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Ohio State presidential profile prompts discussion

OSU Presidential Search Committee advisory subcommittee convener Deborah Jones Merritt (left) and Search Committee Chair Jeffery Wadsworth speak at a meeting Sept. 17. Credit: Liz Young / Campus editor

OSU Presidential Search Committee advisory subcommittee convener Deborah Jones Merritt (left) and Search Committee Chair Jeffery Wadsworth speak at a meeting Sept. 17.
Credit: Liz Young / Campus editor

With the search for Ohio State’s next president under way, there is disagreement between some university officials on what qualities OSU’s leader should embody.

Experience with NCAA Division I athletics, a reputation for solid fundraising and experience overseeing a medical center were all traits under question during a Tuesday Presidential Search Committee meeting.

The advisory subcommitee presented an eight-page presidential profile, which describes the qualities of the ideal candidate, that OSU plans to send to potential candidates. The profile, drafted over the past month, is the first introduction candidates will have in determining whether they are an appropriate and realistic candidate for OSU’s presidency.

While he praised OSU law professor and advisory subcommittee convener Deborah Jones Merritt for the profile’s quality, chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Schottenstein took issue with what he said he perceived as a restrictive profile few candidates would be able to fit.

With agreement from other trustees on the selection committee, Schottenstein asked the advisory subcommittee to soften the language of the profile.

Schottenstein rebuked the conventional notion that a president plays a pivotal role in fundraising, calling the presidency “irrelevant” in this regard and citing evidence that large donations at OSU are usually earmarked for athletics and the Medical Center, meaning the leadership in those areas plays a much larger role in securing donations.

Advisory subcommittee member Michael Eicher, president of the OSU Foundation and senior vice president for Advancement, disagreed with Schottenstein and asked that the clause remain.

“There are presidents who are good at this, and there are those that aren’t. And we want one that’s good,” he said.

Merritt also defended the inclusion about fundraising capability, saying it was a concern that came up frequently at the search forums.

Merritt sympathized with many of the changes during the full committee meeting, but said in the advisory subcommittee meeting afterward, she was surprised at the trustees’ desire to soften some of the language of the document.

Merritt said she will make the requested changes, however, and recirculate the profile to the selection subcommittee.

The advisory subcommittee members also worked on the development of the university portrait in the later meeting. The portrait is a 30 to 40 page document intended to be a recruitment tool to inform candidates of OSU’s attractive qualities.

The subcommittee discussed how to best present the credentials of OSU faculty to potential candidates. Merritt said OSU — which, unlike some of its peer institutions, does not currently have any Nobel laureates as employees — has an unusual challenge in choosing what faculty members to highlight in the portrait.

Merritt said she received internal feedback from people who were unhappy no branch campus professors were featured in the university portrait, but said an effective university portrait “won’t be able to serve the internal purpose of making everyone happy.”

The portrait was originally intended to be completed by mid-September, but Merritt said drafting only began within the last 10 days, so the finalization has been pushed back to early October.

The university’s contract with private search firm R. William Funk & Associates was finalized Tuesday. OSU will be paying the firm a fixed fee of $200,000, as well as reimbursing the firm for direct, out-of-pocket expenses and an additional cost of $20,000 to cover administrative and support expenses, according to the contract.

It has been more than three months since OSU President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee announced his retirement June 4. Gee retired July 1, the same day interim President Joseph Alutto assumed the position.

The announcement of Gee’s retirement came days after controversial remarks Gee made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference became public. Comments about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.

OSU Presidential Search Committee Chair Jeffrey Wadsworth said July 19 the process is expected to take about 300 days based on how long searches take at other universities that are considering outside candidates.

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