Former YSU presidents write letters following Johnson selection

From left to right are former Presidents Leslie Cochran (1992-2000), David Sweet (2000-2010) and Cynthia Anderson (2010-2013). Photos courtesy of YSU's website.

By Molly Burke

Three former Youngstown State University presidents have written open letters regarding the board of trustees’ decision to hire U.S. Rep. William “Bill” Johnson as president through a confidential search process.

Former president Leslie Cochran, who served from 1992 to 2000, listed several grievances with the board of trustees’s search process in a letter published Dec. 28, 2023. 

He criticized the board’s lack of transparency, ethical behavior and accountability regarding certain members’ previous donations to Johnson’s political campaign.

“The eight board members became so focused on getting their man in office, they neglected the University and failed to fulfill their obligations as trustees,” Cochran stated. “Don’t the eight understand when they allow their personal interest to prevail over the public welfare, they jeopardize the future of the institution?”

Cochran also stated Johnson lacks credentials to be president and his political views are, “simply out of touch with the values of higher education.”

He also included a section in the letter addressed specifically to Johnson, with recommendations to restore integrity. 

“I hope you will stand tall and do what is right in the face of what some of your overzealous supporters have manipulatively carved out for you. It’s time to say, ‘No thanks,’” Cochran stated toward Johnson. 

Cochran concluded his letter by asking the board to revoke its offer and that Johnson “withdraw immediately.” 

David Sweet, YSU’s president from 2000 to 2010, stated the board’s lack of transparency and community involvement will put Johnson at a disadvantage in a letter published Jan. 1. 

“The recently conducted search by the Board, while they did hire a consultant, offered no vetting of candidates on campus or in the community. The Congressman would begin his appointment having had no meaningful interaction with campus or community and literally no buy-in to his occupancy of the Office of President,” Sweet stated. 

Sweet also listed concerns over Johnson’s qualifications and his position as a politician, including his views on issues such as climate change, the LGBTQ community and history denying the 2020 election results. 

Concluding his letter, Sweet stated Johnson should decline the presidency and that the board of trustees,  “select a president that reflects the best traditions of academia.” 

Cynthia Anerson, who was president from 2010 to 2013, addressed the YSU community in a letter published Jan. 4. Anderson did not directly address Johnson and the board’s decision, but rather asked community members to “stop and reflect” on the university’s future and its students.

“It is time for all university stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, community members, YSU board of trustees, our incoming president) to make sure that the focus remains on students — current and future — and assisting them in fulfilling their goals and dreams,” Anderson stated.