Youngstown State University (YSU) alumni and donors are unhappy after the board of trustees hired a Republican congressman to become the next president, according to Ideastream Public Media.

Republican Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson announced in November that he would retire to become president of YSU, which is located in the state. Donors concerned about Johnson’s upcoming role are now considering pulling their financial support for the university, according to Ideastream Public Media.

“We would have preferred a more inclusive process that represented the University’s students, faculty, and staff, along with its donor base, supporters, and alumni,” the Youngstown State University Foundation wrote in a letter Nov. 28, according to Ideastream Public Media. “During the past few days, many of these individuals have reached out to the YSU Foundation trustees to express their concerns and their reluctance to provide on-going support moving forward.”

YSU donor Bruce Zoldan, owner of Phantom Fireworks, gave the university $5 million for a new student center, according to Ideastream Public Media. Zoldan said he has concerns about having an “election denier” being the next university president and is concerned about his qualifications.

“He has no background in operating anything, let alone leading an institution of faculty and students of diversified backgrounds, (where) he’s going to come in as an election denier and come in to lead the university,” Zoldan told Ideastream Public Media. “It’s an insult to our valley and to the university itself.”

Ed O’Neill, “Modern Family” actor who was born in Youngstown and is an alumni, called the decision to hire Johnson “disgraceful,” according to Ideastream Public Media.

“I’ve got a doctorate from YSU, an honorary doctorate that I’m going to give back,” O’Neill said, according to Ideastream Public Media. “I don’t want it … I’m going to start calling it Trump-U. And I think a lot of people feel that way.”

Students and faculty petitioned against Johnson’s hiring and opponents booed his approval at the board meeting that voted him in. The petition against him has over 2,000 signatures and calls Johnson “an extremist politician” for being pro-life, “anti-LGBTQ+,” “anti-immigration rights” and “anti-[diversity, equity and inclusion].”

“Withdrawing contributions and pledges is not the way to affect change, these actions will be most impactful to the students,” YSU spokesperson Rebecca Rose told Ideastream Public Media.

“Everybody’s got their hair on fire because they think I’m going to bring my politics here, but if everybody else is allowed to bring their politics and ideology here and I’m not, how is that fair? I think everybody needs to leave their politics and their ideologies at home and let’s focus on creating opportunities for our students where they could dream big,” Johnson said at a November press conference.

“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,” YSU Board of Trustees Chair Mike Peterson said in a statement in a November press release. “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.”

Johnson did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

Brandon Poulter on December 1, 2023

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