The Chair of the Board of Trustees for Youngstown State University released a statement after backlash facing the board from some of the YSU staff, students, and alumni over its appointment of US Congressman Bill Johnson on Nov. 22.

Michael A. Peterson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a written statement to 21 News that the search process sought input from the YSU community including more than 600 stakeholders, and enlisted a national search firm to help with the process to replace former university Jim Tressel who left in mid-February. 

Peterson said the search, hiring and emergency meeting were all part of the process.

Here are the bullet points Peterson included in the letter that he says were used throughout the process:


  • First, we sought input from the entire YSU community with over 600 stakeholders responding. Based on this input, we developed the qualities and skills essential to a successful president.
  • Next, we enlisted the expertise of, a national search firm, WittKiefer. The professionals at WittKiefer, one of the top five search firms in the country, remained steadfast in their counsel that we conduct a confidential search in order to attract the most qualified candidates. WittKiefer indicated that YSU's process was one of the most open confidential searches they have seen.
  • This was a confidential search, not a closed or secret search as more than 20 campus constituents were included in the process.
  • The decision to use a confidential search is not unique to YSU. Higher education has moved toward a confidential search with a broad but limited group of constituents as part of the process.
  • This confidential approach was shared with the campus community. In August, we launched the Presidential Search website and sent an email to the campus community (Aug. 24, 2023) outlining the process and next steps, including our intentions to ensure the confidentiality of this search


  • WittKiefer presented a slate of potential candidates to the Presidential Search Guidance committee, considering candidate credentials.
  • The committee discussed and reviewed the slate of candidates, narrowing the pool of candidates.
  • A first round of candidate interviews took place.
  • The candidate pool was then narrowed again and finalists were identified. Finalists toured campus and the Pollock House (the president's residence).
  • The finalists were interviewed by the full board of trustees (including student and global).
  • Finalists were also interviewed by the constituency group, made up of four vice presidents; the provost and vice provost; the academic senate past and incoming chair; a dean; and leadership of police, human resources, and the YSU Foundation.
  • The constituency group’s feedback and comments were considered during the board’s final deliberations.


  • A special meeting was planned for Tuesday, November 21 when on Thursday, November 16 we learned that some candidates' information may have been made public. To ensure the integrity of the process and continued confidentiality of the candidates, we scheduled a meeting.
  • Per the YSU Board of Trustees' bylaws, any meeting convened with less than 48 hours' notice is designated as an “Emergency Meeting.” Since this meeting fell within that 48-hour window, it was necessary to classify it as such.

Peterson said the process was thorough and followed the "current best-practice" advice from WittKiefer. 

He concluded with stating, "We assure you that every step was taken with the best interests of YSU at heart."