In his Spring Semester sit-down with The Lantern, University President Michael Drake talked college affordability and federal government transitions, as well as the personal values by which he operates. Regarding affordability, he said he couldn’t commit at this point to a continuation of Ohio State’s five-year freeze on in-state, undergraduate tuition, which would most likely be decided in April. As for President Donald Trump, he talked about his admiration for undocumented students covered by the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals policy set in place by former President Barack Obama.
Drake spoke on overall college affordability. For the past five years, in-state tuition has been frozen. Drake acknowledged that tuition is not the only factor when it comes to making college affordable, but is a common baseline for determining whether college is possible or not.
“What we want is for our colleges, our university, is to be affordable and what we would like within that is tuition set at an appropriate level,” Drake said.
However, he did acknowledge that five years is a long time for tuition not to be adjusted for inflation. Drake could not confirm or deny another freeze, saying that a concrete answer will be available around April. But he did say need-based aid will be increased by a minimum of $2 million next year.
“We look at our aid to make sure that our aid grows at a rate that allows us to make sure that we are even more affordable this year then we were last year,” Drake said.
One of the factors of college affordability is textbook costs. Drake said that in the course he teaches, all texts are available online, for free. He said while an overarching policy of textbook affordability doesn’t exist, steps have been taken at the individual level by teachers who use cheap or free course materials.
“Where we think is the future is to do things that are more affordable and easy to get,” he said. “There are concrete, individual examples of these things happening. Can this be expanded? Different courses, different material requirements — what we’re looking for is to expand these things even more.”
Trump, DACA and transition
On the heels of the inauguration, Drake said that OSU is dealing with “a lot of unknowns,” with the new administration, though it was something he felt prepared for.
“Our job is to understand those things, to process them and make it that your experience is better year-by-year going forward,” he said.
Drake also spoke on his support of DACA, as immigration advocates have worried about its potential cancellation under the Trump administration. The executive order protects people who came illegally into the United States as children. If the person meets the qualifications, any action on their immigration status is paused, which could include deportation, for a renewable period of two years.
“I work with colleagues, as I mentioned my work with (former University President E. Gordon Gee) and other groups, and we all then work together to determine how policy, federal policy, national policy, can affect things that are important to us,” Drake said. “We’ve all joined together in (the Association of American Universities as well as the Association of Public Land-grant Universities) and in both of those roles we have written letters on behalf of the DACA students, to write to the administration to reinforce the incredible journey these students have had to get to where they are.”
In regards to the Framework 2.0 construction and renovation plans, details of which were announced at the State of the University address last week, Drake said an exact time frame for projects such as the possible demolition of St. John Arena is not clear. He said it will be sometime in the future, but likely nothing immediate.
“The future can stretch,” Drake said. “We don’t intend to replace things until they’ve outlived their useful life. We would not think about that replacement unless or until it’s necessary. That’s not the immediate future.”
As far as tight deadlines or plans for the demolition of the arena, Drake said it was up in the air.
“You’re asking what the decision will be before we make the decision, and there’s not a decision yet. I know that the plan called for (demolition) to happen relatively soon, I think it’s now not going to be that soon.”
One of the effects of the construction plans is the demolition of 18 percent of Buckeye Village student family housing, in order to make room for the Covelli Multi-Sport Arena. Drake said the university will place a request for proposals for plans to construct more student family housing in its place.
“I think the plan will be to have even more space over time,” Drake said. “We are interested in the student housing being affordable and efficient and environmentally friendly.”
Nearly three years after assuming the role of OSU president, Drake reflected on his philosophy concerning leadership, particularly the concept of “values-driven decision making.”
“When you lead, by definition, you’re in the front, you’re not following anybody,” Drake said. “And when you’re in front, there’s no pathway. You don’t do it like someone else did because no one has been in that circumstance exactly like that in this time before. So you have your values and principles at the ready.”
On filling the space left by Gee — whom Drake said he talks to frequently in their professional capacity as university presidents — Drake said assuming the high-profile role at OSU has come naturally.
“I was a whole lot like me when I got here, and I haven’t changed much now,” he said. “And to be honest I won’t change much after I leave.”
The principles Drake said he follows include respect for oneself and others, curiosity, integrity, commitment, passion, empathy, appreciation for other people’s perspectives and, lastly, fun.
“Life is supposed to be fun, this is supposed to be fun,” Drake said. “You ought to be able to practice all of those and have a good time.”
Sam Harris contributed to this article.