President Michael Drake talks to the media and members of the OSU community on June 30, 2014. Credit: Mark Batke | Former Photo editor

A scarlet-and-gray-tied University President Michael V. Drake turned back and waved to a crowd of reporters and photographers as he walked into Bricker Hall on his first day at Ohio State.

Drake took the helm on June 30, 2014 — 364 days after former University President Gordon Gee retired.

Drake has navigated the university through scandals, lawsuits and record-high retention and graduation rates. But at the end of this academic year, he will retire as the 15th president, and he said he will remain a faculty member in an email sent to students and staff on Nov. 21.

Drake said in a university press release that he will stay until at least the end of the spring semester to provide “continuity in leadership.” University Trustee Lewis Von Thaer will chair the new presidential search committee.

The university did not provide any additional information to The Lantern about the presidential search process, other than what was already provided in the release. 

The most recent searches for presidential and administrative candidates have started with public forums for students and faculty to provide input on the characteristics of potential hires. Searches for high-ranking administrators — like the president and vice presidents — ended with the university keeping the finalists’ names confidential, but a search for the College of Arts and Sciences dean allowed the community to address finalists directly.

Gee announced his retirement June 4, 2013, days after controversial comments he made about Notre Dame went public, according to previous Lantern reporting and the Associated Press. In a December 2012 university athletics council meeting, he said — referring to Notre Dame — “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics.”

His last day as president was July 1. Joseph Alutto, former executive vice president and provost, assumed an interim position after Gee retired, according to past Lantern articles.

After his retirement, Gee stayed at the university for six months as director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise, a think tank created for Gee in 2013. The center was shut down in 2018, according to a 2019 Lantern article.

The university’s presidential search committee held its first meeting 18 days after Gee retired, according to a previous Lantern article. It held open forums for students, faculty and staff to suggest qualities desirable in a new university president, gathering nearly 700 comments. But by mid-September, the search went private.

Gayle Saunders, former assistant vice president of media and public relations, said in 2013 that the university did not intend to make candidate names available to the public to protect the candidates’ privacy.

“There has been discussion that as candidates are narrowed, because these may be candidates who are currently in positions [at other universities], that information will be private,” Saunders said.

Other universities also have kept the finalist names of presidential candidates confidential.

In December 2016, Conor Morris, an Athens News reporter, requested the resumes of the semifinalists for Ohio University’s presidential candidates. When the university ignored the request for more than a month, Morris filed a complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, according to the Student Press Law Center

Morris received the resumes Feb. 5, 2017, after entering into mediation with the university, but he decided to not publish the names of the semifinalists. The university announced Duane Nellis as its new president on Feb. 22, according to SPLC.

Under the Ohio Public Records Act, private firms hired to search for job candidates by public agencies, including public universities, are subject to public record requests.

Ohio State held public forums to find a new dean for the College of Arts and Sciences in February 2019, according to a past Lantern article. The final candidates fielded questions from students and faculty, addressing specific concerns, such as declining enrollment and faculty diversity.

Roman Holowinsky, associate professor of mathematics and member of the dean search committee, said the open forums allowed him to see the reactions to the candidates from faculty and students.

“It’s healthy for people to be able to see who’s getting considered,” he said. “An open forum [for the presidential search] would be like icing on the cake for me to be able to see who is being put forward and of interest to me.”

Lisa Florman, professor in the Department of History of Art and a member of the dean search committee, said she suspects there won’t be open forums for the presidential search.

“Few people who are strong candidates for the [presidency] will want to sort of publicly announce that they are candidates,” Florman said. “It makes them sort of sitting ducks at the institution that they’re currently at.”

She said one candidate for the Arts and Sciences dean withdrew from the search after he found out there was going to be open forums because he didn’t want his current institution to know that he was a candidate.

Florman and Holowinsky both said hosting open forums makes the candidate searches more transparent.

Kate Greer, Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government president, said she was a member of the search advisory committee and the search committee for vice president of student life.

In the past, USG presidents have been members of presidential search committees. Greer said she has not been approached but expects to be.

“We’re looking for somebody who keeps students at the forefront because that’s ultimately the purpose of the university,” she said.

Greer said the new president should also be someone who continues Drake’s affordability and accessibility initiatives.