Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz was confident sitting behind the desk in his new Bricker Hall office July 1.
“The transition, I have to admit, wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Believe me, sitting in Bricker Hall on July 1 … you know you want to have that feeling (of) ‘What the hell did I get myself into,’ but I didn’t have that feeling,” he said.
After being the executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college at Ohio State, Steinmetz wasn’t intimidated by the shift and the tasks he would face in his new position.
“When I was executive dean, I had to shift gears about every 20 minutes to something new. So we’re talking about the marching band at 9 o’clock, at 9:30 there’s a distinguished professor of chemistry in my office wanting to talk about something to do with his research and then at 10 o’clock, there’s somebody from English or a chair of English, etc., so what this position is is more of that, just more people and more variety,” he said.
Steinmetz sat down with The Lantern Tuesday to talk about prepping the next university president, campus area safety and higher education affordability.
Preparing the next president
Steinmetz sees himself as the link between President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee, Interim President Joseph Alutto and the next president.
“Part of the big job of being provost is being an adviser to the president,” Steinmetz said. “I am the connection, and I regard that as a big part of my responsibility moving forward.”
Steinmetz said Gee approached him about assuming the provost position last winter. It was under Alutto, however, that he officially took on the role.
Gee announced his retirement June 4 after controversial remarks he made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference meeting became public. Comments about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.
Gee retired July 1, the same day Alutto and Steinmetz stepped into their new roles.
Steinmetz said he doesn’t think the next president needs to come from a strictly academic background, but he or she must have a couple essential qualities and an “understanding of what an academic institution is all about.”
“I just want them to appreciate higher education, appreciate what faculty does and what students need,” Steinmetz said.
A university statement emailed to The Lantern Sept. 15 said the presidential candidates and finalists will be kept confidential, something Steinmetz said he understands because of the way he was recruited four years ago.
“I understand that process because that’s exactly the process that got me to Ohio State … I’m sitting at the University of Kansas at the time. The last thing I wanted my colleagues at Kansas to know is that I might be looking at a job elsewhere because it undermines the total confidence that the other place that you’re coming from has in you,” he said. “The very top candidates … would have not even entertained the possibility of a discussion if it was a public process.”
Steinmetz also touched on the possibility of a presidential search competition with University of Michigan, which is also looking for a new president after Mary Sue Coleman announced she will retire in 2014.
“Any open search where we’re looking at the same talent pool, there’s no doubt about it, we want that top person, but I think interestingly that the institutions bring sort of different characteristics to it,” Steinmetz said. “This place is massively complex and big, much more complex than Michigan and much more comprehensive … That will actually be a draw for some of the candidates over a job at Michigan.”
Steinmetz said OSU must pressure the landlords of off-campus houses to be more responsible with meeting the needs of their tenants, especially in regards to safety.
When a house of 15 people in OSU’s off-campus area discovered Aug. 30 there had been a man secretly living in their basement, some students began expressing concerns about the safety of off-campus housing.
The students, who live on 13th Avenue, thought a locked door in the basement led to a utility closet. When one of the residents of the house opened the door, they found a bedroom complete with framed photographs and textbooks. Since then, the locks were changed by the leasing company, NorthSteppe Realty.
Steinmetz said he thinks once second-year students start staying on campus after housing is renovated for the Second Year Transformational Experience Program, the off-campus housing market will take care of irresponsible landlords.
“If (the landlords are) going to be competitive out in the neighborhoods, I think that some of these places have to be fixed and made safe for students to be housed there instead of somewhere else,” Steinmetz said.
STEP is a program designed to enhance second-year students’ college experience by having them live on campus during their second year and be mentored by faculty. OSU plans to require all second-year students to live in university housing by 2016.
It is important that partnerships between OSU and local law enforcement are strong and supportive to support off-campus safety, Steinmetz said, as well as making efforts to keep campus itself as safe as possible.
“We are constantly looking at lighting, how pedestrian pathways are set up and those sorts of issues, always with an eye towards increasing safety,” he said.
Affordability and access to quality education are things that must be improved upon, Steinmetz said.
“We want to make sure that an Ohio State education is affordable and accessible to people,” Steinmetz said. “We have our mission as a land grant institution to make sure that we serve the state of Ohio in education.”
A land grant institution is one that was designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original intent was for the schools to teach agriculture, military tactics and mechanics, as well as classical studies.
Steinmetz added that OSU needs to control the cost of tuition through fundraising and streamlining the costs of the university.
“We have to control tuition and make it affordable so that this university doesn’t just become set up for those that are wealthy or well to do,” Steinmetz said. “On the other side of that is commitments that we make in financial aid take away money to build academic programs … we want to make sure we balance these two issues out. Part of this is making sure that in our fundraising efforts that we spend a great deal of time raising need-based scholarships … but at the same time, watching the costs, streamlining where we can.”
Steinmetz said another reason to keep the cost of tuition affordable is the rising number of students who take more than four years to graduate.
“We are setting that student up with a much more successful future with the addition of things that are being added in a five-year experience versus a four-year experience,” Steinmetz said.
Kristen Mitchell contributed to this article.