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‘Modern Family’ actor to give back honorary degree in protest of Youngstown State GOP hire

Ed O’Neill says new university president is ‘polarizing, far right-wing fanatical guy’

Actor Ed O’Neill said he plans to give back his honorary doctorate to Youngstown State University to protest the hiring of a former Republican congressman as its new president.

O’Neill, known for his roles in “Modern Family” and “Married with Children,” told MSNBC that former U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s new leadership role at the Ohio public university is a “slap in the face to all of us.”

“He’s a polarizing guy, an election denier,” O’Neill said in the Jan. 16 interview. “He’s not the biggest fan of the gay community. He’s anti-choice. He’s just a polarizing, far right-wing fanatical guy.”

O’Neill also criticized Johnson for supporting former President Donald Trump.

The actor said he felt proud to receive the honorary degree from Youngstown State in 2013. O’Neill attended the school but did not graduate. Now that Johnson is its president, however, O’Neill said he plans to give back the degree.

“I can’t keep it. It doesn’t mean anything to me now,” he told MSNBC. “I’m giving it back.”

Since the Board of Trustees announced Johnson as the new president in November, Youngstown State has faced criticism from current and former employees, alumni, and students.

On Jan. 22, Johnson’s first day on the job, about 50 students participated in a walk-out protest, the Ohio Capital Journal reported.

Earlier last month, dozens of retired faculty and staff signed a letter criticizing Johnson for his “uniformed criticism of” and lack of experience in higher education, saying it does “not bode well for the future” of Youngstown State, The College Fix reported.

However, the trustees said they believe Johnson will be “forward thinking and an investment in the future of YSU. He understands the vision of our strategic plan.”

Johnson also promised to foster “open dialogue” and “diverse perspectives” in a statement responding to the criticism. He said he is committed to “the well-being of every student,” and his “history in politics will not be reflected” in his decisions.

Many analyses in recent years have found that university faculty and administrators lean heavily Democrat. A 2022 analysis by The Fix found zero Republican professors across 33 departments at seven universities.

MORE: Only 4 percent of faculty donations went to Republicans in 2022: College Fix analysis

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.