do so). Banning cell phones is not the answer to the safety issues in schools. It simply adds to parental stress and anxiety by removing one very direct way to check on our child’s well-being. Given the real problems facing teachers and the majority of students who are behaving responsibly, and considering we live in a world where school shootings are far too common, focusing on cell phones is at best misguided, and at worst irresponsible.

Indoctrination Runs Amuck in Ohio Schools

There is so much going on in this article that I don’t even know where to start. The people interviewed employed all the necessary conservative buzzwords (minus pedophilia and grooming). Critical Race Theory, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, comprehensive sex educations, pornography in school and transgender counseling—it’s all there.

Also, it appears that conservatism has risen to the level of a religion. As one person interviewed noted that "She would not confirm if she is involved with Protect Ohio Children “because of the personal attacks that are reserved for practicing conservatives.” This coming from a person who lives in a state with a majority Republican State House and Senate alone with a Republican governor.

Akron Beacon Journal Article Image
(Click on image to read the article)

YSU Doesn’t Have a Financial Problem—It has a Priority Problem

[Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed the cost of cell phones at $175,000. The actual number is $17,500. Also, it is 44% of overhead lights and not 48% that require replacing.]

In 1939 Robert Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago made what many would see as a radical move. He abolished the football team “citing the need to focus on academics rather than varsity athletics.”[1] This move came just four years after the first Heisman Trophy was awarded to a University of Chicago player. Football would eventually return to the university in 1969, but only as a Division III program.

Aside from athletics, the university also instituted what was at the time an innovative approach to undergraduate teaching. These included small discussion based courses, a focus on primary source materials, and an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

What were the effects of these decisions? In the years following Hutchins’s changes, the University of Chicago transformed itself into a world class undergraduate and graduate university.

What does this have to with the current contract talks at Youngstown State University? Everything. For many years those charged with making decisions and setting priorities for the university have lost sight of the purpose of a university—the collecting, creating, and dissemination of knowledge. To illustrate this we need only to look at the supposed $6-$9 million dollar deficit. While it is true that there is a deficit, it is a deficit piggybacked by a $10 million subsidy to the athletic program. A program which saw a nearly 5% increase in its budget this year.

And what has suffered due to priorities set by the board of trustees and the administration? Just those things necessary for an urban research university to function. For example:

  1. The university library is one of the worst funded in Ohio. It is also faced with cutting essential subscriptions such as JSTOR which give faculty and students access to journal articles necessary for their research.
  2. The university has been increasing class sizes while simultaneously decreasing the number of full-time faculty. In some departments adjuncts provide 50% or more of the instruction to students. Theses individuals are often overworked, underpaid and unable to give the attention to students that aids in retention.
  3. While the athletic program receives $17,500 for cell phones, 58% of stage spots and 44% of overhead lights remain unreplaced at the Bliss Recital Hall.
  4. Although digital technology and web-based distance education becomes an ever increasing aspect of higher education, the administration, the university chose to drastically cut the Information Technology Services budget by close to a million dollars.
  5. While student retention is deemed a priority, the university decided to spend $4 million to renovate a house for the university president instead of allocating it for a new or drastically updated student center.

There is no doubt that YSU is facing tough budgetary decisions amidst lower enrollments and drastically reduced state funding. Still, those running the university need to get their priorities in order. If we want to increase our enrollment, and retain students we need to invest in those things that will increase the academic reputation and climate of the university—something a commitment to Division I athletics is not going to do.

Administration, Athletics, and Sacred Cows

In the next few weeks and months Youngstown State is going to be making decisions that will dramatically affect its future. It is convenient to characterize these decisions as strictly financial. Youngstown State is currently facing somewhere around a $6 million deficit. How the University chooses to deal with this deficit is not only an economic decision, but one that defines the very values and principles of the university.

Unfortunately, I fear that the university will fall back on traditional approaches to dealing with this deficit, namely, reduction increasing class sizes, reductions in adjunct instruction, failure to replace full-time faculty positions, and reduction in research and scholarship time. Ironically, cuts in these areas negatively affect the perception and reputation of the university. Rather than approaching the budget deficit by attacking the very foundation of the university, it is time the board of trustees and the administration take a serious look at the two sacred cows of academia: administration and athletics.

According to a report by the Goldwater Institute[1] between 1993 and 2007 the number of students at public universities increased by 14.6%. At the same time the number of full-time administrators increased by 39%. At the same time, instruction, research and service employees at the university increased by a mere 9.8%. So while an increase in university employees may may be required to accommodate the increased student populations, a three-fold accommodations seems excessive if not wasteful. If the board of trustees and administration is serious about cutting waste, then it appears they should begin by looking in their own backyard.

Athletics is the second area that seems to have been immune from budgetary cuts. According to the FY 2013 budget, the intercollegiate athletics will generate $2.9 million in revenue. Yet, the athletic program currently has budget of $11,958,956. In order to maintain our current programs, the university subsidizes the program to the tune of $9,058,167. Now it is true that $4,180,573 goes to scholarships for 395 student athletes. While $10,583 per athlete may not sound like much, if that same money was distributed to students based on need, we could provide over 542 scholarships. And the real cost of these scholarships would be less since each additional student would increase the amount of money received from the state. What is further disturbing about these numbers is the fact that we could achieve many of the financial savings, not by getting rid of the football program, but simply moving down to Division II or III. Without having to provide scholarships, we could get the benefits of ticket revenue without the huge expense.

  1. “Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Eduction” Policy Report No.239 August 17, 2010