YSU trustees select William L. Johnson as YSU’s 10th president

The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees, at a special meeting today, passed a resolution naming Congressman William (Bill) Johnson as the university's 10th president.

Johnson who currently serves as a member of the US Congress, representing Ohio’s sixth congressional district, was selected following a national search that began in May 2023.

Mike Peterson, chair of the YSU Board of Trustees praised Johnson’s selection as “forward thinking and an investment in the future of YSU. He understands the vision of our strategic plan.”

“From the outset of this presidential search process, we have looked for candidates who have the attributes we want in our next president. Our president must delegate, be a team-builder, avoid micromanaging, successfully fundraise and, especially, understand the challenges we face in higher education generally and particularly in Ohio,” stated Peterson. “Bill Johnson meets and exceeds those expectations.”

Johnson served in the United States Air Force for 26 years and retired in 1999 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

“Bill was a leader throughout his 26-year career in the military. He continued his record of leadership when he helped create and lead private businesses, in the high-tech and transportation industries, overseeing multimillion dollar budgets,” said Peterson. “That’s leadership.”

Johnson who was first elected to Congress, representing the Mahoning Valley in 2010, will begin his term of president at YSU in March 2024.

“It has been a huge honor to be considered and offered the job. It fits with my sense of service,” said Johnson. “Service has been the mainstay of my career and, I see that opportunity for service here at YSU.”

While serving in the military, Johnson graduated summa cum laude from Troy State University with a degree in computer science, later earning a master’s degree from Georgia Tech.

“I know some have questioned my professional and educational experience,” stated Johnson. “As president, my history in politics will not be reflected in the decisions I make for YSU and the students of YSU.”

“I am committed to an inclusive and respectful environment at the university. Regardless of political, religious, or personal affiliations, my focus will be on fostering open dialogue, understanding diverse perspectives, and contributing positively to the well-being of every student.”

Johnson will succeed Jim Tressel, president emeritus at YSU, who served nine years as YSU’s 9th president, stepping down in February 2023.

“Bill Johnson has an unwavering belief in Higher Education, a strong belief in people, and his wide array of leadership experiences will serve him well at YSU,” said Tressel. “My message to Bill is that he is joining the finest group of faculty, students, and staff in America.”

During a press conference following the board meeting, Anita Hackstedde, secretary of the Board of the Board of trustees and member of the Board of Trustees Presidential Search Guidance Committee, explained the board’s approach to the search – siting the “…chilling effect running an open search has on the ability to find the best qualified candidates…”

“When our board began the process to look for YSU’s next president, we knew we had to shift gears in our approach. That is why we chose to undertake a confidential search – an approach more and more universities are adopting,” stated Hackstedde. “However, that does not mean we took any shortcuts to reaching the decision we are announcing today. On the contrary, we used a methodical, comprehensive process that I think it’s important to understand.”

The board began the process by reaching out to the faculty, staff, students and alumni of YSU with a survey asking what qualities and skills they wanted in the next president. More than 600 of those stakeholders replied and that input was referenced throughout the process. The board then engaged WittKiefer, a national search firm, to assist with the search.

“We asked members of our executive leadership team, all our vice presidents, our provost, our academic senate leadership and our foundation leadership to interview our final three candidates and we took all of their input into consideration as our board entered its final deliberations,” said Hackstedde.

On Thursday, Nov. 16 the board of trustees voted to offer Johnson the position of President and authorized the University to begin contract negotiations.

“I believe we have found the individual who is right for YSU at this time in our history,” said Hackstedde. “He has the skills, and leadership experience that no other candidate could offer.”

“We’re not hiring a politician. We’re hiring a president of Youngstown State University who must work with every YSU stakeholder – students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners,” stressed Peterson. “We know this decision is not immediately being embraced by everyone. But we also firmly believe that, in short order, Bill will show our YSU family why he’s the leader we need right now.”