- Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson will step down after commencement in May, ending her tenure after less than three years at the 67,772-student Big Ten institution.
- The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday that the university's board of trustees asked Johnson to step down after an outside firm reviewed concerns raised by staff. A university spokesperson, in an email, said no investigation took place but did not confirm or deny the details about staff concerns and trustees requesting the president’s departure.
- Johnson is proud of her accomplishments at the flagship, the spokesperson said.
Johnson's departure comes at a time of high-profile turnover at the top of prominent universities, which has raised questions about who can lead institutions in the current moment of change for higher education.
This year in the Big Ten alone, the University of Michigan ousted Mark Schlissel because of an alleged affair with an employee. Michigan State University President Dr. Samuel Stanley resigned after trustees tried to force him out amid disagreements over how the university handled sexual misconduct reporting.
And one of the group's most polarizing leaders, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, is stepping down at the end of the calendar year. Daniels' departure differs in that Purdue is treating him warmly on his way out. It plans a "MitchFest" series of events for Daniels, a Republican who was previously governor of Indiana.
Meanwhile, Northwestern University named Michael Schill to take over from retiring president Morton Schapiro after its initial choice, former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, was forced to decline the role because of a cancer diagnosis.
Amid that backdrop, questions about Johnson's departure are notable. She is stepping down at the end of the academic year so Ohio State will have time to search for a new president and so she can help with a transition, she wrote Monday.
Then she turned her attention to accomplishments during her tenure, including boosting Ohio State's rankings as measured by U.S. News & World Report, starting a program for debt-free undergraduate education and the university crossing the $1 billion research spending threshold for the first time in 2021. She also pointed out Ohio State continued to operate during the pandemic, awarding degrees, restarting athletics in fall 2020, and administering 200,000 vaccines in the 2020-21 academic year.
"By focusing on five pillars of excellence — academics, research, clinical care and service, talent and culture, and operations — together, we have made amazing headway in just two and a half years," Johnson wrote. "Ohio State is on a pathway to reach ever greater achievements in the years to come."
Asked directly why the president is leaving, an Ohio State spokesperson did not provide an explicit reason.
"As Dr. Johnson has said, she is very proud of all that has been accomplished, which is a tribute to the spirit, commitment and brilliance of the entire Ohio State community," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson pushed back on reports that an outside firm had conducted an investigation.
"There was not an investigation," the spokesperson said. "An outside consultant was engaged to assist with the president’s performance review, as has been done in years past."
But trustees knew before a November board meeting that Johnson planned to leave the university, and her annual review was not completed this year, the spokesperson said.
In August 2021, trustees approved giving Johnson a 3% raise, or $27,000, on top of her $900,000 annual salary. They also signed off on a $263,500 bonus.
The chair of Ohio State's board of trustees, Hiroyuki Fujita, issued a statement thanking Johnson for her leadership and wishing her well. Johnson said in a statement that the last several years were satisfying personally as well as professionally.
"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."
An electrical engineer, Johnson became Ohio State's president in September 2020. She'd been chancellor of the State University of New York system since 2017. Previously, she held academic leadership roles at Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and the University of Colorado Boulder. She was also undersecretary of energy early in President Barack Obama's administration.