Kristina Johnson, the president of Ohio State University, made her resignation from her position official on Monday. Initial reports stated that Johnson, who has been at Ohio State for just over two years, was resigning as a result of an investigation into complaints made by her staff on Monday night. Since then, Johnson has disputed those assertions.
In a brief interview with Inside Higher Ed, Johnson denied ever being the focus of any investigation at Ohio State and provided no explanation for the reason behind her abrupt resignation.
An anonymous Ohio State trustee claimed that Johnson made the decision to leave on her own. When asked if the president was the subject of any kind of investigation, he responded, “Absolutely not.”
Johnson’s departure makes for the seventh leadership change this year among the 14 universities that make up the Big Ten conference, though the reasons for each departure vary greatly. After learning that the university president, Dr. Mark Schlissel, had an affair with a staff member, the board of trustees of the University of Michigan fired him in January.
The Board of Trustees forced Dr Samuel Stanley Jr., the president of Michigan State University, to resign last month after allegations surfaced that he handled Title IX issues improperly. He has denied these claims. Both Mitch Daniels, the longtime president of Purdue University, and Eric Barron, the departing president of Pennsylvania State University, made their retirement announcements earlier this year.
Additionally, Rebecca Blank resigned from her position as the top executive at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in order to succeed Morton Schapiro at Northwestern University, but she later backed out of the job after receiving a cancer diagnosis just before she was scheduled to start.
Reason For Resignation
Johnson avoided the questions, focusing only on the fact that she had “made a very difficult decision” to step down when she was pressed on her reasons for leaving or her plans after she officially leaves Ohio State at the end of the current academic year.
Johnson declined to comment on potential next steps, stating that she was concentrating on the tasks at hand at Ohio State during the next six months before she formally steps down from her position.
The trustee, who requested anonymity, claimed that Johnson abruptly announced her resignation to the board in mid-November, taking everyone by surprise.
“I believed she had great insight and a desire for change. Additionally, she was an outstanding leader in the community and managed the university during the epidemic for two and a half years, the trustee told Inside Higher Ed.
Less than three years into her contract, Johnson is scheduled to leave her position in May. From 2017 until 2020, she was the system’s chancellor at the State University of New York. In addition to her previous academic stops, Johnson worked as the undersecretary of energy for energy and environment for a time in the Department of Energy under the Obama administration.
Johnson did not respond when asked if she was leaving for a new position in academia or the government, choosing to emphasize that her attention was on Ohio State for the upcoming six months.
According to the university website, Johnson’s paternal grandpa, Charles Johnson, a graduate who participated on the football team in 1896, has long-standing links to Ohio State.
Johnson began teaching at Ohio State in the fall of 2020, taking over as president while the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. Johnson participated in a discussion about the potential reintroduction of fall sports that year with other Big Ten presidents in addition to overseeing COVID-19’s early stages.
Along with then-President Bruce Harreld of the University of Iowa and University of Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green, she was one of three conference officials that voted in favor of bringing back fall sports. Johnson enquired about the prospect of competing outside the Big Ten when the athletic conference resisted. However, the conference made the decision to resume competition that fall.
Johnson had to deal with the COVID-19 challenges on the Ohio State campus outside of athletics, prioritizing testing and facial coverings, regulating the class size, and mandating coronavirus vaccinations. Johnson came to Ohio State with big goals.
She stated goals to employ at least 350 new tenure-track faculty members and increase Ohio State’s research spending in February 2021. She also set out plans to start the Scarlet and Gray Advantage, an Ohio State project to give students a bachelor’s degree with no debt. Johnson understands she has a lot of work ahead of her with only around six months left in the position.
“We are making investments in the success of our professors, and we plan to double our research spending well before the end of this decade. And I have tremendous enthusiasm for the Scarlet and Gray Advantage program since it allowed [my wife, Veronica Meinhard, and I] to graduate from college with barely any debt and had a significant impact on our lives and careers. As a result, Johnson stated, “I want to make as much progress as I can on those three major issues.
Professor at Ohio State and chair of the University Senate’s steering committee Enrico Bonello stated that academic members have typically had favorable opinions of Johnson. Her initiatives, such as the Scarlet and Gray Advantage, were praised by Bonello.
She has been really forthcoming and even enthusiastic about working with the [University] Senate, particularly us faculty leaders, in a true shared governance spirit. According to Bonello, it has been the best experience he has had working with a president in shared administration.