Catching up with Johnson

Johnson reflects on spring 2024 and looks to the future. Photo by Dylan Lux / The Jambar

By Dylan Lux / The Jambar

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson was named Youngstown State University’s 10th president Nov. 21, 2023 and started his term Jan. 22. Now finishing his first semester on campus, Johnson is reflecting on his accomplishments and future goals.

Johnson told The Jambar in February a main goal is to work with the YSU Foundation to boost enrollment. He said he’s been meeting with donors both inside and outside of Ohio and raised over $3.5 million.

“I’ve made several trips to Florida already on several fundraising trips,” Johnson said. “I’ve met with donors here locally, and we’re making progress.”

Upon his appointment and arrival, Johnson’s presidency was met with protests from the YSU community. Despite the pushback, Johnson said he’s been successful in fundraising.

“We’ve still got donors who are investing in the future of our university,” Johnson said. “A lot of the negative voices aren’t coming from people who donate money. The people who care about the students at Youngstown State — they’re still doing what they do to help us.”

As one of his first actions as president, Johnson established the Government Affairs Office. He said the office is currently focused on overhauling the grant writing process.

“We’ve only got one official grant writer [at] the university — one person that oversees and goes through all of that,” Johnson said. “There are literally hundreds of grant opportunities throughout the year. So, we’re going to be setting up a grant process so that we can compete more favorably for those grants.”

According to Johnson, YSU is in a first-time process with the state legislature where the university will have to testify May 8 before the Ohio State Senate about the university’s capital budget.

“They’ve told us a few things they want to hear from us and we’re going to address those,” Johnson said. “We’re going to tell them why we need the money that we’re asking for.”

The testimonies will be used as the legislature decides on Senate Bill 83, which “would allow universities to fire tenured professors for a broad list of reasons” and targets indoctrination of “any social, political or religious point of view,” according to Ohio Capital Journal.

Johnson said he had no worries about testifying, as he’s been on the other side of the process as a representative, when others had to testify in front of him.

“I know what they’re thinking and I know how to prepare,” Johnson said. “I think that gives me a little bit of an advantage in knowing how to get ready for that.”

Most of the funding requested by YSU will go toward building a new student union to replace Kilcawley Center. Johnson said the building is almost 60 years old and is in need of a “facelift.”

“[The student center] is home away from home for 11,000 students and 1,600 faculty, not to mention the people from the community that want to come here,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of reasons why a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing [and] safe place for our students, faculty and staff … is so vitally important.”

Although his arrival sparked concerns about his past in politics, Johnson said his main goal is to bring students to YSU by making campus a welcoming environment for students.

“There’s always people that are going to be upset anytime a new boss comes in … Once the dust settles and you figure out who that person is, you begin to see life from a very different perspective,” Johnson said. “My number one goal is to create an environment where college students want to come [to YSU] to get their education and to ‘Know Y’ this is such a special place.”

Johnson said he and first lady LeeAnn Johnson are enjoying life at YSU.

“We absolutely love it, the atmosphere on campus is contagious — the enthusiasm, the anticipation,” Johnson said. “We’ve had such a great time, still very excited about being here.”

Breakout quote: “My number one goal is to create an environment where college students want to come [to YSU] to get their education, and to ‘Know Y’ this is such a special place.”

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