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Ohio State ‘making history’ with 1st black president

University of California Irvine Chancellor Dr. Michael Drake met with students and staff at the Ohio Union Jan. 31. OSU officials announced Jan. 30 Drake is appointed to be the next OSU president. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

University of California Irvine Chancellor Dr. Michael Drake met with students and staff at the Ohio Union Jan. 31. OSU officials announced Jan. 30 Drake is appointed to be the next OSU president.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

For the first time in the university’s 144-year history, Ohio State has appointed a black president. The historic move is one many people say could open doors for minorities at OSU in the future.

Dr. Michael Drake, current chancellor at the University of California Irvine, was introduced as the next university president Thursday.

“Ohio State is bold in its intentions to inspire greatness in its faculty, its staff and its students as it ascends further in the ranks of the world’s remnant institutions of higher education,” Drake said in his first speech after the announcement was made at a Board of Trustees. “Transforming lives is a tall order but this university is sharpening its focus in ways that will improve lives close to home and around the world.

“I am deeply humbled by this opportunity and am looking forward very much to joining the Buckeye family,” he said.

OSU’s 15th president isn’t set to begin his term until June 30, but some are already excited about what the ground-breaking announcement could mean for the university.

“I’m very excited, I’m very excited for the opportunity it forwards to all communities,” said Larry Williamson, director of the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center.

For a university with the size and influence of OSU, Williamson said the choice demonstrates social progress.

“It shows the growth. We now have an African-American president of the United States, that’s opened a lot of doors for people of color,” he said.

“It shows leaps and bounds, it opens up other opportunities for other people of ethnicities to become presidents of the university.”


Black representation

According to university diversity data on 2,840 regular faculty, only about 3.9 percent were black as of September 2013.

The only category in which blacks have a greater representation than whites among staff reported is service and maintenance staff, according to the university diversity summary for faculty and staff.

Sable Wallace, a third-year in finance and president of the Black Student Association, said she didn’t know anything about Drake before the announcement, however, after getting more information on him, said he’s fit for the job.

She said having a black university president could have an impact on campus race relations.

“I definitely think he’s going to challenge ideals and hopefully break down some racial barriers and cultural barriers,” Wallace said. “As much as we try to sugarcoat it, there is still some racial tension on campus, and I think he will be able to bring some attention to that.”

According to OSU’s statistical summary, as of Fall Semester 2013, there were roughly 3,750 black students enrolled at OSU campuses, making up 5.87 percent of the total university population of nearly 64,000 students.

Wallace said Drake’s appointment also opens doors for minorities to play a larger role in the university administration in the future.

After an incident labeled a hate crime occurred on campus in 2012, many students called for increased inclusion of minority populations on campus.

In April 2012, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted on Hale Hall, a building that was demolished in 2013 and previously held the Hale Center.

The reference, officials said at the time, was most likely to George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader who allegedly killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense Feb. 26, 2012, in Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July.

The incident prompted the creation of the No Place for Hate Task Force and multiple campus demonstrations, including a protest that interrupted a April 2012 Board of Trustees meeting. The No Place for Hate Task Force came up with short- and long-term recommendations in the areas of awareness, climate and recruitment to combat racism, including the creation of hate crime alerts.


The impact

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman was elected as the first black mayor of Columbus and assumed office in 2000. Dan Williamson, a spokesman from Coleman’s office, said in a statement the mayor commended OSU’s choice of president.

“The mayor applauds Ohio State for choosing what appears to be an outstandingly qualified new president,” Dan Williamson said. “He also applauds Ohio State for making history with their choice.”

“The mayor believes it is important for Dr. Drake to understand the importance of the relationship between the university and the city of Columbus and that our success is tied together,” he added.

Drake was appointed chancellor of UC Irvine in 2005. Before his appointment, he served as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system for five years.

As OSU president, Drake is set to make more than $1 million per year, including $800,000 base salary, $200,000 in deferred compensation and other financial benefits.

