Peterson doubles down, defends Johnson

By Elizabeth Coss

Chair of the Youngstown State University board of trustees Michael Peterson addressed questions from the press following the board’s Dec. 7 meeting.  

Peterson doubled down and defended the selection of the U.S. Rep. William “Bill” Johnson as YSU’s 10th president through a confidential search process. 

“We understand what the concerns are,” Peterson said. “Every search firm that we interviewed all said the same thing, that it was a confidential search. I’ve heard from former trustees and so on and so forth that that is not a great process … that process is what it is because our subject matter experts, not just the one firm we chose, because I think that’s important, but the ones we interviewed all said the same thing.”

According to FEC Data, three trustees have a record of donating to Johnson’s political campaigns on multiple occasions. When asked if those trustees should have abstained from voting to preserve ethical standards, Peterson said the donations shouldn’t have any impact.

“What you don’t know are those same folks that donated to the Bill Johnson [campaign] also donated to Democrats,” Peterson said. “My point is simply this, it doesn’t matter. No one knew that, — oh my God, that a year later, two years later — we were going to have Bill Johnson sitting in front of us.”

Peterson said the board wanted someone who loved YSU and could attract students and stakeholders during unique times, such as declining enrollment. 

“We need someone that can get out there and actually be the face and engage people and want them to come to YSU,” Peterson said. “He convinced an entire — minus one — board of trustees. That, minus all the political stuff, we set that aside, that this guy could come in and have a direct impact.”

Regarding Johnson’s past, Peterson said the YSU community should separate Johnson from his politics.

“We keep talking about politics, and we keep bringing up his politics, and I hear people say you can’t separate them, but wait — we all do it all day, every day. Every single one of us starts our job and we separate our politics,” Peterson said. “Bill Johnson won’t be fracking at Youngstown State, he won’t be denying marriages at Youngstown State. He will be leading.”

The next board of trustees meeting is set for March 7, 2024, on the first floor of Tod Hall. Committee meetings will take place the day before.