The Ohio State Board of Trustees held a public symposium Friday, bringing in four current and former university presidents for a panel discussion on the challenges of governing higher education and the traits that OSU’s next president should have.
The event was moderated by Richard Chait, professor emeritus at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, who asked the panel to reflect on their personal experiences as university presidents.
Some of the panel members felt foresight is the most valuable trait a leader can have.
“University presidents must be visionary,” said Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University. “They must be able to predict the future.”
Others said it’s about confidence. Lawrence Bacow, president emeritus of Tufts University, said successful presidents make their job about their institution and not about themselves.
“Insecure presidents make really lousy leaders,” he said. ” If you want to be loved, get a dog.”
The panel, which also included University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross and University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, went on to discuss the challenges of maintaining financial balance in a time when there is significant public frustration about student debt, public funding is low and the need for research funds is high.
Bacow said this is as difficult of a time as he can imagine to run a university and called it a “crisis environment.”
Floyd, though, said university administrators need to accept the reality that state and federal funding are declining and aren’t going to return to their previous levels.
Similar issues of financial balance came up earlier in the day when the 18 OSU Board of Trustees members met to vote on committee proposals.
Jerry Jurgensen, a retired Nationwide Insurance CEO, briefed the Board on the state of OSU’s finances.
“We brought in a bunch of money, we spent a bunch of money, and we have a bunch of money left,” he quipped at the beginning of his presentation before bringing up concerns about OSU’s return on investments.
Jurgensen reported the benchmarks for judging the university’s investments suggest OSU’s investments are doing well. He also said, though, overly positive ratings of its investments could actually be cause for concern because it could indicate OSU’s scorecards do a poor job of measuring stability.
Jeff Wadsworth, the President and CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute, added that financial scorecards also can become routine, and with time, hindsight of financial crises can show scorecards did a poor job of predicting problems.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board voted unanimously to pass every item on their agenda, including a measure to name a new Wexner Medical Center emergency department as the Abercrombie and Fitch Emergency Department, after the New Albany- based company that has donated $10 million to the Medical Center in recent years.
The Board also approved more than $18 million in renovations for Kottman Hall and the CFAES Library and Student Success Center and officially established the Presidential Search Committee, which had already held three meetings since July 19.
The cost of the symposium and the contract with R. William Funk and Associates, the search firm OSU hired, have not yet been finalized, OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said in a Friday email.