After what Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Schottenstein called the most “important” day he’s ever been involved with at the Board, he sat down for an interview with The Lantern to discuss new university plans, the upcoming election, parking privatization and the start of the Urban Meyer era.
Schottenstein was appointed as a Board member in 2005 for a nine-year term and took over as chairman in April. Les Wexner, CEO of The Limited Brands and former Board chairman, stepped down from the Board in June and gave no reason for his resignation.
“He had always intended to once he was no longer chair,” Schottenstein said. “I think it was always in the back of his mind that after being on the Board again for four or five years and his chairmanship expired that he would step off the Board.”
But Schottenstein said the Board didn’t miss a beat after Wexner’s resignation.
“We don’t rest on our laurels when we know we have a lot of work to do,” he said.
North District Residential Plan
The Board approved a $396 million plan to revamp North Campus housing and the surrounding area Friday. The plan looks to demolish Haverfield, Scott, Nosker and Blackburn houses, but will ultimately add about 3,200 new beds, making the North Campus bed total 6,359.
Construction is scheduled to begin July 2013 and be completed June 2016. While many buildings, such as Taylor and Jones towers, are expected to remain, Curl Drive will also be removed from campus.
These renovations are part of the effort to accommodate a second-year live-on requirement, which President E. Gordon Gee has previously told The Lantern he expects to enforce by 2015 or 2016.
Schottenstein said these renovations will give OSU students a “second-to-none experience.”
“I think about when I went to school, if I called home and said, ‘Ya know, I really like my teacher,’ my parents liked hearing that,” he said. “Imagine the students calling home and saying, ‘God, I love where I live, you should see this place. You should see the housing the university’s created.'”
Students are the “heart and soul” of the university, Schottenstein said, and the Board’s approval of the plan Friday proved that.
“Today was probably as important a day as I’ve ever been involved in since I’ve been with the Board in terms of the decisions that we’ve made and the stake in the ground, if you will, that has been planted to say students do come first,” he said.
Parking privatization hiccups
“I know it was very controversial,” Schottenstein said. “That was a big, big decision, and to my knowledge, we’re the first public university in the nation to make that decision.”
In June, at the first meeting after Wexner’s resignation, the Board approved a deal that would privatize campus parking.
The Australia-based investment company QIC Global Infrastructure was the highest bidder for the leasing of parking assets. QIC placed a $483 million bid to enter into a 50-year agreement that would cap rate increases on parking at 5.5 percent annually for the first 10 years of the deal.
From almost the time of its proposal, many faculty members and staff were not happy about the deal, signing petitions and staging protests. Schottenstein said this was no longer the case.
Now, he said, OSU has money to invest in what it’s good at.
“We have the money, we have the parking and now we have the money to invest in what we do best,” he said. “You know, we’re not a parking operation. We’re a university. We’re about ideas and taking stakes in education.”
Although plans for the North Residential District are not finalized, at least one parking lot (east of Taylor Tower), will be demolished. Schottenstein said parking privatization will not complicate the recently-approved plan.
“Actually it helps it, it helps our ability to do this, because financially, the university has $500 million today that it didn’t have six months ago, so we’ve got more financial security to be able to reinvest in students.”
Almost two weeks into OSU’s first semester since the 1920s, Schottenstein said “it seems like it’s been a pretty seamless transition,” but the students are the real judges.
“You guys have to say what you think about it,” he said. “I think it was a smart move to go to semesters.”
Schottenstein said that when Gee compared the switch to planning the Normandy invasion, he was spot on.
“The logistics of that, I don’t think anybody can begin to appreciate,” he said.
Tuition increase possibilities
Schottenstein said that after the second consecutive year of 3.5 percent tuition increases, there aren’t any immediate plans to raise the cost of an OSU education more.
“The Board is intensely focused on keeping tuition and total cost of education at Ohio State affordable,” he said. “There’s no plans to increase tuition in the coming months.”
The Board, he said, wants the eduction OSU provides to remain one of the best in the country but for its tuition to remain one of the lowest among Big Ten schools.
The looming presidential election
President Barack Obama has visited OSU four times in the past two years, and he told The Lantern last week that OSU might see him again before the election in November. Schottenstein said these presidential visits speak well for the university.
“I think it’s great that he comes. I think it shows a lot,” he said. “This is a pretty special place.”
But Schottenstein said with that statement, he wasn’t hinting at who he thinks should be president. No matter who you vote for, vote, he said, because it’s the most important freedom we have.
“We’re a nation of immigrants, and most of our (relatives) came from a place where they didn’t have that freedom,” he said. “I don’t mean to get patriotic, without the right to vote, you’d be living in prison. We’re free because we have the right to vote.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came to Central Ohio Aug. 25 and spoke with his running mate, Paul Ryan, in their first event together in Ohio. They spoke in Powell, Ohio, a suburb about 30 minutes from campus. Romney has not yet visited OSU’s campus, but Ryan stopped in Saturday for the first football game of the season against Miami (Ohio) University.
Start of the Urban era
“(I) grew up in Columbus, always loved the university, my first connection with the university was attending Ohio State football games, and I do love that, I don’t miss many games,” Schottenstein said.
First-year football coach Urban Meyer was on the sidelines in the ‘Shoe for the first time Saturday, and beat Miami, 56-10.
Schottenstein said he thinks Meyer is a man of “great integrity” and he’s glad Meyer is at OSU.
“He’s a great coach, he’s a tremendous individual,” he said. “He loves coaching, he loves this place, and I think he’s gonna find out he loves it even more.”
Schottenstein said that like his own love for the university, he thinks Meyer’s goes beyond Saturday afternoons.
“This place gets into your blood,” he said. “Once it does, you can’t get it out. You don’t want to get it out.”