Ohio State President Michael Drake presided over a summer of events that saw his university in the headlines frequently for less-than-flattering reasons.
The summer began with an announcement that an investigation would begin into the actions of a former employee, Richard Strauss, who had been accused of sexually assaulting student athletes during his time as a team physician and student health services doctor from 1978-1998. This issue continued to develop over the following months and culminate in multiple lawsuits that are still ongoing.
Later that summer, Ohio State’s football program, arguably its most known entity, dealt with the firing of a position coach that would eventually engulf head coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith, leading to suspensions for both.
Drake understands that Ohio State will always not be far from the eye of public scrutiny as a national brand. Despite the summer’s events he said, in an interview with the Lantern, that the university will be judged not by what happened in the past, but how it responds moving forward.
“I think that the university has to respond appropriately to things that come to it, whatever they are,” Drake said. “And we have wonderful things that happen routinely, we have awful things that happen from time to time and who we are and how we respond is how we’re judged.”
He said given the size of the institution and the profile it has in the country, that will always be the case, adding that when things happen that are “unflattering,” Ohio State will try to handle the situation as best as it can.
“Everybody knows Ohio State and what we’re doing, millions of people watched us play football last weekend, we’re a very known entity,” Drake said in an interview with The Lantern. “So when things happen with us, they become big news because they may be newsworthy period, but also they’re newsworthy because they’re at the Ohio State University and we mean something to people.”
No situation demonstrated this more than the day Meyer and Smith received their suspension when news outlets from across the country gathered outside an executive meeting of the Board of Trustees for 12 hours.
Public reaction to the outcome of the Meyer investigation was polarized, with many claiming the university did not punish the pair enough, some arguing the punishment was too harsh and others saying it was justified. Drake said he knew there was no resolution that would leave everybody happy, but he was satisfied with the conclusion the university came to.
“I looked at what was in the report and tried to come to a reasonable conclusion about what should happen,” Drake said. “I always was approaching it with what’s the appropriate, fair, right thing to do and I expected there’d be people who’d say, ‘Gee, that’s not nearly enough,’ and there’d be people who’d say, ‘Gosh, thats way too much,’ and I understand that and we did our best to get a reasonable decision.”
In fact, while Drake showed he fully understands the sensitivity and urgency of the issues this summer, he said that being such a large university means that while this summer may have been more publicly busy, it is not much different than other summers.
“This summer had a few more news creating things than others,” Drake said. “Those things, kind of, laid over the normal things that we do in the summer. Our summer’s are normally busy.”
All of this being said, Ohio State has not garnered positive headlines nationally, and public universities are usually not in the business of “all publicity is good publicity.”
Drake said that he wants students, when they move through their life, to be able to say they’re proud of their university, and for him, two values emerge when defining the image of Ohio State.
“When we have things that are unflattering we try to work with those and handle them appropriately, and I think that’s what we want to be known for: as a place of integrity and a place of respect,” Drake said. “I think these are unfortunate things, but unfortunate things happen from time to time and our job is to continue to be the best university we can be.”