Colleagues around the university reflect on Alutto’s time at Ohio State
By Jeff McCallister
Many times those interim roles are merely placeholders — keeping an office warm while awaiting a permanent replacement. People who know Joseph A. Alutto knew that would not be the case when he stepped in as interim Ohio State president upon the sudden retirement of former President E. Gordon Gee last July.
“That would never have been Joe’s style,” said Tim Gerber, who got to know Alutto when Gerber was leading the committee that had been charged with studying the feasibility of the conversion to semesters.
“He had the reputation — well-earned, I might add — for being a tough administrator, hard nosed and demanding,” said Gerber, a professor of Music Education who is secretary of University Senate. “But those attributes are exactly what have been needed in the roles he’s taken on at Ohio State at the times he’s taken them on.”
Joe Steinmetz, who succeeded Alutto as executive vice president and provost, said two things specifically led to Alutto’s success.
“I think Joe’s real legacy here will be the way he got not only the Office of Academic Affairs but the entire university to focus on strategic planning, on moving in a strategic fashion,” he said. “I just don’t know that that has always been the case. But he put his stamp on that and I can say that it has carried over to the administrators who served
“The other thing about Joe is that there is a great deal of decisiveness in the way he is as an administrator,” Steinmetz said. “I admire the way he can sit and hear all sides on an issue, make a plan of action and act without delaying long periods. It feels like a better style of administration when you are decisive rather than letting issues simmer.”
“One of the many things I appreciate and respect about Joe Alutto is his ability to combine his business acumen with a keen understanding of our academic mission,” said Carol Pitts Diedrichs, vice provost and director of University Libraries. “That has been a powerful combination for leadership both as provost and interim president.
“On the semesters committee, I found him to be entirely reasonable, and I respected the fact that he held all of us to be accountable. A big part of the overall success at the university over the last few years he has been the provost and interim president is his insistence on high levels of accountability at every level of the university, and it has gone a long way.”
Herb Asher, who has served as counselor to the president for six years, said Alutto’s influence and legacy at Ohio State should not be underestimated.
“He’s made a substantial impact from the minute he stepped on campus,” who also serves as senior vice president for Government Affairs. “He was the key reason for the transformation of the College of Business into one of the leading business schools in the world. He did a great job recruiting outstanding people and building great programs — not only the MBA, but undergraduate programs as well. And he was a master at attracting resources and that, in turn, led to the building of the Fisher Complex and the naming of the Fisher College. Joe Alutto was the transformative figure in all of that and deserves a great deal of credit.
“Then as provost, he shepherded many ongoing initiatives that have contributed greatly to Ohio State’s overall improvement,” Asher continued. “He fought for improved student quality, improved facilities and programs and was simply a very strong, very effective leader.”
It was that transformation at the business school that gave Alutto his well-deserved and enduring reputation, according to current associate dean Anil Makhija.
“Under Dr. Alutto’s leadership, a very regional College of Business was transformed into an internationally top-ranked Fisher College of Business,” Makhija said. “If you visit the large complex of six buildings in which the Fisher College of Business is housed, you are immediately struck by the world-class, state-of-the-art educational facilities built during Dr. Alutto’s tenure as dean.”
But it wasn’t the buildings that were the important part of that transformation, and Makhija said Alutto knew that from the start.
“He took investment in people and programs more seriously than in bricks and mortar. He was an institution builder. His legacy is indelible.”
It was that success that propelled him into the post of executive dean of the professional colleges and eventually into the Office of Academic Affairs as provost and executive vice president — though he first served three months as interim president after Karen Holbrook left on June 30, 2007, and before Gee came on for his second term as president that October.
His focus turned immediately to issues such as access to education while continuing Ohio State’s climb in the national academic rankings.
“Joe has not only been a great boss personally, but he has been laser-focused, supportive, effective and driven to help attract and retain the best, most talented and diverse students in Ohio State’s history,” said Dolan Evanovich, vice president for strategic enrollment planning. “He led us in developing the One Ohio State Enrollment Plan that not only strives to get the best students from Ohio and from around the world, but also maintains access for first-generation students. He is steadfast in his belief that we want to attract the best students who can benefit from an Ohio State University education.
“We’ve had higher and higher average ACT scores coming in, and more and more are staying and graduating — those are all metrics that were developed under Joe’s leadership.”
“Joe is going to be remembered as being a person who advanced Ohio State in ways no one would have imagined when he was hired as business dean,” Gerber said. “The Office of Academic Affairs not only thrived under him, it reached new heights under his leadership. Part of that was his insistence on the highest academic and scholarly standards along with his mantra of access to excellence.”
Some of the most fundamental changes in the university’s history occurred under Alutto’s watch in OAA: the semester conversion, consolidation of the colleges of the arts and sciences and the complete turnover in college deans — 14 new deans in the 14 colleges.
“How much change Joe has been directly or indirectly responsible for is astounding, Gerber said. “It has been a significant amount of change, and he only kept up the momentum when he moved into the president’s office.”
So it wasn’t with any intention of a simple placeholder that the Board of Trustees asked Alutto to take on the interim president’s role the second time when Gee retired from the university — and members were effusive in their praise during their June 6 meeting, during which they voted to accept a University Senate recommendation and award Alutto an honorary
Doctor of Higher Education degree to be awarded at Summer Commencement.
“I have great admiration for Joe Alutto as a man of terrific integrity as well as directness,” said Jeffrey Wadsworth, board chair. “We’ve met many challenges together. There have been many spirited debates take place in the complex environment of the university, and I am privileged to say we could always get past these things and move the university forward.”
“No one at this university has been more committed to the students and to the faculty than you,” board member Algenon Marbley told Alutto. “You see it in everything that you do — in your thoughts, words and deeds, you’re fair and you’re dedicated, always bringing a sense of purpose and vision to every task, but never losing sight of the importance of the students and faculty to this university.”