Moritz College of Law professor Deborah Jones Merritt and USG President Taylor Stepp field questions from students at a town hall meeting hosted by USG at the Ohio Union Sept. 10. Credit: Daniel Bendtsen / Lantern reporter

Moritz College of Law professor Deborah Jones Merritt and USG President Taylor Stepp field questions from students at a town hall meeting hosted by USG at the Ohio Union Sept. 10.
Credit: Daniel Bendtsen / Lantern reporter

After wrapping up its final public forum, Ohio State’s Presidential Search Advisory Subcommittee is set to finalize its presidential profile to present to the Board of Trustees.

The presidential profile is the culmination of the work of the advisory subcommittee and describes the characteristics Ohio State’s next president should have in three to four pages, subcommittee chair and OSU law professor Deborah Jones Merritt told The Lantern Sunday.

The subcommittee is set to present the profile for final revisions to be made by the Presidential Search Committee Tuesday. The Board of Trustees will then approve the profile at its next meeting, Nov. 7 and 8, Merritt said.

The advisory subcommittee is also drafting a portrait of the university to capture the essence of its mission, which will be used to attract and inform potential candidates about the intricacies of OSU. That portrait, which exceeds 30 pages, was originally intended to be completed by mid-September, but Merritt said it will not be finished for several more weeks.

Though the profile is nearly complete, the subcommittee plans to continue to get input from private campus groups, such as the College of Medicine Assembly and the University Senate, into early October, and Merritt said the profile could be revised accordingly.

“The information we’ve gotten so far has been remarkably consistent and there has been great consensus across all different groups of the university: students, faculty, staff, alumni. So I don’t expect any of the groups in the next six weeks to tell us anything radically different, but we will continue to convey those themes and what people find important to the selection subcommittee,” Merritt said.

The qualities described in the profile came from the concerns voiced at the presidential search forums as well as the private meetings of the advisory subcommittee, although the two generally provided consensus, Merritt said. The subcommittee also consulted OSU’s 2007 profile as well the profiles from other university’s searches.

The No. 1 quality the current profile describes is vision, Merritt said.

“We don’t just want someone to manage where we are. We want someone who is a leader and will articulate a vision,” she said. “Although, we also talk in the profile about how that vision must be consistent with who we are and our particular strengths.”

Merritt said the profile also states the need for someone who knows how to manage a complex organization, and someone who has a deep understanding of university culture.

The qualities, Merritt said, give preference to hiring someone from within academia. While other candidates are possible, they “would have a very steep learning curve,” Merritt said.

Good communication skills and excellence in furthering diversity are also highlighted in the profile, Merritt said, because the president will have to communicate with a diverse range of people.

Merritt said the forums highlighted some concerns the subcommittee didn’t consider, namely the importance of OSU as a land grant institution something she said surprised her. The subcommittee even used the language from someone who articulated that importance in the drafting of their profile, she said.

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.

Merritt said all constituents, not just students, highlighted affordability as a priority.

“In a university of tens of thousands of people, you’re always going to find someone who says differently than somebody else, but I would say that 98 percent of the people that have spoken at forums and access have said that affordability and access are extremely important for Ohio State,” Merritt said. “They are very concerned about making sure that our tuition remains within the reach of students and that students don’t accumulate too much debt — and we just have to figure out how to do that.”

Though a few of the forums drew large crowds, several also had less than 10 people attend. Merritt said the low turnout surprised her but even those forums with a only handful of people provided engaging discussion.

Merritt said she will have attended more than 30 forums by the end of the process, including the approximately 12 public ones which finished Monday at the OSU-Lima branch campus.

Those public forums were held at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, Wexner Medical Center, Ohio Union, OSU’s branch campuses and the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

As much as the forums were billed as a way to inform the public about the presidential search, Merritt said a goal for the forums was to help university constituents feel included in the process while stimulating conversation about the future of the university.

The advisory subcommittee consists of 10 representatives from administration and faculty, as well as three student representatives.

USG President Taylor Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs who sits on the advisory subcommittee, said at USG’s forum Sept. 10 he was thankful OSU’s presidential search included students, especially because schools like the University of Michigan haven’t included students.

“At the school up north, they have no students as part of their search. They have no true model of shared governance and I think that’s echoed at many of our peer institutions across the country. We have three students on the committee, myself included, and I think that’s really indicative of the role shared governance plays here at Ohio State,” Stepp said.

Shared governance allows faculty, staff, students and administrators to have a say in decision-making at universities.

Once the presidential profile and university portrait are completed, the advisory subcommittee’s role in the process will diminish, as the selection subcommittee begins to solicit and vet candidates. The advisory subcommittee will remain available, however, if the selection subcommittee desires any further tasks from it, Merritt said.

The public forums did not cost anything, and subcommittee members’ time also went uncompensated, Merritt said. She said she felt compelled to serve as the subcommittee’s chair because of her commitment to the university.

“It’s a great honor to be asked to participate in a presidential search. It’s part of the university ethos, there’s a sense of doing what’s right and what needs to be done,” Merritt said.

It has been more than three months since OSU President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee announced his retirement June 4. Gee retired July 1, and 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, among other remarks, brought national attention.