During Roderick McDavis’ decade as president, faculty have expressed discontent with his interaction and his performance and voted no confidence in him.
When Ohio University President Roderick McDavis enjoys a meal at China Panda, attends services at Christ Lutheran Church or works up a sweat at WellWorks, it is hard for him to avoid faculty.
In fact, he said whenever he and his wife, Deborah, go out on the town, he is always running into fellow OU employees. Those informal conversations, he said, are a less scripted way to hear faculty concerns.
Yet, some faculty aren’t as satisfied with those conversations.
“It’s difficult to have a good functioning university if the faculty and president are either hostile or indifferent to each other,” said Richard Vedder, a retired distinguished professor of economics, who has expressed disdain with McDavis’ faculty relations as well as his performance.
Some professors, led by Vedder, have sent letters of concern to the OU Board of Trustees, met off-campus to discuss potential changes and voted no confidence — multiple times — in the president, who is now in his 11th year in that position.
“It’s gotten better because it’s the only direction it could go,” Vedder said. “It couldn’t go any lower … but I (still) don’t think (relations) are great.”
In 2007, about half of the faculty voted in a survey organized by the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The results showed more than two-thirds of the participants expressed no confidence in the president and a poll of students that same year showed similar conclusions.
Vedder was one of the authors of a letter given to the Board of Trustees at that time. That letter argued McDavis’ administration had presided over a period of decline in OU’s reputation, due in part to test scores, “poor” budget management and “not concentrating on strengthening academics,” according to an article in Inside Higher Ed from 2007.
For the most part, McDavis remained silent in the wake of criticism, according to the article.
It wasn’t too long into McDavis’ presidency he became “wildly unpopular” with some faculty members, Vedder said.
During the early years of his presidency, negative faculty opinions of McDavis “were much louder,” Beth Quitslund, the current chair of Faculty Senate, said.
“There were some specific moments of friction with the Faculty Senate that left everyone a little bit raw,” Quitslund said.
For a time, McDavis also didn’t attend Faculty Senate — meetings which are now a staple in his relationship with that facet of the university — though the president’s office said that was a result of “extensive external commitments.”
“The president was not coming to senate meetings on a regular basis, which I think a lot of faculty took as symbolic of a lack of interest in faculty viewpoints,” Quitslund said.
OU Spokeswoman Stephanie Filson said throughout his time at OU, McDavis has attended Faculty Senate meetings whenever he is in Athens, adding those external commitments demanded a large amount of his time.
An external assessment of McDavis in 2012 read “the president has begun again to speak before the Faculty Senate where he is treated civilly, which unfortunately has not always been true at Ohio University … Working relationships with the faculty, while more cordial than in the past, remain uneasy.”
Another external review from 2009 also spoke of contention, and Vedder believes there is only one solution to ease that tension.
“We get a new president,” he said.
McDavis now sits down with Faculty Senate representatives before their monthly meeting to hear what they would like him and Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit to discuss, if anything, in front of the body.
He meets formally with the executive staff and the academic deans once a month, which are among interactions he said have “been the one constant” of his presidency.
“If a faculty member has a concern, they are free to express that to me then, if that’s appropriate for me to bring that to the president, I can,” Howard Dewald, associate provost for faculty and academic planning, said. “I myself seldom bring an issue directly to the president.”
Instead, Dewald said he will contact individuals below McDavis who may be more appropriate to handle the specific concern.
Since June, a Post analysis of McDavis’ public schedule found that he has spent more than 25 percent of his time with faculty and staff, by attending award ceremonies, meeting one-on-one with faculty and conversing with advisory councils and committees.
He set up monthly “Conversations over Coffee” where faculty members are invited to “a non-agenda type meeting” with him.
“I went to one where all of the faculty that were invited were in the spring of their first year at OU,” Quitslund said. “My sense is that the president didn’t go in with a specific agenda.”
According to his public schedule, one of the conversations was held on Oct. 21 — the only so far this semester.
McDavis occasionally guest lecturers in classes, participates in employee appreciation events and meets with distinguished professors.
“In these meetings he has seemed to me quite candid and straightforward, with an appealing mixture of clarity and humor,” said Mark Halliday, the 2014 chair of OU’s distinguished professors, in an email. “He also listens carefully, though I’m not aware that the views of (distinguished professors) have especially influenced his decision-making.”
Quitslund said that relations among faculty members and the president have “significantly improved” in the past five years.
“It’s been a matter of both faculty and the president consciously working on ways to communicate with each other better,” she said.