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President Johnson meets with staff to discuss campus return, mental health and anti-racism

University Staff Advisory Committee hosts first Conversation with the President

Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson praised the critical role of staff to creating a great land-grant university in the 21st century. The university’s 16th president discussed what a return to campus will look like in the near future, her vision for Ohio State as an anti-racist community and her favorite late night TV shows during an hour-long conversation with the University Staff Advisory Committee this week.

The committee hosts the president for a question-and-answer session each year. This was Johnson’s first appearance since becoming president.

Moderator and USAC Chair-elect Steven Loborec asked about the role of staff at a land-grant university, Johnson said success was dependent upon excellent staff support for faculty and students. Johnson announced a plan to hire a minimum of 350 net new tenure-track faculty in her first State of the University address, and she told USAC that appropriate staffing would be critical to making that program successful.

“We need to get back to growing our tenure-track faculty, as well as recognizing associated faculty, clinical and research faculty are part of our very valued staff, and then think about how we need to create the staff to support the faculty, both in scholarship and research, but also in the classroom,” she said.

Johnson was also asked about mental health support for university staff. She said one key factor for staff is finding the time to step away from work.

“I think particularly now, and particularly at a time when it’s important to take a breath, I would encourage everybody – find the time to take some of your vacation,” she said. “It’s so important for mental health.”

Johnson urged university managers to continue to offer flexibility to employees as the university plans for a robust return to campus. The university is also examining the issue of the pause in merit pay implemented last spring to control costs in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“On the topic of compensation, I think many staff have felt the impact of the merit pause. And the question is, you know, where do we see that going in the future?” Loborec asked. “Do you think we are going to be paused? Are we unpausing?”

“I don’t want to give any other details now. There is a process that we go through that involves our budget and [the Board of Trustees], and we need to bring those recommendations to the board,” she said. “But we are going to unpause.”

Building an anti-racist campus community is a mission Johnson has focused on since arriving at Ohio State. She was asked about those efforts and progress toward that goal. She said the university will enhance the world-class research already underway in the areas of race and inequality.

The plan, she said, is for Ohio State to develop an initiative “where we would further that scholarship and research towards the solutions of addressing race and health equity, race and educational equity, race and economic inequity, race and resources in the environment, race and the arts and creative expression, and then race in public safety and social justice.”

Johnson said the goal of this research initiative, called RAISE (race, inclusion and social equity), will be to find solutions to those problems through research and scholarship and then bring them to the wider community.

In a lighthearted moment at the start of the conversation, USAC Chair Chrissy Sprouse asked Johnson a series of rapid-fire questions about her preferences. Johnson prefers scarlet to gray, coffee to tea, dogs over cats and cake before ice cream. And she is a fan of late-night television and “Game of Thrones.”

The new president said Mirror Lake is her favorite location on campus and she imagines the times her grandfather, an Ohio State graduate, might have walked around it.

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