YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Mahoning Valley is waiting to learn if Youngstown State University can reach a deal with Congressman Bill Johnson that would make him the university’s next president.
The board had an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon where board members voted to extend the offer. In a vote of 8-1, all board members voted yes, except YSU Board member Molly Seals who said she didn’t believe that he was right for the job.
“We wanted someone who loved Youngstown State. We wanted someone who was passionate about this university… who’d be passionate about the students, and that’s what we have,” said YSU Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Peterson.
The board has been trying to fill the position left vacant by Jim Tressel, who retired in February. Johnson, who has served in the US House of Representatives since 2011, was one of three finalists for the job.
Peterson said though the other two candidates had backgrounds in education, he believes Johnson’s experience as a lawmaker would benefit the university.
WKBN reached out to Johnson on Thursday, who released the following statement:
“Very recently, I was made aware of the opportunity to become president of Youngstown State University by a national executive search firm. I wasn’t looking for another job, because I love serving the people of Eastern Ohio. When I was approached about leading this great university, with student success at the forefront, and helping to prepare the next generation of Americans to lead, I listened.
I continue to be honored and humbled to serve the men and women of Eastern Ohio in Congress, and if I determine this opportunity to lead YSU is a good fit, I’ll have a very difficult decision to make. In the meantime, my focus will remain on representing Eastern Ohio in the U.S. House.”Bill Johnson
Johnson said Friday that he is considering the offer and will then make a final decision.
The decision did not sit well with everyone.
Mark Vopat, the spokesperson for YSU’s faculty union, released the following statement on Thursday:
“The Board of Trustees have conducted this search with next to zero transparency. They have not allowed faculty, staff and students an opportunity to offer any input on potential candidates.
We are surprised and disappointed that the Board would offer the presidency to anyone without first having a campus visit to meet with University stakeholders; especially someone with no higher education experience or a terminal degree in any academic field. This action shows a blatant disregard and lack of respect for the University community.”Mark Vopat
On Friday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine backed the university’s decision to pick Johnson as president.
“He has great energy, great drive, and I think he’s the right person. He obviously is filling huge shoes in Jim Tressel, who did a phenomenal job,” DeWine said. “I think everyone in the Valley understands the importance of Youngstown State University. It is absolutely one of the key ingredients to the future of the Mahoning Valley, as well as the present.”
YSU and Johnson haven’t said how long it will take try and negotiate a deal.
“The most important job the board of trustees of any university ever does is to pick a president,” DeWine said.
State Representative Al Cutrona had this to say, “As a YSU alum, I would be proud to see Congressman Johnson in such an esteemed position. I look forward to working with him in DC or as YSU’s new president.”
YSU professor Dr. Chet Cooper, who will be the new Academic Senate president, said, “I will work hand in hand with whoever is the next president. The board did a thorough search and now we need to do what we can to make that person succeed.”
However, on Saturday, a group consisting of five YSU alumni wrote a letter to the board of trustees addressing the lack of input those outside of the board have had on the selection of Johnson as a candidate.
“The fact that Johnson’s positions are highly contentious — and directly relevant to the diverse interests and identities of YSU’s student body — increases the need for public vetting of his candidacy,” the letter reads. “We demand that the board rescind its offer to Bill Johnson and conduct a presidential search that involves the university at large, permitting input from faculty, staff, students and alumni.”
A student-led petition has been circulating the campus calling for those who want a say in the university’s next president to sign.
The board of trustees is holding a special meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday to discuss matter relating to the presidential search “and such other matters as may properly come before the board.”