For the first time in the university’s 144-year history, Ohio State has appointed a black president. The historic move is one many people say could open doors for minorities at OSU in the future.
Dr. Michael Drake, current chancellor at the University of California Irvine, was introduced as the next university president Thursday.
“Ohio State is bold in its intentions to inspire greatness in its faculty, its staff and its students as it ascends further in the ranks of the world’s remnant institutions of higher education,” Drake said in his first speech after the announcement was made at a Board of Trustees. “Transforming lives is a tall order but this university is sharpening its focus in ways that will improve lives close to home and around the world.
“I am deeply humbled by this opportunity and am looking forward very much to joining the Buckeye family,” he said.
OSU’s 15th president isn’t set to begin his term until June 30, but some are already excited about what the ground-breaking announcement could mean for the university.
“I’m very excited, I’m very excited for the opportunity it forwards to all communities,” said Larry Williamson, director of the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center.
For a university with the size and influence of OSU, Williamson said the choice demonstrates social progress.
“It shows the growth. We now have an African-American president of the United States, that’s opened a lot of doors for people of color,” he said.
“It shows leaps and bounds, it opens up other opportunities for other people of ethnicities to become presidents of the university.”
According to university diversity data on 2,840 regular faculty, only about 3.9 percent were black as of September 2013.
The only category in which blacks have a greater representation than whites among staff reported is service and maintenance staff, according to the university diversity summary for faculty and staff.
Sable Wallace, a third-year in finance and president of the Black Student Association, said she didn’t know anything about Drake before the announcement, however, after getting more information on him, said he’s fit for the job.
She said having a black university president could have an impact on campus race relations.
“I definitely think he’s going to challenge ideals and hopefully break down some racial barriers and cultural barriers,” Wallace said. “As much as we try to sugarcoat it, there is still some racial tension on campus, and I think he will be able to bring some attention to that.”
According to OSU’s statistical summary, as of Fall Semester 2013, there were roughly 3,750 black students enrolled at OSU campuses, making up 5.87 percent of the total university population of nearly 64,000 students.
Wallace said Drake’s appointment also opens doors for minorities to play a larger role in the university administration in the future.
After an incident labeled a hate crime occurred on campus in 2012, many students called for increased inclusion of minority populations on campus.
In April 2012, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted on Hale Hall, a building that was demolished in 2013 and previously held the Hale Center.
The reference, officials said at the time, was most likely to George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader who allegedly killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense Feb. 26, 2012, in Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July.
The incident prompted the creation of the No Place for Hate Task Force and multiple campus demonstrations, including a protest that interrupted a April 2012 Board of Trustees meeting. The No Place for Hate Task Force came up with short- and long-term recommendations in the areas of awareness, climate and recruitment to combat racism, including the creation of hate crime alerts.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman was elected as the first black mayor of Columbus and assumed office in 2000. Dan Williamson, a spokesman from Coleman’s office, said in a statement the mayor commended OSU’s choice of president.
“The mayor applauds Ohio State for choosing what appears to be an outstandingly qualified new president,” Dan Williamson said. “He also applauds Ohio State for making history with their choice.”
“The mayor believes it is important for Dr. Drake to understand the importance of the relationship between the university and the city of Columbus and that our success is tied together,” he added.
Drake was appointed chancellor of UC Irvine in 2005. Before his appointment, he served as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system for five years.
As OSU president, Drake is set to make more than $1 million per year, including $800,000 base salary, $200,000 in deferred compensation and other financial benefits.
Drake’s contract with OSU says Drake will be granted tenure in the OSU College of Medicine, Department of Ophthalmology and the College of Education and Human Ecology, however, during his time as president, he will not receive any tenured employment compensation or be expected to perform “substantial” faculty duties. Drake’s contract also says he will be provided with laboratory space in the College of Medicine and research funds up to $50,000 per year for as long as he is president.
Drake’s appointment came roughly seven months after former President E. Gordon Gee retired July 1.
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.
Drake has several months left at UC Irvine before officially assuming his role at OSU, but said he is eager for the opportunity to come to Columbus.
“The presidency of the Ohio State University is in many ways the premier position in higher education in the United States,” he said. “This university is outstanding but its also a university that’s clearly on the move.”