Ohio State Interim President Joseph Alutto has been busy since he took over in July.
“It’s been a lot of fun, we’ve hired a new president … It’s been fun to watch that process unfold, getting to know him,” Alutto said. “It’s been great to see the university continuing on the path we set.”
Alutto met with editorial staff of The Lantern Tuesday and discussed the twilight of his brief presidency, along with the new president and several other major personnel movements that were announced recently.
The next president
Alutto said he’s talked quite a bit with the next OSU president, Michael Drake, about similarities between the University of California Irvine, where he is currently chancellor, and OSU.
“I know Michael, we’ve talked and I’ve seen him before at meetings. I certainly know of his university, I’ve been on the campus (University of California Irvine) a number of times,” Alutto said. “Since his appointment, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to interact … my helping him understand the culture of this institution, his helping me understand how he sees the world and understand what he’s accomplished at Irvine, which is really impressive.”
OSU officials announced Jan. 30 Drake is set to be the 15th president of OSU, effective June 30.
Alutto said Drake’s experience leading a university with a medical center added to his qualifications.
“We’ve talked a lot about the fact that we have such a large medical center operation at Ohio State and that it’s really helpful to him having come from a university that also has a medical center, so he understands the dynamics of what an academic medical center means,” Alutto said. “It’s very different than a community hospital in the sense that we have, in addition to the regular obligation of providing medical care to our community, we also have research and teaching obligations … We are very fortunate in the sense that Michael has that sense of what that mix should be.”
Drake is set to be the first black president in the university’s 144-year history. He’s slated to make a base salary of $800,000 with additional benefits including $200,000 in deferred compensation each year and to be eligible for up to a 25 percent of his base compensation annual performance award for reaching “mutually agreed-upon performance targets and goals.”
Alutto said he thinks Drake was chosen based on his merits.
“I wasn’t part of the search process in that sense, I don’t know what was discussed, but my guess is the only thing the committee was looking at was the ability to find someone to address the issues that we’ve identified (about this institution),” Alutto said. “I don’t know that (OSU having its first black president) means anything other than that this is an institution where the color of your skin is irrelevant. We’re looking for people who have ability, and we do discriminate … in terms of ability all the time. So the very fact that we have an African-American president just seems to me (to be a) further reaffirmation of that commitment.”
A new vice president
Alutto said athletic director Gene Smith’s recent appointment to vice president has been a work in progress for a while, and the decision to promote Smith, who also received a nearly 12 percent pay increase and a four-year contract extension, ultimately fell into his hands.
“I made that decision,” Alutto said.
Alutto’s decision, he said, was in part influenced by Smith’s ability to deliver positive results in areas outside of athletics.
Set to report directly to the president, Smith’s base salary is $940,484, effective July 1, 2013, roughly $140,000 more than Drake’s.
Smith is slated to be eligible for “standard, university-wide merit based salary increases each year,” according to a Jan. 28 university release. Smith was paid about $840,484 in 2013, according to the Columbus Business First DataCenter.
“Gene’s skills go beyond just being an athletic director. He has a background in business, he understands that process, he’s proven himself effective in helping us with initiatives that bring revenue into the institution that help students as well as faculty,” Alutto said. “So the question is simply, ‘What else can we do to integrate him into that function and to take advantage of that?’”
Alutto became aware of the consideration of Smith for the promotion during an annual review process for senior administrators, he said.
“In one sense, you can make the argument that I’ve been involved in the process since June, obviously Gene’s been here a lot longer than that,” Alutto said. “So (former) President (E. Gordon) Gee was involved prior to that with his evaluations.”
The former president
Drake is set to make roughly half of the $1.9 million Gee made before he stepped down as president in July. Gee announced his decision to retire from OSU days after controversial comments he made at a Dec. 5, 2012, OSU Athletic Council meeting came under public scrutiny. Remarks about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention.
The former two-time OSU president is currently serving as president at West Virginia University, taking an unpaid leave as president emeritus at OSU.
Alutto didn’t comment on what he thinks of Gee’s term at WVU.
“I think you oughta ask Gordon,” Alutto said. “Gordon is a dynamic individual, he’s always going to have opportunities, he … has incredible energy levels so the notion that he would be looking for another adventure, a new adventure, while at the same time, focusing on, trying to act as a spokesperson for higher education, that’s not a surprise for anyone. But he’s the best source of information on that.”
During his time at WVU, Gee is continuing his work on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Quality and Value Initiative, a study he is leading to seek ways to improve Ohio’s higher education institutions.
The end of Alutto’s term
Though Alutto served as a transitional figure between presidents, he said he has had the same responsibilities that Gee had and Drake will have.
“The understanding I’ve had with the trustees from the very beginning is that there’s no such thing as an interim president, there’s just the president,” he said. “If you look at what we’ve been able to do, it’s all the things that a president would do — some tough decisions. We’ve expanded into some areas and declined to expand into some areas and made some decisions not to go into other areas. We’ve implemented the strategic plan, and ultimately that’s what a president winds up doing.”
Alutto said his favorite part of serving as president has been seeing the diversity of OSU’s significance in a way he hadn’t experienced in his role as provost and executive vice president.
“Whether serving as a dean or even as a provost, you only see a part of the university. You may see a lot of it, but you only see a part of it,” he said. “When you’re the president, you get involved in a host of things that you never noticed before … It’s very inspiring, and that’s a surprise in the sense that you think that you know that, you think you’ve experienced it, but you haven’t experienced the scope of it until you’ve had an opportunity to sit where the president sits.”
Alutto’s presidency is set to end June 30, when Drake takes over, but he said he’s still working out his post-presidential plans.
Alutto earns a base salary of $625,000, about $70,000 more than what he made as provost and executive vice president before Gee’s retirement.
Before Gee’s retirement July 1, Alutto had been viewed by some as the likely choice to serve as the Columbus City Schools interim superintendent.
He said, though, he won’t consider taking any other university presidencies.
“I’m a Buckeye,” he said.