From Tressel to Johnson: A Jambar recap

By Elizabeth Coss


In May 2014, Jim Tressel was announced as one of the finalists for president of Youngstown State University. The former head football coach took part in open forums with community members and was also a presidential hopeful at the University of Akron, where he was the acting vice president of Student Success.

Later that month, Tressel was selected as YSU’s ninth president. Tressel told The Jambar back in 2014 “mission one is our students,” and he began focusing on student retention and fundraising — two focus areas that appealed to the community during the open forums before his selection. 

Before his presidency began, Tressel attended Crash Days and met with prospective incoming students. Despite the university being in a shortfall revenue era with contract negotiations for faculty still ongoing, Tressel told The Jambar, “If you handle adversity, you come off much better than you ever were.”



Before Tressel was a presidential candidate, and before it was rumored around the halls of YSU that he’d return, the university dealt with a turn-around president, Randy Dunn. 

Lasting from July 2013 to March 2014, Dunn accepted a position as Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s president in February while serving as acting president of YSU. 

SIU covered Dunn’s moving expenses and YSU filled his vacancy with an interim president, Provost Ikram Khawaja, until a new president was found. 

Despite his departure being referred to as “dramatic,” “disappointing” and “abrupt,” Dunn wrote a goodbye letter to The Jambar stating, “YSU is rightly proud of all that has been accomplished in its rich history … and all that will continue to be accomplished.”



For nine years, Tressel led the university through a variety of trials and tribulations, including a deal gone wrong with the Chill-Can plant, program cuts, faculty retrenchments, low enrollment, and a global pandemic that shut down the university in spring 2020. 

Tressel also faced criticism from the community for his support of The Men’s Rally in the Valley and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

The Jambar received several Letters to the Editor discussing whether Tressel’s participation in these organizations could be interpreted as homophobia, misogyny or other bigoted views.  

In 2020, Bruce N. Waller, professor emeritus of philosophy and religious studies, wrote to The Jambar criticizing Tressels’ attendance at an FCA Game Time Dinner. He stated, “If YSU is genuinely committed to the values it claims, then Tressel’s support of FCA bigotry against homosexuals should prompt the same outrage … Jim Tressel must choose which master he will serve: the bigotry of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the inclusive ideals of Youngstown State University.”



Beginning Feb. 1, 2023, interim president Helen K. Lafferty filled the gap between Tressel and a new presidential selection. Lafferty, a YSU alumna, participated in numerous events throughout her duration. 

YSU’s board of trustees then selected William “Bill” Johnson as the 10th president on Nov. 21, 2023, following an 8-1 vote. Johnson was originally thought to begin as late as March 15. 

The closed selection process used to hire Johnson has  been criticized by the public since November, 2023. Despite calls for action, protests and public concern on social media, the trustees have defended the decision

On Dec. 31, 2023, Lafferty took an early exit as interim, prompting Neal McNally, vice president of finance and business operations, to fill in as interim president until Jan. 22, Johnson’s official start date following his departure from Congress.

Johnson’s track record as a politician has drawn vocal criticism from students, faculty, staff, the YSU-OEA faculty union, and community members.

The faculty union announced via press release it was “appalled” that YSU is reportedly planning to hire three of Johnson’s congressional staffers amidst faculty retrenchments. 

Faculty union President Mark Vopat stated, “The board hired a politician to be president in a closed door search, sprung this divisive choice on the YSU community, caused a public relations nightmare that alienated numerous generous donors, and now they’re further bloating the administration … given all the cuts in the past few years, how can YSU afford this?”