Twelve years, more than $500 million in fundraising and a few bats later, Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis will leave his post as chief executive when his contract expires in June 2017.

It was Roderick McDavis’ dream to lead his alma mater as president.

On Thursday, standing in the same room his presidency was announced in 2004, McDavis tearfully addressed his peers as he notified them of his imminent retirement.


“We’ve called Athens our home for 12 years,” McDavis said as First Lady Deborah McDavis sat in the front row of the nearly 200-person audience. “We have made history together, however I feel that — and we both feel — that it’s time for a new chapter for us.”

McDavis announced the end of his presidency of the nearly 40,000-person university at the close of Thursday’s OU Board of Trustees committee meeting. His current contract, signed in July 2012, expires on June 30, 2017.

Board of Trustees Chair Sandra Anderson highlighted McDavis’ legacy as president, even claiming he “will go down in history as one of the best presidents Ohio University has ever seen.”

“Year after year, President McDavis has exceeded the expectations of the Board of Trustees of Ohio University,” Anderson said. “We could not be more proud of the work of President McDavis ... You’re leaving us with some mighty large shoes to fill.”

A day prior to the announcement, the university sent an email informing employees of a “special announcement” taking place after the Board of Trustees meeting.

Students and faculty members speculated on social media what the announcement could entail, with many correctly predicting McDavis’ decision to step down.

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McDavis opened his announcement with a joke to break the tense atmosphere around him before detailing his tenure as president.

"Have you ever gotten the feeling your life has come full circle?" McDavis said. “I’m overwhelmed with that sensation right now as I look at so many familiar faces right now.”

McDavis, who currently makes $480,000 a year, is the second alumnus to serve as president of the university. He is also the first African American to serve the 212-year-old institution.

"(Deborah and I have) put a lot of thought into this decision, and I'll assure you it's not an easy one,” McDavis said. “It has been a pleasure to lead you, but I want you to know I would not be standing here today if it were not for (Deborah).”

McDavis met the First Lady when he was 15 years old, getting a ride home from band practice at his Dayton high school, he said Thursday. She was the passenger in the car that day, and during the last 50 years she has followed and supported him in his career.

“You have to have somebody that’s there to encourage you, to lift you up, to let you know that you’re not as bad as the press might make you out to be,” McDavis said.

Anderson said details about the university's next steps in the search for a new president will be announced at Friday’s board meeting.

“I believe it also is time for a new energy in the president’s office ... and fresh eyes that will lead us into the next chapter of our storied history,” McDavis said.

Before stepping down, McDavis said he has many goals he aims to accomplish.

“Rest assured, the transformation of Ohio University is still not yet complete,” he said.

He promised to complete the Faculty Compensation Plan, to implement the Campus Master Plan, which details changes to university infrastructure for the next decade, and to continue increasing enrollment, among other initiatives.

“I think we’ve been able to have record enrollments for a period of years,” McDavis said. “We’ve had a very, very successful capital campaign. We’ve built five new residence halls, so there’s been a lot of nice construction projects on campus. We’ve changed the look, but kept the campus beautiful."

Assistant Dean of Students Jamie Patton said Thursday’s announcement was “totally unexpected.”

“I appreciate what President McDavis has brought to Ohio University,” Patton said. “They talked about his leadership skills, but one of the other things that he brought up was family, community.”

Several OU officials, including Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit, declined to comment at the event.

History at OU

McDavis began his presidency at OU in July 2004, promising to raise OU’s rankings, increase diversity, help local schools and improve research opportunities and funding for students.

Since then, whenever he has stood in front of a podium, McDavis has captured the attention of his audience. Generations of freshmen will remember the Sunday before their first classes started, as McDavis welcomed them at Freshman Convocation, telling them they’re not just “Bobcats now ... but Bobcats forever.”

During the annual event in 2014, Tylisha Allen, then a freshman studying psychology, raved about McDavis’ enthusiasm as he addressed the incoming class.

"(McDavis) was turnt; he was a preacher," she said. "I was like, 'Yes, President, yes."

McDavis himself has been a Bobcat for a majority of his life.

He graduated from OU with a Bachelor of Science in social sciences in secondary education in 1970. He later attended the University of Dayton in 1971 and the University of Toledo in 1974 for his master’s and doctorate, respectively.

He did not return to Athens in a professional capacity until 2004, when he left the provost’s office at Virginia Commonwealth University to take the open office in Cutler Hall.

He had previously served as professor, dean and administrator at the University of Florida and the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Administrative Decisions

One of McDavis’ goals when he first took office was to increase diversity at OU.

McDavis started the Urban Scholars program in 2005 and, along with his wife, donated $8,000 to help fund the first class of Urban Scholars. He hoped to support about 100 students per year from Ohio’s low income urban areas, but a lack of funds has allowed only one student per year to participate.

At the beginning of McDavis’ presidency, OU’s student body was 89 percent white. As of Fall 2014, that number has decreased to slightly more than 78 percent.

Midway through McDavis’ presidency, OU administrators were forced to slash 7 percent out of the university’s $684 million budget due to budgetary shortfalls, chopping pieces out of different colleges’ budgets for the 2010-11 fiscal year.  

Three years earlier, a multi-year fundraising effort, dubbed the Promise Lives campaign, began. The campaign ended in 2015 and brought OU more than $500 million in gifts — about $50 million more than its original goal.

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“It’s just a tremendous thing,” Jennifer Bowie, executive director of advancement communication and marketing, said in a previous Post report. “I think it speaks to the history of the institution and the love that people have for the institution.”

Tuition also increased nine times, or by $3,132, during McDavis’ presidency. Those increases total a 42.3 percent jump in tuition costs for an undergraduate student at Ohio.  

McDavis also oversaw the transition to a guaranteed tuition rate model, dubbed the OHIO Guarantee, which began for this year’s freshman class. For the 2015-16 academic year, continuing in-state students did not see a tuition increase, while incoming students under the guaranteed tuition model saw an increase of more than $500, compared to rates from the previous year.

Historically, there has been tension between McDavis and OU’s faculty. About half of the faculty voted in a 2007 survey organized by the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors and the results revealed more than two-thirds of the participants expressed no confidence in the president. A poll of students expressed similar results that same year.

The university’s Board of Trustees, however, has been more favorable toward the president. In his most recent review from August 2015, Anderson commended McDavis for an “outstanding job,” specifically pointing out his leadership skills and reputation in Ohio.

McDavis has considered himself as an “external” president, meaning he often conducts most of his work — largely involving fundraising for the university — off campus. Though he’s received criticism for not being visible on campus, his office has set forth plans to make McDavis more accessible. Recent efforts include making his office hours and schedule available to the public and creating his @OHIOPrezOffice Twitter account.

Controversy outside Cutler

A bat infestation caused McDavis and First Lady Deborah to move out of the president’s residence at 29 Park Place and into a new home at 31 Coventry Lane last spring. The OU Foundation entered into a lease-to-buy agreement March 19.

The agreement for the property ends June 30, 2017 — the same day McDavis leaves office.

The decision caused protests and petitions concerning the university’s relationship with the home’s owner, John Wharton, a local realtor and long-time donor to OU.

OU officials decided to not purchase the property when a “problematic” verbal agreement between Wharton and OU Director of Athletics Jim Schaus was discovered, according to Stephen Golding, vice president for Finance and Administration.

The Ohio Office of the Inspector General is currently collecting documents and conducting interviews on campus as part of an ongoing investigation into the agreement for the home.