By Christopher Gillett
Youngstown State University has had nine presidents in almost 90 years, with U.S. Rep. William “Bill” Johnson becoming YSU’s 10th president Jan. 22. Some presidential picks, including Johnson, have been divisive.
Similar to the controversy around Johnson, the YSU community felt blindsided in 1991 when the board of trustees selected Paul Dutton to replace retiring President Neil Humphrey.
Dutton graduated from YSU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969 and served on the YSU board of trustees from 1978 to 1987.
Dutton was also a longtime lawyer with Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, had served on an advisory board for the Department of Energy from 1978 to 1981 and worked for the State Department from 1988 to 1995.
When Dutton’s name came up, YSU students and faculty criticized him for his lack of experience in higher education compared to other candidates. Dutton was unsure of his qualifications too, withdrawing his candidacy during his interviews with the board, despite pressure from board members to stay in the race.
When the board announced its decision June 14, 1991, much of the YSU community was opposed. The vote happened in a closed-door meeting, violating Ohio’s Sunshine Law, which requires public bodies to hold open meetings.
According to a series of articles The Jambar headlined “Revolt!,” the Academic Senate met and passed a vote condemning the board, while student government leaders also opposed the decision.
Local politicians were critical of the decision for similar reasons.
Following the backlash, the board unanimously withdrew the offer, with members conducting the vote over phone. Dutton accepted the vote, saying to The Jambar he would “continue to support the interests of YSU in whatever capacity I might serve.”
The board later selected Leslie Cochran as president, whose tenure lasted from 1992 to 2000.
The YSU community lost faith in the board because of its choice of Dutton. Cochran recalled the atmosphere of his presidential appointment in his open letter to the YSU community condemning the board’s selection of Johnson, stating after the “board-failed search … the [YSU] community was in disarray.”
Dutton later served on the boards of many other charities, foundations and universities and worked as an adjunct instructor of business ethics at YSU from 2014 to 2020. He died in May 2023.
Two decades after Dutton was selected, the university brought in Randy Dunn to be president, whose term — while not controversial — was shorter than expected.
Dunn studied education and served in education administration, including seven years as president of Murray State University.
Much like Johnson, Dunn was selected by a search firm, AGB Search, LLC, before starting in July 2013 on a three-year contract.
Dunn promised to reinvent YSU’s system, announcing plans for budget cuts focused on laying off classified employees as well as cutting into spending around university operations.
Lisa Garofali, the archives and records management specialist at William F. Maag Jr. Library, was at YSU during Dunn’s administration. Garofali said Dunn seemed ready to revamp YSU.
“When he came in, he really had to get to work. He had to deal with the deficit, declining enrollment and things like that. It seemed at the time like he was meeting with people on campus, he was willing to work with everybody,” Garofali said.
Despite Dunn’s announcements, his term lasted from July 2013 to March 2014 — nine months. Dunn announced Feb. 17, 2014 he was leaving YSU to become president of Southern Illinois University. Garofali said the YSU community was surprised by his departure.
“We thought he would stay. We really did, and it was so shocking when — we come back in January and we find out he got hired somewhere else,” Garofali said.
Dunn’s new contract with SIU gave him $430,000 a year, compared with $375,000 at YSU.
Dunn was president of SIU until he was removed in 2018 after released emails and records showed plans to dissolve SIU’s system.
After an interim period, Jim Tressel was selected YSU’s ninth president.