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Joseph Alutto: A university president raised on ‘unconditional love and really good food’

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OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto during an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Ohio State Interim President Joseph Alutto didn’t grow up intending to become president of one of the largest universities in the nation.

His parents were working class. He was the first in his family to attend college and he paid his own way through experiences he said shaped his life.

“My father was a truck driver, he had a sixth grade education,” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23. “My mother was this wonderful old Italian woman who believed that unconditional love and really good food made for unconditional love. Both of whom knew nothing about college.”

That upbringing gave Alutto a passion for education from an early age.

“My parents didn’t have money to support us. Their notion was that if you wanted it bad enough, you’d pursue it. My brother and I wanted it, we worked 30 to 40 hours a week to get through,” he said.

Alutto worked various jobs while attending Manhattan College where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

He said working through college was an experience that shaped his life.

“What I learned is a lot of discipline. I learned how to work when I was tired. I learned what priorities were. There were weeks I had to work overtime and studies would slip. I had to make it up at some point. Those are the characteristics that have stayed with me my entire life,” he said.

Alutto earned his master’s in industrial relations at the University of Illinois and a Ph.D., in organizational behavior from Cornell University.

In 1991, Alutto was appointed to his first position at OSU as the dean of the Fisher College of Business, a position he served in for 16 years.

Following the retirement of Karen Holbrook in July 2007, Alutto became interim president of OSU and served in that position until E. Gordon Gee assumed the presidency in October 2007. At that time, Alutto was appointed executive vice president and provost.

After five years as provost, Alutto announced in November 2012 he would be leaving OSU. Joseph Steinmetz, then-executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences, was set to replace him.

Alutto’s plans to leave changed, however, following then-President Gee’s retirement July 1. Alutto was appointed interim president for a second time as Steinmetz took over as executive vice president and provost.

Gee’s announcement came days after controversial remarks he made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference meeting came under public scrutiny. Comments, which he later called “inappropriate,” about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.

Steinmetz said Alutto is doing well leading the university during a time of uncertainty.

“Because he was my predecessor as provost here, he has been especially helpful to me as I transitioned into the position,” Steinmetz said in an email. “The university is fortunate that he is at the helm during this period of transition.”

“Dr. Alutto is doing an outstanding job as our interim president. I believe the university continues to move forward under his leadership in all areas,” he added.

Just before stepping into the role of interim president, Alutto was a candidate for another interim position, superintendent of Columbus City Schools. Alutto turned down this role following Gee’s retirement.

Columbus City School Board President Carol Perkins said she was “brokenhearted” when Alutto turned down the position.

“My colleagues were disappointed because we were all looking forward to working with him,” she told The Lantern. “(But) we understood where and why he was needed.”

In addition to his academic achievements, Perkins said she was also impressed with Alutto’s character.

“He is very patient,” she said. “Some other things that just struck me immediately, he is a calm individual, he has a tremendous personality.”

Some students, however, don’t think Alutto has made much of an impression on the university, especially following Gee, a university leader many saw as having an especially public presence.

“We haven’t really heard that much from (Alutto),” said Lexi Minnick, a first-year in nursing.

Bobby Lewe, a first-year in business, agreed.

“I feel like he’s more distant (from students) than Gee, because he hasn’t had the experience yet,” he said.

Lewe said, though, it was hard to judge the impression Alutto has made based on one semester.

“It’s not going to happen just like that,” he said.

Cassidy Tigner, a first-year in radiation therapy, said she wishes Alutto was more accessible to students but doesn’t think being a public figure is a crucial part of his job as interim president.

“It would be cool if he was more involved but I don’t think it’s necessary,” she said.

Following Gee’s retirement, the university created a Presidential Search Committee to find the next president. The committee’s advisory subcommittee developed a presidential profile, an eight-page guide to aid committee members and potential presidential candidates with understanding the most important values and qualifications being looked for in OSU’s next president, and a university portrait, a 63-page document that detailed OSU’s best qualities.

OSU has spent more than $337,000 on the presidential search process so far. This includes the cost of a symposium discussion about what qualities a president should have and what a president should expect in his or her term, held Aug. 30 at Ohio Union.

The other portion of OSU’s search-related expenses came from its contract with a private search firm.

OSU signed a contract worth more than $220,000 Sept. 17 with R. William Funk & Associates, a Dallas-based firm. The university is set to pay the firm a fixed fee of $200,000, as well as reimburse 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.

The university has also announced that the presidential candidates and finalists will be kept confidential.

Presidential Search Committee chairman Jeffrey Wadsworth, who is also the Presidential Search Committee chairman, said July 19 the presidential search is expected to take about 300 days. However, he later suggested the search could possibly end earlier.

Alutto said he wants to stay at OSU after a new president is chosen and pursue research related to leadership.

“After I’m done and finished as interim president, I hope to go back to the Fisher College of Business and teach for a bit and pursue my own scholarship,” he said.

One comment

  1. Holy smokes, still digging material out of that interview? PUT IT TO BED!

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