After six years as executive vice president and provost, during which he was the architect of Ohio State’s strategic plan, Joseph A. Alutto is well prepared to continue Ohio State’s pursuit of eminence.
By Adam King
Joseph A. Alutto is a pragmatist when it comes to describing how Ohio State achieves eminence, an endeavor he has been heavily invested in over the past six years.
As executive vice president and provost, Alutto has worked hand in hand with President Gordon Gee since Gee’s return in 2007 to raise the university’s stature. And the idea of eminence, Alutto said, is a simple concept.
Whenever you change the president and provost, there’s a tendency to change things. Well here, it’s building on what we have. There are not going to be massive changes.
- Joseph A. Alutto, on his transition to interim president
“I know we’re eminent in an area when anyone who wants to do research or develop policy first asks the question, ‘What’s going on at Ohio State?’” said Alutto, who will become interim president July 1 after Gee’s retirement.
“I think cancer research is one area where we are reaching eminence. There are certain areas in engineering and we’re there in some of the humanities and arts. There’s an incredible opportunity for the John Glenn School to get to that point. We’re really good at the core science, but we’re not as good as we could be in the translation of that empirical science into state, national or world policy.”
But the university is well on its way to new realms of achievement, built upon the bedrock of Gee’s innovative ideas and those of his senior leaders. From an operational standpoint, other than achieving even greater efficiency in operations, little has to change to further Ohio State’s reputation, Alutto said, and that’s one benefit of his becoming interim president while a new leader is being sought.
Alutto, 72, had planned to step down from the position of provost and return to the faculty on July 1, but the Board of Trustees asked him to put off that decision and serve as interim president, a position he also held in 2007 before Gee’s hiring. Several months ago, Joseph Steinmetz, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was named to replaced Alutto as provost. That transition continues as planned on July 1.
“Whenever you change the president and provost, there’s a tendency to change many other things,” Alutto said. “Well here, it’s building on what we have. There are not going to be massive changes, new strategic plans, etc. When Gordon was hired, it was to implement our strategic plan and do it better than we could without him. My job now is to make sure we in fact continue to move in those directions and not have a hiccup of any kind.”
The bold initiatives in place, especially the Discovery Themes that direct Ohio State resources toward solving global issues — Health and Wellness, Food Production and Security, and Energy and Environment — need to stay the course and enter full implementation stages, Alutto said. With proceeds from the sale of its parking operation and other revenue, Ohio State will hire 500 new faculty to support the Discovery Themes over the next 10 years, and Alutto expects that process to begin soon.
Another major initiative Alutto will oversee is the North Residential District, which will redefine the student experience by having sophomores stay on campus in a new living-learning community. The new educational experiences interwoven in those two years of on campus life will dramatically change student capabilities and opportunities. Construction begins this summer and will be completed by fall semester 2016.
“It’s a huge project that transforms the institution,” Alutto said. “My role will be to determine how we keep that going and how we tell the story of what’s happening at Ohio State.”
Though these strategic initiatives are an integral part of Ohio State’s goal to be a top-10 public university by 2020, they aren’t merely a self-aggrandizing philosophy. The truly great and noble goal of higher education, Alutto said, is to develop skills for citizenship and intellectual pursuits while also creating opportunities for social mobility — in effect, giving people the tools to achieve their dreams and the ability to pursue their passion.
“An education is the only reason I’ve been able to do the things I’ve been able to do,” he said. “I came from a family where no one had attended college and we didn’t know anything about college.”
His father, a truck driver, and his stay-at-home mother always encouraged his sense of wonder. With that support built into the fabric of his family, Alutto and his brother both earned PhDs.
Alutto said that personal can-do atmosphere that so inspired him also is present at Ohio State today — a remarkable difference from the days when Gee hired Alutto to be Fisher College of Business dean 22 years ago during Gee’s first term as president.
“Back then there was little sense of real aspiration for this institution to be truly eminent,” Alutto said. “Gordon changed all that just by virtue of his own energy and the people he recruited. He tended to attract people like himself who thought there was the possibility to build something spectacular at Ohio State, and I think it’s happened. For me the key is to coalesce the talent that we have in the institution, keep it focused and moving in the directions we want.”