Several Ohio University faculty members, students, and community members came out on Tuesday to express their views on how the search for the next president of Ohio University should go. Robert McGraw/WOUB

Academics, Engagement At Top Of Community’s List For Next OU Prez

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An emphasis on academics and community engagement are on the top of the list of qualities Ohio University community members want in the new president, according to comments made at a Tuesday public forum.

The OU presidential search committee had their first organizational meeting on Tuesday, before about 60 people gathered in the Baker Theater to give their input on what they wanted to see in the new president.

In March, the day after President Roderick McDavis announced he would step down at the end of his contract in 2017, the Board of Trustees put a plan in motion to bring together a 21-person search committee, led by paid consultants outside of the university.

The panel that listened to the comments Tuesday was made up of two consultants from Witt Kieffer, John K. Thornburgh and Dennis M. Barden, and Board of Trustees Chair David Wolfort.

Several of those that stepped up to the microphone were faculty members, who spoke about the need for more research funding and the desire for a president who attended classes and groups, showing interest in the academic side of the university.

Dr. Richard Vedder, distinguished professor emeritus in Economics, said the steady decline in OU’s school ranking in media polls and its “mediocre” reputation is cause for concern. He questioned why the university has gone down in the rankings and what failures the university has seen since past presidents were in office.

“I believe the answer is that OU has prioritized virtually everything ahead of academic excellence and reputation, showing greater interest in diversity, sustainability and athletics, rather than excelling in teaching and research,” Vedder said.

Other faculty agreed that a commitment to raising the academic profile of the university involved the addition of Group 1, or tenure-track-eligible positions.

Some input focused on the presence of the new president within the community, through inclusivity and community awareness.

LGBT Center director delfin bautista told the panel to look for a candidate with diversity in mind, including race, gender, sexuality and all other parts of a diverse campus.

“If we don’t have a diverse faculty and staff, we can’t have a diverse student body,” bautista said.

Partnership with Athens and the region would bring positive change to the university, according to Beth Quitslund, an associate professor of English.

“(The next president) should be…not so committed to Ohio for Ohio that he forgets Ohio for Athens,” Quitslund said, referring to the university initiative championed by McDavis to increase OU’s presence statewide.

Athletics was a topic that came up several times during the public forum, mostly to urge the panel to find a president who values other activities as much, if not more, than collegiate sports.

“Winning basketball games and football games is not the way to make a university special,” said Mark Halliday, another professor in the English department.

Sexual assault awareness, sustainability and care for students who are military veterans also came up during the night, and a vote for a new performing arts center was also brought to the panel.