YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Despite objections from several factions of the Youngstown State University community, Republican Congressman Bill Johnson was selected as the university’s 10th president Tuesday afternoon.
The board has been trying to fill the position left vacant by Jim Tressel, who retired in February.
“Bill Johnson has an unwavering belief in higher education, a strong belief in people and his wide array of leadership experiences will serve him well at YSU. My message to Bill is that he is joining the finest group of faculty, students and staff in America,” Tressel said.
In a news conference after the vote, Johnson answered his critics, promising an all-inclusive campus regardless of political, religious or personal affiliations.
Most of the 100 people at Tuesday’s YSU Board of Trustees meeting opposed the hiring of Johnson as president. One sign read, “Reject Johnson, Save YSU.”
When trustees chairman Michael Peterson announced that public comments would be taken at the December meeting, YSU faculty union spokesman Mark Vopat interrupted.
“Perhaps, with the news and the people around you, you might just want to accept a few comments or at least answer a few questions before you make this important decision,” Vopat said.
When the trustees adjourned into executive session, alumnus Ashley Orr — YSU’s only Rhodes Scholar — led a public comment session outside the meeting room.
“We are objecting to the fact that the board made this decision last Thursday in an emergency meeting. What was the emergency?” Orr asked.
Both Orr and Vopat were later asked to address the trustees. But, whatever they said failed to sway the board because, by an 8-1 vote with board member Molly Seals as the only “no” vote, Johnson was hired. The decision drew the ire of those at the meeting.
“Shame on you! Shame, shame, shame,” the audience shouted at the meeting.
In a statement, Seals wrote, “I stated my rationale in my public vote [on Thursday] in which I stated, ‘No, as I do not believe he is the right person to lead our university.’ We looked at leadership, background, demeanor, work-related characteristics and skills and I came to my conclusion that he was not the right person for the role of President of our University. In a more transparent process, I should have been only one voice of ‘board, community and faculty input.’ As it stands, I am only 1 of 9 board members and I have no choice but to respect and live with the decision of my colleagues. I am praying for the best possible outcome for our university.”
A group of five YSU alumni also wrote a letter to the trustees addressing what they said was the lack of input from those outside of the board.
Johnson did not attend the trustees’ meeting. His only public appearance was at a news conference afterward. The full conference can be seen below.
“My focus will be on fostering open dialogue, understanding diverse perspectives and contributing positively to the well-being of every student,” Johnson said.
Johnson admitted he did not take a traditional route to become president, and while he said his history in politics will not be reflected in his decisions at YSU, he also admitted he will have political opinions.
“Everybody’s got their hair on fire because they think I’m going to bring my politics here. But if everybody else is allowed to bring their politics and ideology here and I’m not, how is that fair?” Johnson asked.
Johnson will make $410,000 a year on a three-year contract and will live in the presidential house on Wick Avenue.
Johnson, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, was one of three finalists for the job. He will start before March 15 and expects to resign as congressman sometime in the first quarter of next year.
Concerning YSU’s large enrollment of international students, Johnson wants more to replace the retiring baby boomers.
“I would love to keep many of those international students here because we need them. America needs them,” Johnson said.
“The best candidates for high-level positions in academia and also in private industry are already well employed,” said Trustee Anita Hackstedde.
Hackstedde explained that the search was done in secrecy because people qualified to be university presidents want it that way. She said public searches do not get the best candidates.
“Announcing their candidacy for another position puts their current employment at risk and can end badly if they are not chosen as the finalist,” Hackstedde said.
“I am extremely disappointed with the board,” Vopat said.
Vopat says if Johnson believes in a diverse, inclusive community, he should have said so to everyone.
“If that’s truly what he believes, then he should be willing to stand up in front of students and take their questions and say that directly to the community, to the YSU community. It shouldn’t be in a press conference,” Vopat said.
“I do not feel heard and I do not feel included. This runs counter to the experience that I have had on this campus,” Orr said.
Already, people are lining up to take Johnson’s position as a congressman from the 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tuesday night, Trumbull County Commissioner Denny Malloy said he’s seriously considering being a candidate.
Chelsea Simeon contributed to this report.