Opposition, Concern Over YSU President Selection

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An online petition opposes the appointment of U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson as the next Youngstown State University president.

The Change.org petition, started Friday by a YSU student, had garnered nearly 600 signatures by late afternoon. It cited Johnson’s political views and lack of higher education experience and also decried a lack of involvement of faculty in the decision.

“Bill Johnson is wrong for YSU,” it reads. “We deserve a say in YSU’s new president.”

In a Thursday afternoon emergency meeting, YSU trustees voted to offer Johnson, who has been in Congress since 2010, the position as YSU’s 10th president.

Johnson hasn’t said if he’ll accept the post.

After the Thursday meeting, Michael Peterson, trustees chairman, said Johnson was one of three finalists for the job and that the other two had higher education experience. He declined to name the other finalists.

A group of constituents, including university administrators and one faculty member, participated in the search process. The two student trustees, who don’t vote at trustee meetings, also participated in candidate interviews.

The faculty union president decried what he called a lack of transparency in the process.

Others were unaware the process had reached the point where trustees would make a decision.

“I think I was more so surprised,” said Alex Papa, Student Government Association president.

He said he doesn’t agree with some of Johnson’s political positions.

Papa said he’s had a good working relationship with interim President Helen Lafferty and met with her monthly. He wanted her to stay, but she’s returning to Villanova University.

Ravin Gorrell, SGA chief of staff and president of YSUnity, the LBGTQ group on campus, opposes the selection of Johnson.

“As president of YSUnity, I think that Bill Johnson’s views on homosexuality are a bit concerning for the safety of our students, LBGTQ students,” she said.

Gorrell listed Johnson’s opposition to marriage equality and said his political positions make her concerned as a queer student and a leader of many queer students.

“I feel like his positions are going to alienate students on campus and make them feel unsafe on campus, and maybe charge some students that are already vocal about being against us, [making them] even more vocal,” she said. “I feel like there’s already pushback on campus, and I think it will get greater having a leader that is anti-LBGTQ.”

She also reiterated faculty union concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection process.

Trustees met last week in executive session in three meetings called to discuss the “future state of YSU.” Those meetings were at the Grand Resort in Howland. The meeting notices didn’t say trustees were interviewing candidates for president but listed “to consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of a public employee or official …” as the reason for the gatherings.

Another meeting earlier this week listed the same reason for the meeting, saying it was to “consider the presidential search and such other matters as may properly come before the Board of Trustees.”

Former trustees also took issue with the search and interview process, pointing to previous presidential searches when finalists were brought to campus and met with groups on campus.

“I’m saddened by the actions of this board of trustees in not having an open and transparent search with candidates coming to campus for campus and community input,” said Carole Weimer, who served as a YSU trustee from 2008 to 2017.

During her tenure, trustees conducted three presidential searches. Cynthia Anderson was appointed in 2010; Randy Dunn was selected in 2013; and Jim Tressel in 2014.

For the search that netted Anderson, trustees formed an advisory committee including students and representatives from employee unions, businesses and nonprofit organizations. They developed a presidential profile following a series of meetings on campus. Trustees interviewed candidates, and four finalists came to campus to meet with constituent groups.

Trustees led a search committee when Dunn was selected too. That committee included alumni, former trustees, a professor and a retired administrator, as well as trustees. 

Applicants were narrowed to three finalists who visited campus and met with groups on campus.

Dunn resigned after about seven months.

In 2014 when Tressel was tapped, trustees comprised the presidential search committee. Thirty-seven people applied, and three finalists visited campus and attended forums with campus groups.

A 1991 selection for president drew such backlash that the candidate withdrew from consideration.

At that time, then-trustees voted in executive session to appoint Paul Dutton, an attorney, to the position. That brought criticism from the YSU Academic Senate and SGA who faulted trustees for circumventing the search process.

In early 1992, three finalists were announced, and Leslie Cochran was selected.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.