Ohio University president being vetted for UM System president

An OU professor said he was called by an MU faculty member to discuss his opinions of the president.
Ohio University President Roderick McDavis is being vetted for UM System president, according to an OU economics professor. Courtesy of the Ohio University Office of the President.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis is being considered for the position of president of the UM System, according to an OU economics professor.

Richard Vedder, a distinguished professor of economics emeritus at OU, told The Maneater Wednesday that he received a call from an MU faculty member Tuesday who spoke with him about McDavis.

Vedder said the faculty member, an economics professor whose name Vedder did not remember, said he was not a member of the presidential search committee but “implied that he was working with a search committee.”

“We talked for quite a while,” Vedder said.

The faculty member asked Vedder for his thoughts about McDavis.

Vedder said the faculty member did not say how close the search committee is to making a decision.

“I got the idea the number was whittled down,” Vedder said.

McDavis, who is OU’s first black president, has been president since 2004. He announced earlier in the year that he will be stepping down from his position in June 2017, The Athens News reported. The Athens News also reported that McDavis will seek employment elsewhere.

“There are and will be other challenges and opportunities that will present themselves… I want to keep myself open to that,” McDavis said during a press conference earlier this year, according to The Athens News. “I’m blessed with good health, and I have a lot of energy.”

The UM System has been without a permanent president since Tim Wolfe resigned last November following race-based student demonstrations and demands for his resignation from activist group Concerned Student 1950.

Vedder said there are “a lot of people who like” McDavis, but he also pointed to more negative factors surrounding McDavis’ presidency at OU: The school’s ranking has gone from 98th to 129th between 2005 and 2015, and research funding has decreased, according to a March story published by OU’s student newspaper, The Post. According to US News & World Report, the university currently sits at 146th for national universities.

“Looking at the reports, they don’t all look good,” Vedder said.

The Post previously reported that tension existed between faculty and McDavis. Vedder, along with other professors, previously sent letters of concern to OU’s Board of Trustees and voted no confidence in McDavis’ leadership. Beth Quitslund, the former chair of OU’s Faculty Senate, told The Post in 2014 that relations between the the president and faculty had improved over time.

“It’s been a matter of both faculty and the president consciously working on ways to communicate with each other better,” she told The Post.

McDavis has worked to increase OU’s enrollment — between 2005 and 2014, enrollment increased by about 43 percent, according to The Post, though this year’s freshman class had about 90 fewer students compared to the 2015 freshman class. MU’s 2016 freshman class, in comparison, decreased by almost 1,400 freshmen from the previous year.

Vedder said he is surprised McDavis is being considered for the presidency given his age — McDavis will turn 68 later in October.

“Anyone that age who becomes president is not going to last” for more than around five years, Vedder said.

But, Vedder said, five years or fewer seems to be the norm for the length of UM System presidents’ tenure. The past three presidents all served for fewer than five years.

Vedder also said going from OU to the UM System seems like a natural progression given that the UM System is larger and considered to be “more prestigious,” which is one reason McDavis might be interested in the presidency.

McDavis always attends sporting events at OU, Vedder said, which is another reason why he could be interested.

“Rod is a big supporter of sports, especially football,” Vedder said. “And Missouri’s an SEC school.”

Vedder said other faculty members at OU were also contacted to talk about McDavis.

UM System spokesman John Fougere said the presidential search committee has no comment about McDavis being a finalist.

“The search committee has had the privilege of considering a number of qualified persons from a national pool, and throughout our considerations we have pledged to maintain candidate confidentiality,” Fougere said in an email. “Therefore we again will not comment on any possible candidates as we continue our search efforts.”

OU’s Office of the President also declined to comment.

The UM System has been searching for a new president since January and is in the last stages of the presidential search. In the past few weeks, the presidential search committee has met with candidates in Kansas City and St. Louis, and the Columbia Tribune reported last week that the search could soon potentially present its final recommendation to the Board of Curators.

Edited by Nancy Coleman | ncoleman@themaneater.com

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