Michael Drake Named New Ohio State President

New Ohio State President Michael Drake addresses the university's board of trustees after he was named as the school's new leader.(Photo: Thomas Bradley/WOSU News)
New Ohio State President Michael Drake addresses the university's board of trustees after he was named as the school's new leader.(Photo: Thomas Bradley/WOSU News)

It took six months, but Ohio State University Board of Trustees narrowed the field of presidential candidates down to one man they say has all of the skills necessary to lead one of the nation’s largest public institutions. Trustees, Thursday, tapped University of California Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake as OSU’s 15th president. Drake dubbed the position a “premier” post in higher education.

The list of qualifications was long. Ohio State Board of Trustees said they wanted a president who has knowledge of a land grant university, someone who can manage complexity and is familiar with the workings of a large medical center. They desired someone who understands academics, diversity and athletics.

Some on the committee wondered if they’d set to the bar too high.

But trustee Jeffrey Wadsworth, who led the search, said Michael Drake surpassed the qualifications.

“I have to tell you that not only was he very well-prepared, but he had the most articulate description of the needs of a 21st Century land-grant university that I’ve ever heard…And things got better from there,” he said.

Wearing a scarlet-and-grey tie, Drake equated the wait to hear he was selected to the anticipation of “rocket launch” or “Christmas.”

“I just would say, I think, how excited and thrilled and honored we are to be here,” Drake smiled.

The move to Columbus will be a homecoming of sorts for Drake whose mother was raised in Youngstown.

“Ohio was where her home and family were for her. And we came to visit as a child, and so coming back has been quite touching and special for me,” he said.

An ophthalmologist, Drake was named the fifth chancellor of U-C Irvine in 2005, where he also was a professor. There he oversaw the creation of a new law school, helped raise more than three-quarters of a billion-dollar fundraising campaign and launched several new health sciences programs.

But Drake said Ohio State could be the “capstone of [his] career” with the greatest challenges.

“I’m at an institution now that has a budget of just over $2 billion a year, that’s a lot, here it’s $5 billion. We have nearly 30,000 students. Here it’s more than 60,000,” Drake said. “The academic medical center here is twice as large. The level of intensity and heft and important and weight of this university are as great as any that exists.”

In the coming months, Drake said he will hone in on where his support is needed most at the university. He touched on sustainability, health sciences and college affordability.

“Particularly for our increasingly diverse population. We want to make that sure the talent and potential of everyone is fulfilled. And anything that we can do to make that easier particularly for those who have challenges is something that I think the benefit accrues to the society broadly.”

Drake, 63, who will be Ohio State’s first African-American president, doesn’t come to Columbus alone. He and his wife, Brenda, a lawyer, are described as a “power couple” known for interacting with students.

“A couple times of year collect a group of students, who are average students, who don’t have anything that allows them to stand out in any particular way except being a part of the community, and then have them for dinner,” he said. “And then Brenda has also hosted for several years recitals with student performers playing for different members of the staff on the campus.”

Drake was unknown to many at Ohio State. But after attending the board’s announcement, faculty and staff expressed excitement for the Drakes’ arrival.

OSU associate provost Stephen Myers said he is eager to see how they’ll help continue the university’s momentum.

“The both of them understand developing a vision, putting together the plan and doing the hard work. And so I think it’s just incredible,” Myers said.

And Kim Shumate, who works in Ohio State’s human resources department, said she thinks Drake intends to interact with students and faculty.

“I think he’s going to be a very engaged, hands-on person that people will very quickly come to love.”

The details of Drake’s contract, such as salary and length of term, are still being negotiated, but he chuckled, “I will stay as long as I’m loved and we’re having a great time. And I hope that that’s a long, long time,” he laughed.”

Drake’s first day on the job is set for June 30.

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