Alutto takes pride
in the mark he’s left
By Jeff McCallister
As Joseph A. Alutto winds down his time as one of the most influential administrators in Ohio State’s history, he said his greatest satisfaction has come from seeing others do well.
“My job, and this applies to every one of the jobs I’ve had at Ohio State, has been very simple: My job has been to make it possible for people to succeed,” he said. “I thrill at seeing faculty members who are able to do all the things we always say they should — teach well, do outstanding research, get involved in service activities — and in doing those things make a profound impact on their students.
“I take joy, then, at seeing students doing things that I would never have imagined doing as an undergraduate, and everyone having an opportunity to make change in society that affects all of us.”
Alutto has a perspective that comes from his unique status in Ohio State’s history. He came to the university as dean of the business college in 1991 and presided over the remarkable transformation into the current Fisher College. He also has been executive dean of the professional colleges, later was the second-longest serving provost and has served not once but twice as the university’s interim president.
His second term ends June 30 when Michael V. Drake takes the presidency. And as Alutto prepares to take a year away from university life before returning to the faculty at Fisher College of Business, he said he has gotten immense satisfaction from his time here.
“Even as provost you don’t really see the whole university,” he said. “But as president, you get to see the academic side, the medical side, all sides. It doesn’t take long to really see the world stage that people here are playing on, and that what happens at Ohio State matters not just to Ohio but quite literally on a world basis. It’s there in front of you every single day and you can’t help but to see it. I think that’s a very special and unique aspect of being president.”
But even after 23 years here, and holding some of the most important offices on campus, the university still has the capacity to surprise him.
“No matter how much you know about the university, there’s always something going on here that’s a surprise because you didn’t realize we were doing it or didn’t realize it was a priority for us,” he said. “It’s not just the breadth of what we do; we certainly do a lot — we’re a big institution and you’d expect that. But it’s the quality, the depth of what we’re doing, the number of people focusing on an issue or problem, which makes it so special, makes it so different.”
In fact, he said sometimes he even has to remind himself how impressive some of the things happening here are.
“When we do a dance-a-thon that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, we’re not shocked, we’re not surprised, we take it as just a normal thing students do. When we talk about the thousands of hours of service our students give, it’s just what happens. Then you talk to faculty who are not only scholars and teachers, but they’re part of this community, they just give and give of themselves,” he said.
“After a while, in a sense, you become accustomed to these things as normal achievements. But you won’t find very many universities that can match those things.”
Of course, it wasn’t necessarily always that way.
“When I arrived here in 1991, my impression was — and I’m going to use some bad words here — I had a sense of a place that was solidly mediocre and happy about it,” he said. “I think over time, because of great university leadership and great faculty, over time it has become a place that really aspires to be the very best, and is willing to work at it.”
And he’s proud of his role in Ohio State maintaining its focus on access and affordability even as academic and cultural standards increased.
“Many other institutions have made different choices, to focus on one of those things or the other and not to deal with the tension that is natural between the two,” he said. “But Ohio State has grappled with that and addressed it and embraced it and has said ‘we accept that tension. We accept the fact that there will be some constant tradeoffs.’
“Being a part of that, being a part of moving a faculty and student body from assuming we’re just another Big Ten university to realizing this is a very special place that can in fact be a major player on a world scale — being part of that momentum is to me a major source of satisfaction.”