Former YSU Trustees ‘Share the Concern’ Over Presidential Search

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Eleven former Youngstown State University trustees take issue with the way the current board of trustees conducted its presidential search, expressing concerns about the university’s future and its role in the region.

The group includes trustees who served during the early 1990s through last year. At least one has been a substantial donor, and four serve on the YSU Foundation board.

“We, the undersigned former Trustees of Youngstown State University, share the concern of many students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as the YSU Foundation, who have voiced their dissatisfaction with the recent Board actions to select the next University president,” the letter, dated Wednesday, says. “The outcry across multiple University constituencies is alarming.”

Rebecca Rose, YSU spokeswoman, said the university hasn’t received the letter. She didn’t provide further comment.

On Nov. 21, YSU trustees by an 8-1 vote approved a three-year contract with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson to be the 10th president of the university. Trustee Molly Seals was the lone no vote.

The decision has met with opposition from many across campus and the community with students, alumni, faculty and donors decrying the lack of involvement from other campus constituencies in the presidential search process.

Trustees used a national search firm and did a confidential search. Although the university said the finalists visited campus, those visits weren’t announced, the names of the finalists haven’t been released and they didn’t meet openly with students, faculty and other campus groups as had been the practice in recent YSU presidential searches.

YSU trustees have said the search firm recommended a confidential search because an open search would deter the best candidates.

The former trustees who signed the letter disagree with the approach used.

“Presidential searches at YSU have previously embraced the ideal of shared governance that sought and considered the input of many before selecting a new president,” the letter reads.

That’s standard practice in higher education, it says. 

“It has yielded broad-based institutional and community support for leadership at YSU,” the letter says. “A welcoming, enthusiastic launch of a presidency is more likely to be successful for both the university and the new president.”

The former board members don’t share the view that an open search nets lesser candidates.

“From our collective service, we understand the authority and the fiduciary responsibility of the YSU Board of Trustees,” they wrote. “However, we do not believe that the Board’s recent actions serve the university’s best interests. We are saddened by the increasing divide across the university community and the community-at-large that the Board’s actions produced. The resulting challenges may be difficult to overcome, but the Board must work to overcome them.”

The former trustees’ letter also refers to an award the board received in 2019, the John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. It’s a top honor given to governing boards that demonstrate “exceptional leadership” and initiative.

“We ask the current Board to thoughtfully consider and undertake actions to restore confidence in the Board of Trustees by embracing the ideals that merited the Nason Award,” the former board members wrote. “We are available to assist. Our collective concern is for the future of Youngstown State University and its unique role to positively impact and serve its students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and region, a role that is at risk with the Board’s recent actions.”

The signers and their trustee terms are:

  • Ted Roberts, 2013-2022.
  • Capri Cafaro, 2017-2021.
  • Leonard D. Schiavone, 2010-2018; chairman, 2017-2018.
  • Carole S. Weimer, 2008-2017; chairwoman, 2014-2017.
  • Scott R. Schulick, 2004-2013; chairman, 2008-2011.
  • Donald Cagigas, 2004-2008.
  • William J. Bresnahan, 2004-2007.
  • John L. Pogue, 2001-2010; chairman, 2006-2008.
  • Dr. Chander M. Kohli, 1996-2005; chairman, 2003-2004.
  • Eugenia C. Atkinson, 1992-2003; chairwoman, 2001-2002.
  • Dr. Y.T. Chiu, 1991-2010; chairman, 1997-1998.

Kohli and his wife, Karen, donated $5 million to YSU as part of the We See Tomorrow capital campaign. It funded 19 classrooms of the future on campus. Kohli Hall on campus houses the Excellence Training Center.

Kohli, Schulick, Pogue and Cafaro serve on the board of the YSU Foundation, the independent fundraising organization for the university.

Jacob M. Schriner-Briggs, a 2017 alumnus and a Yale Law School Press Clause Fellow, speaks at the governance committee meeting Wednesday.

Recent alumni who started a petition against the search and Johnson’s hiring attended the trustees’ governance committee meeting Wednesday, voicing their concerns.

Jacob M. Schriner-Briggs, a 2017 alumnus and a Yale Law School Press Clause Fellow, along with Alexander Papa, chairman of the Student Government Association, and Rose McClurkin, a YSU student who started the online petition opposing the search process, addressed the board at its meeting.

Schriner-Briggs referenced the trustees’ statements that the campus should trust them.

“What reason have you given us to do that?” he asked, followed by applause from many in attendance, as well as Seals.

He said that at Thursday’s regular trustees meeting, the alumni group will present a 30-page report about their concerns.

Trustee Chairman Michael Peterson thanked the speakers for their comments and their love for the university.

He maintained the board made the right choice in its selection and encouraged people to sit down and talk to Johnson.

Schriner-Briggs said they would have preferred to talk to Johnson before he was offered the job.

Later today, the YSU Academic Senate is expected to consider two resolutions of no confidence, one in Johnson and the other in the presidential search process. Virtual voting will run through Dec. 16.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.