Ohio State is in a transitional period of leadership as the university conducts a search for its 15th president, but Interim President Joseph Alutto said he doesn’t think that should preclude OSU from continuing to make progress.
Alutto outlined his goals for his interim presidency during a meeting with The Lantern staff Sept. 23. He said he strives for OSU to attract the “very best” students and faculty, create programs that bring students and faculty together, work on making an OSU education more affordable for students and to develop the university to make it “even more attractive” for OSU’s next president.
“I hope this will be a better institution as a result of what I’ve been able to do,” Alutto said. “However long (the interim presidency) lasts, if this is a stronger institution (when I leave the interim presidency) I’ll be happier than I am today.”
Alutto assumed the interim presidency July 1, on the same day as then-president E. Gordon Gee left office. Alutto is in his second term as an interim president, having previously held the position from July to September 2007 following Karen Holbrook’s retirement and prior to Gee’s second presidential term.
OSU has not announced an official timetable for selecting its next president, but Jeffrey Wadsworth, the chairman of OSU’s Presidential Search Committee, said he expected the search to take “about 300 days” during the committee’s inaugural meeting July 19.
During his tenure as interim president, Alutto said he hopes the university makes progress on its “strategic plan,” which he helped OSU’s Board of Trustees develop in 2012. That strategic plan, according to the Office of Academic Affairs website, includes an 8 to 10 percent increase of tenure-track faculty over a 10-year span, increasing financial aid for students, making a greater investment in student support services and renovating and replacing facilities where necessary.
The university’s progress toward its goals during the transition period, Alutto said, could play a part in determining what the next president can do for the university.
“I would hope to leave (the interim presidency) in a situation where the next president doesn’t worry about any of the basic issues,” Alutto said. “Where the next president knows what our strategic plans are, knows that we’ve made progress and are committed to those and then as a result of that, can lead us in some new directions.”
Alutto said OSU can do a better job providing “access to excellence” for students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and believes his interim presidency gives an opportunity to do so.
“I would hope it’s a time when we address any inefficiencies that exist,” Alutto said. “One of the issues on the access side which we haven’t talked about is the need to contain cost. I think any institution as large as Ohio State has areas where it can do a better job of restraining and controlling cost issues.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said he is not satisfied with the amount of financial aid provided to students by the university, and said that is one of the challenges the university faces during the transitional period.
“We don’t have enough revenue sources for financial aid,” Stepp said. “We (have) to make the pot bigger.”
Alutto said he is not involved in the presidential search, but said he is helping to put together a “leadership team that would be attractive to a new president.”
“That means working with the team we have and adding as necessary and reassigning people as necessary,” Alutto said. “I think I’ve been able to do that over the years, and so I hope that’s a process.”
Between his two interim presidencies, Alutto was a key member of Gee’s leadership team as OSU’s executive vice president and provost. He was set to retire from that role July 1 before assuming the interim presidency, and has been succeeded as provost by Joseph Steinmetz, who previously served as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Alutto was viewed by some to be the likely choice for the interim superintendent of Columbus City Schools before Gee announced his retirement June 4.
Alutto, who has been at OSU since 1991, said his experience as a senior leader at OSU eased his transition to the interim presidency.
“I haven’t had any difficulty getting to people,” Alutto said. “Over the years, you build up credibility with people. I’ve worked with all of our donors, I’ve worked with the internal administration, I helped really chart the strategic plan for the university which meant I had to work with the Board, so none of this is new.”
Alutto said he has been received “very well” since taking over the interim presidency.
“People have been very, very supportive,” Alutto said.
Karen Wruck, senior associate dean of the MBA program at the Fisher College of Business, said Alutto has a “command of the situation” as interim president.
“He brings a very calm perspective,” Wruck said. “I think he has a lot of respect around the university.”
Stepp said he considers Alutto to be an “advocate for students.”
“He’s going to be honest with you, he’s going to be very straight-forward,” Stepp said of Alutto. “If students are concerned, we know we can reach out to President Alutto … he’ll do his best to make sure that our concerns are met.”
Some students, however, are more neutral about the change.
“I haven’t noticed any difference between the changeover,” said Jehan DeVitre, a fifth-year in engineering. “I don’t know (if Gee was) better, but he was more public.”
Thomas Kilbane, a graduate student in statistics, said it is too early to judge Alutto’s success as interim president, but thinks he should “continue what Gee was doing.”
“All he should be trying to do is hold the fort until somebody else gets here,” Kilbane said. “His role as interim president, I think, is just to avoid disaster.”
Alutto said he is “only serving as long as it’s helpful to the trustees to have (him) serve” and is not considering himself a candidate in the presidential search. After her term as interim president, he said he hopes to return to Fisher, where he was dean from 1991-2007, prior to his first term as interim president. Alutto said he is interested in teaching and pursuing leadership research at the college.
Wruck said Alutto had discussed the possibility of returning to the college when he was set to retire as provost, but said she is uncertain whether he will end up doing so after his interim presidency.
“He keeps ending up being too busy to come back and join us,” Wruck said. “We will have to see what happens in the future. We certainly have no formal plans, but we would always be very excited to have Joe (Alutto) come back and work with us. That would be an exciting opportunity for us certainly.”
OSU’s contract with private search firm R. William Funk & Associates was finalized Sept. 17. OSU will be paying the firm a fixed fee of $200,000, as well as reimbursing the firm for direct, out-of-pocket expenses and an additional cost of $20,000 to cover administrative and support expenses, according to the contract.
OSU paid nearly $120,000 on costs related to a Symposium on the University Presidency Aug. 30, which brought in five university officials from across the country to discuss what qualities a president should have and what a president should expect in his or her term.
A Sept. 15 university statement said all candidates and finalists of the presidential search will be kept private.
The announcement of Gee’s retirement came days after controversial remarks Gee made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference meeting became public. Comments about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.