Drake’s contract with OSU says Drake will be granted tenure in the OSU College of Medicine, Department of Ophthalmology and the College of Education and Human Ecology, however, during his time as president, he will not receive any tenured employment compensation or be expected to perform “substantial” faculty duties. Drake’s contract also says he will be provided with laboratory space in the College of Medicine and research funds up to $50,000 per year for as long as he is president.

Drake’s appointment came roughly seven months after former President E. Gordon Gee retired July 1.

Gee announced his decision to retire from OSU days after controversial comments he made at a Dec. 5, 2012, OSU Athletic Council meeting came under public scrutiny. Remarks about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention. The former two-time OSU president is currently serving as president at West Virginia University, taking an unpaid leave as president emeritus at OSU.

Drake has several months left at UC Irvine before officially assuming his role at OSU, but said he is eager for the opportunity to come to Columbus.

“The presidency of the Ohio State University is in many ways the premier position in higher education in the United States,” he said. “This university is outstanding but its also a university that’s clearly on the move.”


  1. Hopefully he will be of better quality than Gene Smith and Premier Obama. Sad to see that race is still an issue and usually adding it to the selection process ends badly.

  2. It would really be “making history” if Dr. Drake’s race was ignored and a non-issue, as it should be.

  3. The job is and always will be a purely political position and selection. We should not be so naive to believe that race was ignored in the selection process. We can only hope that one day race will be a non-issue. Let’s not deify him like his predecessor.

  4. As Tom said, if we were truely moving away from racism the fact that he is the first black president at OSU wouldn’t matter. People think this is a step away from racism, when really you are just showing the racism in a different way. The country will actually be making strides when race is completely ignored and not made into a story.

  5. Once again, another tabloid-style heading that stirs up the racial tension pot. It matters not one little bit about a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, or any other non-important characteristic. None of these items make a person more qualified for the job at hand. This is not a popularity contest; this is real life. The only factor that should be considered for a candidate is whether they are qualified to do the job. Everything else is just fertilizer. Period. End of statement.

  6. Agreed. This article perpetuates racism.

  7. Alumni Assoc Life Member

    Unreported still and yet to be noted, Mr. Drake was hired direct off of the most conservative
    campus (Davis) in the University of California state system. Furthermore, he previously worked with Univ. of California Board of Regents Chair, Sacramento black businessman Ward Connerly–a longtime opponent of Affirmative Action and instrumental in spearheading the passage of Proposition 209 – ending all forms of Affirmative Action in California public education and state systems. Ohio Conservative Republican politicians and corporate plutocrats now have
    a NEW ‘Yes’ Man for their education privatization agenda. As usual, follow the monies…

  8. Based on most reports the chief appeal of Mr. Drake was his race and reputed achievements from the land of
    Oz. One should keep in mind that since the passage of the Civil Rights Act during the Johnson Adm. there have
    been ample opportunities for blacks to advance in our society so one does get weary of accounts such as those
    associated with the new President, or the comments of the Black Studies Chm. And I wonder if Drake was the
    first choice of the Board of Trustees ? Some of the other candidates ? Suspect that Mr. Drake will have a
    difficult time relating to the basic conservatism of present OSU students and alumni ,

  9. This article does *not perpetuate racism, it simply highlights that race IS still an issue in terms of minority progression.
    As reported there are:

    3,750 black students out of 64,000.
    3.9% black regular faculty members out of 2,840
    And the only category in which blacks have a greater representation than whites among staff is service and maintenance staff.

    So it’s easy to say just “forget about race” or “why even bring it up and stir the pot” if you’re a part of the majority, rarely ever a token member in society and race is never an issue for you. For the rest of us, Dr. Drake’s appointment as a president, who is black, is a major milestone.

  10. If his skin color was relevant to his hiring, the article should explain how. If it wasn’t, the topic would seem completely inappropriate for public discussion.

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