Public walks out during board of trustees meeting

Attendees at the Dec. 7 meeting held protest signs as they shouted over the trustees. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Elizabeth Coss

The Youngstown State University board of trustees met Dec. 7 following its Dec. 6 committee meetings in Tod Hall. The board stated Nov. 21 that the Dec. 7 meeting would allow time for public comments regarding its choice to hire U.S. Rep. William “Bill” Johnson as YSU’s 10th president.

However, at the beginning of the Dec. 7 meeting, it was stated that requested public comments were addressed at the previous day’s meeting, and they would not be taken at all. Audience members booed at the statement and began speaking out.

Attendees interrupted board members, shouting over them and criticizing the process of how Johnson was selected as president. The board pushed through with its agenda. 

About halfway through the meeting, Youngstown resident Daphne Carr led a walkout in disagreement with the search and selection process.

“We are aware that this [is] no longer a potential space for our democratic process and if we cannot participate in the way that this is fair, then I think the rest of us should just leave the meeting and go have the process that we want to, yet again, outside,” Carr stated over the trustees. “We are leaving the space right now, so if you are no longer interested in participating in the failed procedure that is part of this failed and unfair process of the trustees, then you’re welcome to meet us outside.”

Carr said she walked out because the promise to allow public comment had been ignored. 

“At the second emergency meeting on Nov. 21 … staff, faculty, students, alumni all asked to give public comment before there was a vote. We were told that was not in process and that we weren’t allowed to do that, and that we would have the opportunity for public comment at the Dec. 7 meeting,” Carr said. “I was merely asking the trustees to honor the promise they made to the community … they ignored us, they filibustered and they continue to disrespect us by pretending this isn’t a huge emergency for the moral fabric of the university.”

Carr said the process has been disrespectful to the community. 

“I value the safety and respect and capacity for these students and faculty to learn and teach in an environment that is a good environment,” Carr said. “It is disturbing to me that so many people across so many different worldviews and backgrounds — conservatives and liberals — everybody across the spectrum has said this process is wrong and we need to redo this.”

Jerry Dixey, a 1974 YSU alumnus, also walked out of the meeting and said the reason so many community members came to the meeting was to give comments. 

“We were told at the beginning of the meeting there would be no public comment. This is why we’re all here,” Dixey said. “Our opinions don’t count and this decision was made way before we got involved … Mr. Johnson is not the right man for the job, and we would like to express that, but we weren’t given time, and we were promised time.”

Chair of the board of trustees Michael Peterson said three requests were made to meet with the board, and comments were taken at the Dec. 6 meeting. Peterson clarified there is a formal process where an individual must request to speak during the board’s committee meetings. 

“What we said is, you have to make a request that’s three weeks out,” Peterson said. “[The public] still wanted to come to this meeting and talk. So, when I say meeting, I’m talking about both days.”

The next board of trustees meeting is set for March 7, 2024.