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Ohio University President Roderick McDavis speaks to the class of 2018 during their Freshman Convocation Sunday. McDavis encouraged students to take advantage of their four years at OU. 

Reviewing Rod: The 'external' president

Editor’s note: This is the tenth article in a series analyzing President Roderick McDavis’ decade at Ohio University

The Post reporter identified within the story is author Olivia Hitchcock

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis calls himself an “external president,” meaning he often works away from Athens.

McDavis’ public schedule shows his self-assessment to be true.

In the past five months, McDavis has only spent a fifth of his publicly scheduled time directly with students, according to a Post analysis.

During the second-half of his decade-long presidency, McDavis said he began focusing more on external efforts that have taken him away from the Athens campus.

Those include fundraising, which he estimates he spends “about 40 percent” of his time doing.

“I think in my early years I spent a lot more time making sure that the structure of the university was sound, making sure that the university was set up so that the trains ran on time,” he said. “In my second half of my presidency ... I feel very good about the people that are in place to make sure that the internal functions of the university operate effectively and efficiently.”

The university began keeping McDavis’ schedule public on his office’s website in 2009.

McDavis has spent about 20 percent of his time working closely with students, including award ceremonies, move-in day and open office hours, according to his public schedule, which only reflects the activities the university discloses.

According to McDavis’ public schedule:

The student McDavis has met with the most so far this semester is a Post reporter

McDavis has met once with the presidents of Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate

McDavis has not met with the student trustees besides at Board of Trustees events

“I embrace the opportunity to walk through Alden Library and interact with students on my way to work each day,” McDavis said in a statement to The Post. “I enjoy being able to pop by Baker University Center at a moment’s notice.”

Though The Post did not analyze the public schedule of each public university president in Ohio, many of them said informal interactions, such as sitting with students during football games, taking student-led tours of campus and standing in line at coffee shops are key ways to engage students.

McDavis sits in a President’s Box at football games.

McDavis said he has begun to focus more on student interaction by “being out and about in the community a lot more ... to be more visible.”

“I think it’s important for people to hear from me in more than just a formal email way,” he said.

With thousands more students at OU this fall than when McDavis became president in 2004, he has resorted to other means to connect with students.

“I think that we all have to change with the times,” McDavis said. “As new students come to the university you have to try different ways to connect.”

McDavis’ office runs a Twitter account — @OHIOPrezOffice — which posts old photos of the president, support for sports’ teams and information about events. Additionally, McDavis blogs as a way to keep students and alumni up-to-date on university activities. 

“I cherish the informal, light-hearted dialogue that Twitter and my blog have enabled,” McDavis said in a statement. “Even so, it’s the personal connections — those that come through mentorships and guest lecturerships and even just walking across campus — that are the most meaningful to me.”

More than 3,500 students voted no confidence in McDavis’ ability to lead the university in 2007.

The vote was taken as a part of the spring Student Senate elections, which saw the highest voter turnout in recent history, with roughly 4,600 students voting, which was 10 times more than the year before in the one-party election, according to a previous Post article.

Additionally, a 2009 external assessment of McDavis cited internal worries about him.

“About a third of those I spoke with offered unqualified support for the President’s leadership, a third provided a dispassionate, balanced appraisal, and the remainder were critical, a few extremely so,” the assessment stated.

Three years later, another external assessment praised McDavis for interacting more with students but still cited room for improvement.

“(Students) praised the series of informal conversations he held with students throughout the year, his habits of dropping in on student events and his readiness to meet with student leaders,” the assessment stated. “Their only complaint was that they wanted students to see more of a leader they clearly liked and admired.”

Nonetheless, some student leaders still have qualms with McDavis’ engagement. 

“I think his interactions tend to be a little bit ... reserved and really fluffy and defensive sometimes when a student tries to make real contact, especially publicly,” said Caitlyn McDaniel, vice president of Student Senate.

Last semester, McDavis met with Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate members at least six times, according to his public schedule; this semester he has only met personally with the presidents of the two organizations once, according to his public calendar.

However, Student Senate President Megan Marzec has said that she has been unhappy with meetings with McDavis in the past, leading to a delay in scheduling meetings.

McDavis has called interactions with student leaders, specifically with Student Senate, key in the “shared governance model” created with the elected members of the organization. 

Nevertheless, there are a number of different ways McDavis formally and informally interacts with students.

“I would say that the way student organizations have contact with him is if they reach out to him,” said Char Kopchick, assistant dean of students for Campus Involvement. “There is a mechanism that students can work through his office and invite him to come to their events or to speak.”

Requests for the president or his wife, Deborah, to attend an event can be made online through a form available on McDavis’ office website, a means which has seen about 100 requests — most of which were for events where students would be in attendance — since October 2012.

He didn’t attend all of those activities.

Invitations to events have been sent to the president’s direct email, dropped off at his office in Cutler Hall and asked in passing, said Jennifer Kirksey, McDavis’ chief of staff.

If neither McDavis nor his wife can attend, he tries to send another administrator in his place. 

“When I’m traveling for work, which happens quite frequently, I take comfort in knowing that my leadership team is engaged and deeply connected to our vibrant student community,” McDavis said in a statement.


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