Kristina M. Johnson will be Ohio State’s 16th president.
Johnson, formerly the State University of New York chancellor and once the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, was approved by the Board of Trustees at a virtual meeting Wednesday and will assume her role Sept. 1.
“My wife, Veronica, and I are excited to be part of the Buckeye nation and we can’t wait to begin,” Johnson said.
She takes over from current President Michael V. Drake. Drake, whose contract as president ends June 30, announced his retirement in November.
The Board of Trustees announced Wednesday afternoon that they will not appoint an interim president. The president’s cabinet and senior executives will report directly to Gary Heminger, the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
“I’m really glad to welcome you and Veronica to the community and look forward to working with you in these years to come,” Drake said.
Johnson will receive a $900,000 base salary with an annual performance bonus of $225,000, according to her employment contract. She will also receive $200,000 contributed to her university retirement account annually, a fund of $50,000 annually to support her research and education, and an $85,000 annual allowance to be used for “fringe” expenses, including an automobile, and financial or tax planning services.
Her employment contract will end Aug. 31, 2025, but it can be extended for a second five-year term.
Johnson’s roots can be traced back to the first families of Ohio. Her grandfather graduated from Ohio State in 1896, serving as right guard on an early football team, and he may have met her grandmother at the Columbus campus, according to a university press release.
“Ohio State has always been a special place to me — well beyond its standing as one of the most respected teaching, research and patient-care institutions in the world,” Johnson said in the release. “I am humbled to be selected to lead this great land-grant university, and I look forward to meeting with students, faculty and staff to begin our work together.”
Johnson is an electrical engineer by trade. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University and has 118 U.S. and international patents. After leaving the Department of Energy, Johnson co-founded Cube Hydro Partners, a clean-energy infrastructure company building and operating North-American hydropower plants, according to the release.
Johnson previously served as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, according to the SUNY website.
Johnson will be Ohio State’s first president that openly identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and second female president. She is married to Veronica Meinhard, who has 26 years of experience in higher education and administration, according to the release.
“We are particularly thrilled to become Buckeyes because there is so much family history here and such deep roots,” Johnson said.
This marks the end of a nearly five-month-long presidential search led by trustee Lewis Von Thaer. The University Advisory Subcommittee held six public forums to solicit feedback from the Ohio State community and met with student, faculty and staff subgroups, according to the Board of Trustees website.
The subcommittee released a presidential profile in March outlining the qualities, skills and attributes the university community wants to see in Ohio State’s 16th president.
Von Thaer, who led the Presidential Selection Subcommittee, said that executive search firm Isaacson, Miller identified 428 potential prospects, which was then narrowed to a pool of 61. Seven candidates were interviewed by the selection subcommittee and four finalists were identified before Johnson was ultimately selected.
“We believe that Dr. Johnson is unquestionably the right leader with the right experience and the right energy to propel Ohio State forward yet again at this time,” Von Thaer said.
The university has, since the beginning of the search, said it will maintain strict confidentiality of all candidates and finalists, although multiple faculty members expressed concern about a lack of transparency in the final vetting process during a February public session. Under Ohio public records law, documents created by a private business, such as the search firm used by Ohio State, are public records if the private business conducts university business.
Johnson acknowledged the multiple national crises — the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer May 25 — when she addressed the Board Wednesday.
“I’ve always found it helpful to double down on my own guiding principles and our institutional principles which must be safety first, protect the core, protect the core mission as a land-grant university and a top-flight research institution,” Johnson said. “Our innovations and discoveries serve those we influence in the world around us.”
Johnson added that she spoke with Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday who asked her to continue Ohio State’s help with ongoing statewide issues including opioid addiction, water quality and the general health and welfare of the citizens of Ohio.
Janice Bonsu, a fourth-year medical student and graduate student trustee, said that Johnson is capable of bringing change to the university and maintaining the tradition of diversity she said Drake has established.
“As a student of color, that was one of the deciding factors to me coming to Ohio State. I wanted to train in a place that reflects our country and those patients that I’m going to serve,” Bonsu said. “Dr. Johnson is committed to increasing the diversity on campus — not just racially, but schools of thought.”
Bonsu said she feels one of Johnson’s main priorities is students. When Bonsu was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins, she said she witnessed Johnson’s dedication to students.
“I actually went to college with her niece, and I remember Dr. Johnson coming on campus for family weekend,” she said. “She came to soccer games. She’s such an involved individual.”
Other qualities Bonsu said made Johnson qualified was her extensive experience in research — as highlighted by her numerous patents — and policymaking. But what Bonsu said really left an impression on her was her willingness to listen.
“Not only am I one of the youngest on the Board, but I’m also leaving the Board,” Bonsu said. “She does not have to engage with me at all.”
Bonsu said she sent a single text message to Johnson, who immediately responded with a phone call.
“Though she does not have all the answers, you know, because she’s new to this and she wants to learn, she’s willing to learn and she was like, ‘Who do I need to sit down with?’” Bonsu said.
Updated at 3:44 p.m. to include salary and benefit information from Johnson’s employment contract, as well as added that there will be no interim president.