Ohio State President Michael Drake said he’s been busy picking up the reins as the leader of Ohio State since he took over in July.
“What I look forward to in 2015 is more time with students and faculty,” Drake said in a Monday interview with The Lantern. “I noticed that I missed the level of contact that I had been used to having with (them).”
In addition to sharing his thoughts on issues facing higher education and OSU’s large student population, Drake also answered questions about topics like former OSU Marching Band director Jon Waters’ firing, the football team winning the National Championship and what he thinks about the rapper Drake.
When asked about the firing of former OSU Marching Band director Jon Waters, Drake said he was unable to comment because a lawsuit is in litigation.
Waters is suing the university for a minimum of $1 million in compensatory damages, in addition to seeking punitive damages, attorney fees and reinstatement. His suit — which is against Drake and Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz — says he was fired without due process and that he was discriminated against on the basis of gender.
Waters was fired July 24, less than a month after Drake’s June 30 start date, after an OSU investigation found the band contained an entrenched sexualized culture.
Drake said he wasn’t expecting this situation.
“It was an unpleasant surprise,” he said.
Waters reapplied for his former position, submitting a four and a half page application to OSU for a tenure-track band director position.
The university is currently searching for a new director, and has said it plans to select a leader by February.
2015 College Football Playoff National Championship
Drake said one of his attractions to OSU was the high quality of the athletic program.
He spoke briefly about his family’s background in sports, and mentioned his father’s 1934 national football championship and his son’s national championship cross-country team, before discussing OSU’s 42-20 victory over Oregon in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.
“They did a really great job of focusing and achieved at a level higher than they expected,” Drake said about the OSU football team.
The president said he chose not to cancel classes the day of the National Championship because he trusted students to make the right decision about whether they could afford to miss a class.
The National Championship game fell on the first day of Spring Semester, which meant many students who planned on attending the game would have had to miss at least the first day of classes. According to University Faculty Rules, students who missed classes during the first week could have been disenrolled from those courses and their seat given to another student on the waitlist.
Drake said, depending on what was happening in his life, in certain circumstances, he might have considered skipping to attend the game as well.
“You have to make those kinds of decisions,” he said. “There were times in my career where I would have found it to be the kind of thing I would have loved to do, and there were times when I wouldn’t, and we were hoping for the same level of judgment (from students).”
Drake also talked about the impact the victory will have on the university in the future.
“The effect I would expect would be on recruiting for the football program,” he said. “The very best players want to be in the very best programs. We have a truly outstanding head coach, a wonderful coaching staff and the most supportive fans in the country,”
Meanwhile, shortly after the National Championship game ended, students crowded campus — including Mirror Lake and High Street, particularly in front of the Ohio Union — to celebrate OSU’s victory.
Officers from the Columbus Division of Police and a SWAT team wore gas masks and stood by to keep order as students and fans rushed through the street. Tear gas was deployed during the post-game celebration.
“An unfortunate and too oft repeated result of great success is people who are compromised in their thinking choose to celebrate in ways that are destructive or dangerous,” Drake said of the actions of some fans on the National Championship night.
Drake said he appreciated the efforts made by security forces to protect those who celebrated the win from injury.
“Our security forces did everything they could to be prepared for that eventuality and to try to minimize the injury to the celebrators or bystanders,” he said. “It’s an ongoing issue that many cities have.”
Drake on the rapper Drake
Drake also said he likes the rapper who happens to share his name.
“There are parts of rap music that I believe are more positive — and I don’t mean to sound like an old guy,” Drake said with a laugh. “Rap with a more positive and thoughtful message, I would find more appealing.”
Drake, who said he has had an interest in music and its effects on civil rights and the law, talked about growing up with Motown music and listening to artists like Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan.
“Some songs from that day were thoughtful and many were politically focused — it wasn’t just about high-school dating,” Drake said.
The president also mentioned a course he used to teach at University of California Irvine which incorporated civil rights, the Supreme Court and music.
“We talked about how music as an art form was a way that people could express themselves,” he said.
Drake recommended that students listen to the album “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
“You can listen to some of the songs and they may be relevant tomorrow, or today quite easily,” Drake said.
His next steps
Looking to the future, Drake said he hopes to settle into a “more normal and sustainable schedule” now that he has had a couple of months to get acquainted with the university.
In the months he has been in Columbus, Drake said most of his time has been occupied by meeting with university officials and other university influencers.
“At the very beginning, there was so much that was new and the people we needed to meet first were a lot of people,” he said. “So I had about 100 people I had to meet first. So we spent a lot of time doing that. We had to move, we actually hadn’t moved as a family like this, and that was a thing that takes time and effort, so we were very busy with those things early on.”
With so much going on in the first months at OSU, Drake said one of the things from UC-Irvine that he missed was the connection he had made with students, staff and faculty while there.
“I noticed what I had missed is the level of contact I had been used to having with students and the faculty,” Drake said. “It was demonstratively lower than it had been (at UC-Irvine).”
He added that he misses interacting with students as a teacher, and with faculty as a colleague.
“I always taught, particularly in the last eight years, I taught an undergraduate course for freshmen. I was a member of the faculty for all of those years, so I was used to working with the faculty actively,” he said. “What I look forward to then, in 2015, is more time with students and faculty.”
Amanda Etchison contributed to this article.