Ohio State President Kristina Johnson confirms she's made 'difficult decision' to resign

Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson confirmed Monday night that she is stepping down, hours after The Dispatch broke the story of her departure.

The university's board of trustees asked Johnson, 65, to resign following a review conducted by an outside firm into concerns about her that were raised by staff, sources in the administration told The Dispatch. What those concerns were and the details of the review are not clear.

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Johnson's last day as the university's 16th president is expected to be at the end of the academic year shortly after spring commencement, which is scheduled for May 7.

Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said there was no investigation into the president. Rather, an outside consultant was called in to help the board with Johnson's annual performance review.

"The board was aware of President Johnson’s intent to leave the university advance of the November board meeting and therefore an annual review was not completed," he said.

In a statement through her attorney, Rex Elliot, Johnson called the reports "inaccurate" and said the events were "mischaracterized."

"I’m saddened by the circumstances. My record of accomplishment at Ohio State speaks for itself, and I made the difficult decision to step down,” she said.

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Johnson issued a statement Monday night in the wake of The Dispatch report that she would be resigning.

“Since I arrived at The Ohio State University in August of 2020, we have been able to achieve so much, on so many different fronts, despite considerable adversity including the COVID-19 pandemic," Johnson said. "I am very proud of all that we have accomplished together. It’s been a privilege to serve this incredible university, and I have been honored to work as part of this brilliant, dedicated and passionate community.

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“I have made the difficult decision to step down as president following commencement at the end of the academic year," she said. "This will allow a search for the next president to proceed and adequate time for me to assist with a seamless transition."

Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita, chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement: “On behalf of the entire Board of Trustees, I want to thank Dr. Johnson for her dedication to the university, especially her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. We congratulate her on her many achievements and wish her our very best in her future professional endeavors.”

Johnson will depart about 2½ years into her five-year contract. At the time of her departure, Johnson will have the second-shortest tenure as a president at Ohio State behind only former Ohio State President Walter Q. Scott, who served from 1881 to 1883. That does not include acting or interim presidents.

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Ohio State's Board of Trustees will begin searching for the university’s 17th president. The university said it will share more information about the search and how the community can participate in early 2023.

Ohio State president didn't have review in November

Ohio State's Board of Trustees conduct an annual review of the university's president each fiscal year (which runs July to June) and trustees work with the president to establish a set of goals, according to Johnson's 2020 offer letter. Those goals are used as the basis for her annual review, and those reviews are typically shared at November's Talent, Compensation & Governance committee meeting.

No such review took place for Johnson at the committee meeting this November. Instead, trustees met for nearly two hours in executive session before briefly discussing other personnel actions.

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In August 2021, after her first year at the university's helm, the trustees' Talent, Compensation & Governance Committee approved giving Johnson a $27,000 raise, which is 3% of her base salary, as well as a $263,500 bonus. At the time, Johnson earned $900,000 a year, according to her contract.

She is currently earning $927,000 annually as of Sept. 30, according to the university's salary data base.

When former Ohio State President Michael V. Drake announced his retirement in November 2019, it came after a committee of university trustees gave him a positive performance evaluation and approved a 2.5% raise, bringing his annual salary to nearly $892,000 per year. Unlike previous years, though, they did not approve a bonus.

In addition to her base pay, Johnson also receives $200,000 a year in her university retirement account, $50,000 annually to support her research and education, and an $85,000 annual allowance for other expenses such as a car and tax services.

How long has Kristina Johnson been Ohio State's president?

Johnson came to Ohio State in May 2020 from the State University of New York, where she had served as the system's chancellor for three years. Her first official day as president was Sept. 1, 2020.

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Before that, she served eight years as dean of the engineering school at Duke University and two years as provost at Johns Hopkins University. She then became a top official in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration and founded a couple of for-profits businesses.

In her first State of the University Address in February 2021, Johnson laid out an ambitious set of goals for the university to accomplish over the next decade. Her plans included creating the Scarlet and Gray Advantage, an initiative to offer a zero-debt bachelor's degree at scale; hiring a minimum of 350 new tenure-track faculty members, and doubling the university's research expenditures.

At the time, Johnson called these plans not just goals, but a personal mission.

In her statement, Johnson said her time at Ohio State has also brought her "much personal satisfaction."

"Veronica and I quickly felt welcomed as full-fledged members of the campuses and local communities," she said. "We want to thank the amazing students, faculty and staff of Ohio State, the alumni, parents, supporters and all of Buckeye Nation, including my cabinet and the Board of Trustees, for the camaraderie you have shown us as we reached new heights together.

"We wish all of you — and The Ohio State University — the very best in the future.”

Sheridan Hendrix is a higher education reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. Sign up for her Mobile Newsroom newsletter here and Extra Credit, her education newsletter, here.

shendrix@dispatch.com

@sheridan120

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State President Kristina Johnson resignation confirmed