No More Zoldan Family Money for YSU – For Now

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Businessman Bruce Zoldan has suspended his $5 million donation to Youngstown State University until 60 days after Bill Johnson is no longer president and university trustees agree to a transparent presidential search.

He and his family won’t make additional contributions either.

However, he’s open to changing his mind if he and Johnson can reach common ground.

“I’ve only built a successful national business from Youngstown, Ohio, by always keeping the olive branches open,” said Zoldan, founder of Phantom Fireworks.

YSU officials couldn’t be reached to comment.

Last year, the Zoldan family pledged $5 million for the new YSU student center, which was to be called the Zoldan Family Student Center.

The $5 million will remain in a corporate family trust, accumulating interest. Zoldan believes someone else will step in to donate and have their name on the student center. 

“I’m not obsessed with having my name on the student center or any other building,” Zoldan said. “My obsession is in helping YSU and helping YSU students. When the university gets back to reality and gets back to what it always has been and, hopefully, what it will be again, I will continue to support it.”

After YSU trustees announced the selection of Johnson, who had been the Republican congressman representing part of the Mahoning Valley since 2011, Zoldan criticized the selection and the process.

He’s also concerned about the cuts to the YSU Dana School of Music.

Unlike previous YSU presidential searches, trustees opted this time for a confidential search. They haven’t released the names of the other two presidential finalists, nor did finalists meet with campus constituent groups before the selection.

The trustees’ decision was met with opposition from many across campus and the community, eliciting alumni petitions, student protests and open letters from former trustees and former YSU presidents, as well as donors saying they would halt contributions.

Zoldan said neither Johnson nor trustees have contacted him. He said the trustees’ chairman seems to have taken an attitude that people can take it or leave it regarding the decision.

“I’m leaving it,” Zoldan said.

He doesn’t believe a politician from either side of the aisle should be YSU president. 

“It’s our opinion, and I feel very strongly about this, that the position of a president of a university, especially YSU, should be nonpolitical,” Zoldan said. “If the board of trustees had selected AOC [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], I would feel the same way.”

He believes the YSU president should be someone with an education background. For those business people in the community who say detractors should give Johnson a chance, Zoldan questions what department in their companies they’d hire Johnson to run.

Zoldan has made campaign contributions to politicians from both parties, including Johnson when Johnson was in Congress.

Johnson has said he’s willing to sit and talk with those who have concerns about his presidency.

“If Bill Johnson reaches out to me, I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk with him,” Zoldan said. 

He says he’s concerned about different groups on campus – LBGTQ, Muslims, Jews, various races and those with different political beliefs – being treated fairly and with respect.

“Maybe we can come to some middle ground,” Zoldan said.

Pictured at top: Bruce Zoldan, president and CEO of Phantom Fireworks, speaks during a check presentation of $1 million to Youngstown State University in 2020.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.