It’s going to take a lot more than interest from the University of Texas to get Joseph Steinmetz, Ohio State’s provost and executive vice president, to leave Columbus.
Steinmetz was recently named as a candidate for the position of president of the University of Texas, but withdrew his name from consideration.
“It was a huge decision,” Steinmetz said. “First of all, I was flattered that the University of Texas thought I could be a candidate. It’s a great American university just like this one is, but in my mind, I’m really happy with the position I have here.”
At face value, it might seem to some that becoming the president at the University of Texas would be an upgrade, but Steinmetz said he doesn’t see it that way.
“I believe I am making a difference in what I do,” Steinmetz said. “I don’t want to take any position anywhere unless I know I can make a difference in that particular position.”
Steinmetz became provost — OSU’s chief academic officer — on July 1, 2013. Previously, Steinmetz was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas and was a faculty member at Indiana University for 19 years. He also served as vice provost for arts and sciences and executive dean of OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences from 2009 to 2013.
“Dr. Steinmetz is one of the reasons I came here,” said David Manderscheid, the College of Arts and Sciences executive dean and vice provost. “I had known Joe for many years, as he was dean at Kansas and I was dean at Nebraska, and I have always had a very high opinion of him.”
Manderscheid was hired in July 2013 to replace Steinmetz as College of Arts and Sciences executive dean and vice provost, after Steinmetz was announced as then-Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Alutto’s replacement.
Prior to coming to OSU, Manderscheid was the dean of University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a professor of mathematics.
After taking the position as provost at OSU, Steinmetz said he knew enhancing the lives of OSU students and faculty was a priority.
“To achieve this, the leadership, the Office of Academic Affairs and myself worked on six initiatives that we created to achieve this goal of enhancing the student experience and facilitating the work the faculty does,” he said.
Those initiatives include enhancing the student experience as a whole through the creation of the STEP program for second-year students, developing the Discovery Themes initiative, improving e-learning, enhancing the arts on campus, increasing “access and affordability” for students, and ensuring the faculty on campus is being evaluated fairly for the 21st century, Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz said he looks back on and is proud of the development of the Discovery Themes. The Discovery Themes initiative focuses on three major areas — health and wellness, energy of the environment, and food production and security.
“As it turns out, these are areas that we are really good at,” Steinmetz said. “With additional investments, we were able to move to the next level. We launched a series of discussions about what health and wellness means here and what we should be working on.”
OSU President Michael Drake said he commends Steinmetz’s dedication to furthering research initiatives at the university.
“Under Provost Steinmetz’s leadership of our academic and research engine, Ohio State will continue to find solutions to the world’s most complex problems,” Drake said in an email. “I look to him to advance our Discovery Themes initiative aggressively and to support our faculty as they provide outstanding academic experiences for our students.”
Steinmetz said he feels this is being accomplished in part through his work with the Undergraduate Student Government.
“One of the best things about this position is being able to work directly with faculty and with students,” Steinmetz said. “I’ve had a great time this year working with the leadership of USG on several issues and actually getting to know, through them, the student body.”
The conversations he has with students and being able to accomplish things for them is what the job is all about, and why Steinmetz said he became a professor 30 years ago.
USG president Celia Wright said she and the rest of the USG organization have had the opportunity to speak with Steinmetz on several occasions.
“Throughout the year, we’ve talked with Steinmetz about a number of things,” said Wright, a fourth-year in public affairs. “Everything from academic affairs, quality advising and intellectual property protections for students. We’ve really appreciated his time and also his mutual focus on affordability and the increased importance on affordability as the cost of tuition rises across the country and in Ohio.”
Steinmetz said he continues to enjoy his time in Columbus.
“This is just a fantastic city to live in,” Steinmetz said. “We have discussions all the time about how we need to spend more time for incoming students and faculty letting them know what Columbus is actually like. My wife and I are totally absorbed into Columbus. We live in a condo downtown right on High Street in the middle of everything, and we love living down there.”
When asked where he saw himself in five years, Steinmetz said he couldn’t see himself anywhere else.
“My wife is in the process of retiring this year, so she might have an answer pretty different than mine,” Steinmetz said with a chuckle. “I can see myself still doing this job. It’s a wonderful position and I enjoy going home at the end of the night thinking that the Office of Academic Affairs leadership made a difference today. As long as I can say that day after day, I will keep doing this.”