Pro-Johnson rally welcomes new president

Onlookers look as Costarell speaks at the rally. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Molly Burke

About 25 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for a rally at noon Jan. 22 in front of Tod Hall to show support for YSU President William “Bill” Johnson on his first day.  

The pro-Johnson rally followed a student-led walkout protesting Johnson’s presidency on the opposite side of Tod Hall. 

The rally was organized by Maddy Lutz, a sophomore political science major and vice president for YSU’s Turning Point USA chapter. Lutz said the goal of the rally was to show members of the community welcome Johnson on campus amidst pushback against his appointment. 

“[Johnson is] here to represent us and support us, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t stand beside and support him. He’s a human being just like we are. I feel bad for the guy. I feel bad that he’s being so ostracized,” Lutz said. “There are people here who aren’t just like, ‘get rid of him.’” 

Mike Costarell, professor of engineering technology and advisor for Turning Point USA, gave a speech at the rally. Costarell said he got involved because he believes the community hasn’t treated Johnson fairly, especially in the Academic Senate.

“I went to the Academic Senate, and I’m an Academic Senator, and it was very harsh and critical and very opinionated. I understand that there’s no process for hiring a president … so being upset that a process wasn’t followed doesn’t really make sense,” Costarell said. “The angst that was put against [Johnson] — he hasn’t even been here yet — was really harsh.”

Costarell speaks at the rally. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

The Academic Senate passed two votes of no confidence in December — one against the board of trustees for appointing Johnson in a confidential search process and one against Johnson himself.

The Business Journal published a letter written by Costarell on Jan. 9 where he stated, “not all YSU faculty agree with the campus protests or Academic Senate vote of no confidence.” 

Costarell also wrote in his letter that he believes those speaking out against Johnson are in a “vocal minority.” Costarell said he believes the majority are silent in fear of being condemned, but he hopes the rally shows the community that YSU students are able to have differing opinions. 

“That majority — I want them to know that YSU will have a diverse set of ideals and not be forced to get into any ideals they don’t want to participate in,” Costarell said.

Attendees stand at the rally. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

Austin Browne, senior finance major and president of Turning Point USA, said he believes Johnson will make a good president. 

“He has a proven track record working in our government. He’s represented countless constituents. I think YSU is no exception. In reality, YSU is kind of like a congressional district. There’s a lot of people here with different views you have to represent, and I think he brings a lot to the table to be able to do that,” Browne said.

According to Browne, those protesting against Johnson are politically motivated. 

“I’ve already heard that there are people on campus trying to establish a watchdog group. What that says to me is they’re not actually looking for Bill Johnson to succeed and YSU to succeed in turn. They’re seeking to find any mistake that he can make so they can use that against him for political gain,” Browne said.

Browne said he believes students who support Johnson or show conservative political views often refrain from expressing their opinions in fear of being discriminated against. 

“From personal experience, those that choose to align themselves with the right side of the political spectrum or the conservative side of things tend to be much more quiet because they know the people on the other side — despite what they say — are not always accepting of those beliefs,” Browne said. 

When asked about the kinds of discrimination students faced, Browne said students may feel alienated by professors expressing opposite views. 

Director of Support Services Danny O’Connell was in attendance at the rally. O’Connell said he looks forward to working with Johnson. 

“It’s important that we get ready to work with our new leader,” O’Connell said. “I’ve seen a lot of new leadership changes here and everyone brings in their own way of doing things. So, I’m excited.” 

Editors Note: Christopher Gillett contributed to this report.