Youngstown State hires U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson as its next president
Youngstown State University's Board of Trustees voted to hire U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson as its next president Tuesday, despite a controversy over the hiring process.
The board announced the decision during its meeting Tuesday. It was met with a chorus of boos from the several dozen people who had come to protest Johnson's appointment. Dozens of students, faculty and alumni attended the portion of the meeting open to the public.
Johnson, whose congressional district includes Mahoning County and a wide swath of eastern and southeastern Ohio, is closely aligned with former President Donald Trump and voted to overturn the 2020 election.
Students, alumni and faculty have all raised concerns about the hiring process after the board of trustees reportedly interviewed candidates behind closed doors and announced only one finalist on Nov. 16 without publicly discussing other candidates. Critics have also pointed to a lack of opportunities to provide feedback on the selection process.
Mark Vopat, president of the faculty union at YSU, said Tuesday that faculty weren't aware of any candidates for the presidency before the position was offered to Johnson last week.
Vopat interrupted Tuesday's meeting to ask the board why they would not accept public comment on the decision. Board President Michael Peterson said those comments could be given during the board's December meeting.
"I'm not exactly sure what the point of a December meeting is if you make a decision without hearing from the community first," Vopat said. "I would assume, and you can call me crazy, that you might want the input of the community who's come out today."
Later, the board invited Vopat, a 2016 Rhodes Scholar who graduated from the university and a representative of the student government into the executive session.
During a press conference after the board's decision, Johnson said he would leave his career as a politician at the door as the university's next president. At the same time, college campuses need to appeal to people with differing political views to help solve their enrollment woes, he said.
He's previously argued on his Facebook page that institutions are indoctrinating students to liberal views.
"We're an education institution," he said Tuesday. "Everybody here will have a voice. We want a diversity of voices. We want students to be educated, not indoctrinated. That's going to bring families back. That's going to bring parents back. That's going to bring students back."
Jenna Knowles, a YSU student who is president of the African and Caribbean Student Union, was present at the protest and said she worried about Johnson's approach to supporting international students. She pointed to comments he's made in the past about people who enter the country illegally.
"If you're not being mindful when you have this big position in Congress, how can I trust you to be mindful and keep me in mind as a president of my university?" she said.
Johnson said he believes in "secure borders and legal immigration," but said the institution will support students from all walks of life during his tenure. He also said the country will need immigrants to keep its workforce strong due to declining birth rates.
"My politics never affected the way that I treated people and the way that we served the people and met the needs of the people that I represented," he said. "It didn't matter who you were, what your walk of life was, what your race was, sex was, gender was, what your pronouns were. It did not matter."
The institution abided by Ohio's public records and meetings laws in the hiring process, Trustee Anita Hackstedde said Tuesday. The board interviewed candidates behind closed doors and did not reveal the names of candidates because members did not want to scare off potential high-quality candidates with a public process that could cause them to lose their current jobs if their employers realized they'd applied, she said.
Vopat, with the faculty union, wasn't satisfied by that argument.
"I question that to begin with," he said. "Secondly, it doesn't really matter, because they still had the opportunity at the end, before making a formal offer, to come to campus and talk to the various stakeholders."
Johnson's salary will be $410,000 a year, and he will live in the president's mansion on campus, school officials said. He's agreed to start sometime in March and will resign as a congressman sometime early next year.