YSU board booed upon vote to hire Bill Johnson as president

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple.... U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, newly appointed Youngstown State president, makes a point while speaking with the news media Tuesday afternoon.

YOUNGSTOWN — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, selected as the next president of Youngstown State University, vows not to bring his politics and ideology to the job, but his detractors are skeptical.

Johnson, a seven-term Republican congressman said: “I know that some have questioned my professional and educational experience. It’s not a traditional route to this position. I know that.”

He added: “My history in politics will not be reflected in the decisions that I make for Youngstown State University or its students,” and “I am committed to an inclusive and respectful environment at the university regardless of politics, religion or personal affiliations.”

After an executive session of more than an hour, the YSU Board of Trustees Tuesday agreed in an 8-1 vote to hire Johnson. The decision was met by loud boos from several people who attended the meeting and opposed Johnson’s hiring. The lone “no” vote came from Molly Seals, who was also the only trustee to vote against authorizing negotiations with Johnson at a separate meeting Thursday.

Mike Peterson, trustees president, said: “We’re not hiring a politician. We’re hiring a president of Youngstown State University who must work with every YSU stakeholder — students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners. We know this decision is not immediately being embraced by everyone. But we also firmly believe that, in short order, Bill will show our YSU family why he’s the leader we need right now.”

A letter from a group of five alumni — including Ashley Orr, YSU’s only Rhodes Scholar — read: “The decision to unilaterally select an individual who has wielded the power of the federal government in a polarizing and exclusionary manner is not simply a procedural failing — it is a moral failing.”

The group’s initial letter on Saturday in opposition to the board’s plan to negotiate with Johnson was signed by more than 2,600 community members, a majority of whom are YSU alumni.

Orr, who was allowed to speak to the trustees in executive session, said after the vote: “I’m very disappointed. I don’t feel heard. I think I feel hurt and uncertain for the future of YSU.”

Johnson said: “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? Everybody needs to leave their politics and ideology at home.”

Johnson has faced criticism for viewpoints opposing gay marriage, for being anti-choice, supporting immigration restrictions, former President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from majority Muslim countries as well as questioning the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

He also was criticized because of his professional background that lacks any higher education experience.

However, in a written statement, previous YSU President Jim Tressel said Johnson’s “leadership experiences will serve him well at YSU.”


The secret process of selecting Johnson and not providing the list of about 15 candidates for the job also drew scrutiny and criticism.

“I’m disappointed in the entire process,” said Mark Vopat, YSU-Ohio Education Association faculty union president.

Vopat, who was invited to address the trustees in executive session, said the decision by the members to hire Johnson showed a “lack of respect” to the YSU community.

The letters by the OEA and the alumni also mentioned the disclosure Tuesday by this newspaper about three YSU trustees giving between $19,000 and $22,200 to Johnson’s political campaigns.

“It raises legitimate worries about the appearance of impropriety and the lack of an objective and thorough vetting in this search,” Vopat said.

“If we had a chance to ask questions, it would have been a transparent and inclusive process,” Orr said.

Unlike previous YSU presidential searches, the candidates and finalists for this never were announced publicly nor brought to the university for interviews and forums with campus groups.

Trustee Anita Hackstedde, a member of the presidential search committee, said when open searches are done, the best candidates often stay away as they are employed and don’t want it known they’re looking for other jobs.

“When our board began the process to look for YSU’s next president, we knew we had to shift gears in our approach,” she said. “That is why we chose to undertake a confidential search.”

Hackstedde insisted trustees were “careful to comply” with state open meeting and open records laws.

However, the university refuses to provide the list of the two other top candidates and when asked about resumes of the nine candidates who were interviewed, it stated it did not have those records.

Vopat said he found that explanation “a little disingenuous.”


Johnson, R-Marietta, said he will resign his congressional seat during the first quarter of next year, but before his March 15, 2024, start date as YSU president.

Johnson signed a three-year contract with YSU that takes effect March 15, 2024. It pays him $410,000 annually with yearly reviews that could raise the salary.

Johnson’s congressional salary is $174,000 annually.

If Johnson meets unspecified “goals and metrics” determined by the board of trustees, he would get a 25% bonus, according to the contract terms.

The salary is $10,000 more than what Helen K. Lafferty, interim president since Feb. 1, is paid.

Tressel, who retired Feb. 1 after nearly nine years as president, was paid $375,000 annually, but he agreed to take a lesser salary.

If Johnson, 69, and the board agree to an extension after the three years are up, his base salary would be $512,500.

Johnson gets 22 paid vacation days annually as well as 15 paid sick days a year, according to the contract.

He and his wife, LeeAnn, will live in the YSU president’s house rent free.

Johnson also gets a $750 monthly automobile allowance, has the university pay his membership in a local country club and a civic organization, and he will be reimbursed for “reasonable entertainment expenses, travel expenses, hotel bills and other necessary and proper expenses of the president and his spouse.”


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