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Ohio University President Roderick McDavis during his exit interview in Cutler Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.

Email records show how McDavis' staff crafted response to Baker Center arrests

A set of email records released Monday show that calls and emails flooded the Office of the President following the Feb. 1 arrests of 70 demonstrators in Baker Center, and that former Ohio University President Roderick McDavis’ staff meticulously crafted the email responses he sent out.

On Feb. 1, Ohio University Police Department officers arrested 70 demonstrators for trespassing after they refused to leave a Baker Center sit-in. The demonstrators had said they would remain in Baker Center until McDavis declared OU a sanctuary campus. An Athens County Municipal Court judge found on March 27 that Baker Center was a designated public forum and the demonstrators were acting under the protection of the first amendment. The charges of the demonstrators who had not pleaded guilty were dropped.

The email records are the last records the university will release in response to a public records request The Post filed on Feb. 8. Previous batches of records have provided insight into OUPD Chief Andrew Powers’ and other officials’ responses to the public criticism following the arrests.

McDavis received dozens of emails from students, alumni and parents criticizing OUPD’s arrests, but didn’t appear to personally reply to any of them. He instead forwarded them to the director of presidential communications, Amber Epling, and Jennifer Kirksey, the president’s chief of staff, and he wrote, “Please reply on my behalf.”

Most of the people who sent emails expressed support of the demonstrators, but one man whose daughter was considering attending OU did not. In an email he sent McDavis on Feb. 2, he wrote that he would not feel safe if his daughter attended a school that declared itself “willing to harbor criminals against federal law.” He said his daughter had visited the campus, but if OU became a sanctuary campus, the school “(would) be removed from (their) list.”

“She really (liked) the experience and your campus,” he wrote. “But as the news of protesters came to my attention this morning, I become hesitant to look any further at OU programs.”

McDavis asked Epling and Kirksey to respond to the email.

Kirksey appeared to draft the email that McDavis sent to members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees on the evening of Feb. 1. Epling sent McDavis a copy of the email draft for review.

The email contained a synopsis of the arrests and a statement University Communications and Marketing had released earlier that evening. It was signed, “Cordially, Rod,” and sent to the trustees from McDavis’ account.

“I am happy to discuss our ongoing efforts to support our international students, my advocacy efforts to support a review of the executive order given its consequences to the educational experience and impact on our faculty, students, and staff,” read the end of the email. “Please feel free to call me.”

David Wolfort, the chair of the Board of Trustees for the 2016-17 academic year, thanked McDavis for the update in an email hours later.

“In all likelihood this (next) four years will be a journey,” Wolfort wrote. “In the meantime, how might I assist you?”

Some people struggled to reach the President’s Office to express their concerns. One alumna emailed the alumni office and said no one in the President’s Office answered the phone and there was no way to leave a message.

Another emailed the alumni office and said a staffer in the president’s office called him “ma'am” repeatedly after he said he was a man, then put him on hold until he hung up when he asked to speak with her supervisor.

“As an Alumni this is an outrage,” he said in the email. “I am completely offended that one she did not treat me with respect, but she also placed me on hold twice refusing to help me.”


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