Nov 30, 2022 - News

Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson announces resignation

OSU president Kristina Johnson speaking on stage during an Intel investment announcement.

Ohio State University president Kristina M. Johnson speaks during Intel's announcement in Licking County. Photo: Paul Vernon/AP

We expected it would be a tough week for Ohio State, but not like this.

Catch up quick: University president Kristina M. Johnson announced her abrupt resignation late Monday, shortly after the Columbus Dispatch reported an unnamed consulting firm had investigated unspecified "concerns" raised by her staff.

  • Two days later, it's still unclear why she'll be leaving next May and if the impending departure is embroiled in behind-the-scenes controversy.

Why it matters: OSU is the state's flagship university and features a massive student body larger than any of Columbus' suburbs.

  • The president's vision and priorities shape not just the institution but the entire state, and rapid turnover can lead to significant turmoil.

The latest: An OSU spokesperson tells Axios "there was not an investigation" and the outside firm was tapped to assist with the president's annual performance review.

  • But Johnson privately informed the Board of Trustees of her intent to leave, so the firm did not complete that review.
  • Axios requested the name of the consultant as well as any copies of investigatory findings, but hasn't heard back yet.

Flashback: Johnson was hired in 2020 to stabilize OSU amid the pandemic and declining enrollment across most universities nationwide.

  • Her background as an engineer, entrepreneur and former undersecretary of energy during the Obama administration was seen as a perfect fit to guide the school's long-term future in a region increasingly becoming a research and tech powerhouse.

What she's said: Speaking at the Intel groundbreaking in Licking County, Johnson described a need to revive the "powerful private-public partnership of industry, government and academia" — a trifecta defining not just Ohio State, but her own professional career.

And yet, she is leaving halfway into a five-year contract, the second-shortest presidential tenure in school history.

Between the lines: No one accepts such a significant and lucrative role in higher education with the expectation of lasting just two years. And the board of trustees would not hire someone with that anticipation, either.

What we're watching: Trustees will begin the difficult task of finding a new leader who ideally combines higher education experience with personable leadership.

By the numbers: Being OSU president has been compared to serving as mayor of a mid-sized U.S. city. Here's why:

  • 67,772: Students across main campus and five regional campuses
  • 475+: Combined number of all degree programs
  • 49,325: Total faculty, staff and executives
  • $6.8 billion: Endowment as of June 2021
  • $8.1 billion: University spending in FY2022
  • 1,400: Student organizations

💭 Our thought bubble: A prominent institution like Ohio State will no doubt attract good candidates, but this unexpected turnover — whatever the reason — is anything but ideal.


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