Johnson’s First Day as YSU President Met with Protest

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – About 50 Youngstown State University students, alumni, faculty and community members gathered outside Tod Hall on Monday to continue voicing opposition to the selection of former U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson as university president.

Monday marked Johnson’s first day on the job. 

Rose McClurkin, a YSU senior, organized the protest, dubbed a walkout, and asked participants to provide their names and contact information “so we can stay connected, stay organized, stay unified as we continue to deal with this not great administration.”

Daniel Catello, a 2014 alumnus, and one of those who started the petition drive in November against the selection of Johnson, said recent actions of the trustees “call into question the very purpose of Youngstown State University.”

The announcement in November that Johnson would be the 10th YSU president drew outcry from many on campus and within the community. Some were critical of the closed search that didn’t allow people on campus to have input. Others were critical of Johnson’s voting record during his 12 years in Congress, particularly his vote against certifying the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Others pointed to Johnson’s lack of higher education experience.

About 50 YSU students, alumni, faculty and community members gathered outside Tod Hall on Monday morning to protest the selection of Bill Johnson as university president, as well as cuts to academic programs.

Opposition has continued since.

Catello said YSU is the engine of the Mahoning Valley.

“It is the heart that keeps Youngstown beating,” Catello said. “Youngstown State University belongs to its people,” he said.

University leadership says it wants to put students first, but it’s laying off instructors, ignoring student concerns about safety and limiting academic opportunities by slashing programs, Catello said.

“The current board is fixed on a notion to rightsize the institution,” Catello said. “What this means is a vision that reduces YSU to just a simple factory for sufficiently skilled workers and nothing more. They do not want this institution to generate great leaders and thinkers, artists and creators that can do what we are doing today …”

One of the protesters, Nathaniel Hunter, a 2023 alumnus who majored in nursing, said he’s been protesting cuts at YSU for the past couple of years, starting when he was a student. He showed up Monday to continue those efforts.

Earlier this month, the university announced that majors within the Dana School of Music and a few others were being eliminated due to low enrollment and low graduation rates.

The protest, including chants of “No more secrets, no more lies, no more silence money buys” and “Shame on You, YSU,” started outside Tod Hall where Johnson’s office is and continued across the street at the Pollock House, the presidential residence.

Protesters also took issue with the hiring by Johnson of three new staffers whose combined salary totals more than $300,000.

Nathaniel Hunter, a 2023 YSU alumnus who graduated with a degree in nursing, speaks against cuts at the university.

Both protest organizers and university administrators brought doughnuts and coffee or hot chocolate for the protesters as temperatures stuck below freezing.

A sign with a note from Johnson stood by the refreshments.

“I look forward to working with you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can move YSU forward,” the note said. “If you’d like to meet with me to share your ideas, I’m ready to listen.”

It listed his office number for students to call.

Shannon Tirone, associate vice president of university relations, attended the protest and offered doughnuts and hot chocolate. She said the university reached out to two of the people who were part of the protest, asking if they wanted to meet with Johnson.

“They said not at this time,” she said. “That’s how we’re going to start this. It has to be a dialogue, but it has to be two-way.”

Some of the protesters urged others to eat the doughnuts brought by them and not those from the university, calling them “dark money doughnuts.”

At the time of the protest, Johnson was meeting with representatives of student organizations that reached out to him, Tirone said.

“I think the big thing is, and he’s said it time and time again, he just wants the opportunity to sit down and work with them, to have a conversation,” she said. “But I’m not sure how we continue this dialogue until that happens.

Audrey Jobe, a senior music education major at Dana, held a sign opposing faculty retrenchment. About 13 faculty members will lose their positions as the majors are phased out.

“I’m seeing professors that are teaching classes that they were not hired on to teach,” she said. 

They do that while maintaining their lessons and studio time and also recruiting new students, Jobe said.

“How are we cutting programs and faculty and yet we manage to have the highest paid president that YSU has ever seen?” she said.

Johnson’s annual salary is $410,000.

Pictured at top: Audrey Jobe, a YSU senior music education major, speaks to protesters outside Tod Hall.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.