While the surroundings for the first meeting between E. Gordon Gee and Joe Steinmetz weren’t memorable, the meeting itself was.
Gee was two years into his second term as Ohio State’s president, and he was trying to lure the best talent to the university to support his grand vision: Moving Ohio State from excellence to eminence.
He needed someone to lead the huge undertaking of merging the then-separate but confederated arts and sciences colleges into a single, massive unit.
Gee’s enthusiasm and personable demeanor were infectious. Prior to the meeting, Steinmetz was fully prepared to remain interim provost at the University of Kansas. After the meeting, he was packing his bags for Columbus to become executive dean of the new College of Arts and Sciences.
“A lot of people around the country asked me why I would leave a provost position to become a dean somewhere again since I already was a sitting dean at another location,” Steinmetz said. “But those people didn’t understand a couple of things. In my position as an academic, you rarely get the opportunity to go somewhere and lead a top-to-bottom restructuring and reorganization of an academic area. And this one is so large and comprehensive with 1,100 faculty and a $375 million budget. I said to myself, ‘That’s the place to be.’
“The Arts and Sciences makes up 35 to 40 percent of this university, and Gordon has always held it as the core of this university. It is the heart of what Ohio State is all about, so that was part of his grand vision of moving from excellence to eminence, and that was very attractive.”
Gee’s bold ideas to improve Ohio State’s academic standing and influence are considered the hallmark of his second turn at the university’s helm, which began in 2007 and ends July 1 after he announced his retirement from the presidency on June 4. Gee also led OSU from 1990-97.
The successes have been many.
• Significant gains in student retention and graduation rates.
• Hundreds of millions of dollars more for research and student aid.
• A nearly doubling of the international student population.
• An increase in the number of faculty named to the national academies and as fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
• Endowment fund growth that led the nation among colleges and universities in 2012.
• Generating revenue through creative use of university assets and affinity agreements to enhance Ohio State’s core academic mission.
Ohio State’s eminence path, said Fisher College of Business Dean Christine Poon, will be Gee’s enduring legacy as the university’s academic reputation and global impact continue to soar.
When Poon was being recruited in 2009, Gee inspired her decision with the idea that Fisher would exceed expectations in “ensuring the economic health and growth of the state and the world.”
“Everything we do at Fisher College of Business is with eminence in mind,” Poon said. “Eminence is seen through students who are prepared to make immediate and lasting impacts in the practice of business, attracting and retaining faculty who are thought leaders in their fields and inspire in the classroom and continuing to expand and deepen the vast network of business partnerships that elevate everything we do.”
Gee also lured Steven Gabbe to be CEO of the Medical Center, where he has led the largest expansion project in Ohio State’s history. After an initial re-working, the project has remained consistently on time and on budget.
He saw an opportunity to take advantage of Ohio State’s tremendous alumni base by combining it with fundraising and communications to form a new Advancement office, then hired one of the nation’s most successful higher education fundraisers in Michael Eicher to run it.
He coaxed Geoff Chatas to leave the private sector and come on board as senior vice president for Business and Finance, and Chatas has since earned numerous accolades for coming up with new ways to finance the academic mission in the face of reduced state funding.
The infusion of cash from that creativity, especially since it was all started at a time of extreme and widespread economic uncertainty, has allowed Ohio State to be aggressive in its eminent aspirations.
Gee said at the time, “At this moment, we must not fall back on the white-knuckles approach to riding out the storm. In the same way, we can no longer tinker at the margins — of budget structures, program design and so much more — and claim success. We must be willing to re-imagine what higher education can and should look like in the coming century. And then we must have the courage and the confidence to chart an entirely new course, a wholly different path forward.”
And that is what he and Executive Vice President and Provost Joe Alutto (who will become interim president on July 1) set out to do.
Since that time, Ohio State has rolled out the One University Framework, a universal planning document that provides direction for current and future growth for the next 50-100 years — all in context of a larger picture of increased collaboration and cooperation.
University leadership, under Alutto’s academic direction, has mapped out the intersection between OSU’s strengths and global needs and unveiled three Discovery Themes — Health and Wellness; Food Safety and Security; and Energy and Environment — to focus both its significant intellect and its funding in order to make a difference in the world. According to its strategic plan, Ohio State will hire 500 new faculty members over the next 10 years in the Discovery Theme areas.
At the same time, Gee and Alutto have focused on helping students succeed.
Much of the early fundraising for the $2.5 billion “But For Ohio State” campaign focused on student financial aid. And, guided by the One University Framework, efforts also are now solidly under way on a new Second-Year Transformational Experience Program — building and renovating student housing space that will allow all sophomores to live on campus where they will have more opportunity to interact with faculty members.
“It should be clear to all that President Gee has enhanced the university in immeasurable ways,” Alutto told the Board of Trustees. “Because of his vision and the remarkable team he has assembled, the journey from excellence to eminence is well under way. … President Gee leaves us with a foundation of strength and a model for presidential impact that will serve Ohio State well in the future.”
Cancer research donations
…have increased by 669 percent. Pelotonia alone has attracted more than 11,100 riders who have raised more than $42 million for cancer research.
Arts and Culture
A groundbreaking collaboration with Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009 has paved the way to enhance the teaching, research and performance of Shakespeare — the first such partnership in North America.
Institutional financial aid has risen to $450 million from $370 million.
Average ACT scores have risen to 29 from 27.
New Gateway Offices have opened in Shanghai, China and Mumbai, India, expanding our outreach to students, alumni and partners.
Student success and attainment
Six-year graduation rates are 82.4 percent, up from 72.7 percent.
Growth in private support
Amid stagnant public funding, President Gee helped raise more than $1.6 billion in private funding. The past two years have been the most successful fundraising years in university history.
Ohio State in demand
Applications to Ohio State have
risen by 60 percent, to 35,000 from 22,000.
Strategies have generated more than $1 billion to support the academic core — including the century bonds, parking lease, streamlining and affinity agreements.