Part Two

Instead of actions that aid its too many, largely unadvised and unassisted students, several years ago, OSU changed the long-time traditional requirement that first year students live on campus in university-operated dormitories as part of their transition from home and socialization to college. With little advance notice and no responsible operational planning, one year became two years of mandatory on-campus housing and required university food contracts for all students who do not live with their families.

This was partly foreshadowed when OSU more than twenty years earlier removed full-time faculty from regular student advising. Only a handful of departments now assign new majors to faculty or have majors select their own advisors. For almost all students, as in first- and second-year general education, advising is conducted by full-time, non-teaching advisors. Many students, concentrating in certain colleges and departments, never or seldom speak to an advisor. Waiting time can be months not days or weeks and months.

When slogans and fees do not suffice, blatant over-reach and threats come to the fore. Two years ago, when Student Government was about to pass a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) international social justice movement resolution, the administration threatened the international student vice president with not supporting his visa extension if he cooperated). In fear, he declined to sign the resolution.

For several years, the once independent student newspaper, The Lantern has been under the strict control of a paid School of Communication advisor. His predecessor was summarily removed. The Lantern, its editors, and reporters are a shell of the former relatively independent operation.  It does not compare with the institution shaping investigative reporting of the Daily Northwestern, Stanford Daily, and Harvard Crimson. Of those three, only Northwestern has a School of Journalism, Medill, long a national leader. Stanford and Harvard do not. Ohio State’s journalism program is currently ranked lower than 100 in the United States.

Despite empty rhetoric about the never defined and invisible “extraordinary student experience,” the motivation for double the time in large dormitories was almost completely to increase revenue. In almost all ways, at OSU, students—like patients at Wexner Medical Center—are “cash cows,” to use the technical term. So, too, occasionally admitted, are international students, both qualified and not, who pay higher tuition and fees—and are not counted dishonestly as “minorities.”

My sources tell me that the Wexners have not yet fully paid their $100 million bequest for naming rights expressed in 6-8 foot tall letters. The expansion of both medical center and dormitories progresses with no concern for the inconvenience and dangers to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The old tower dorms south of the stadium and west of the medical center decline daily. They were slated for demolition when I arrived almost twenty years ago.

In the required two years of residence, there is no responsible supervision or programs of socialization, civic learning, and assistance in growing up. Rule breaking including cheating, alcohol, drug, and sexual abuse, is rife, students—but not Student Life—report. Fourth year students—sometimes second year students supervising first year--cannot adequately assist or supervise those only two years younger. But that fits the university “business model.”

While OSU promotes mental health services—never advertising that the waiting time can be weeks and months, it does not admit that its 65,000 students suffer from mental health crises along with alcohol and drug abuse. Unreported sexual abuse remains common. The off-campus areas see daily law breaking by students as well as others. There is no active policing. But there are slogans aplenty, some from the fictional mouth of Brutus.

Unadmitted by Student Life, Provost, or (absent) President is the rising illegitimate exodus from the dorms after the first year. Why? The old high-rise towers behind Ohio Stadium or “The Shoe” (as in horseshoe) are barely habitable. Equally powerful in pushing out many young women is the unreported frequency of rape and nudity across all dorms. Both students and parents admit to me that they sign documents dishonestly to escape this costly hell for uninspected student rental units in the University District.

Eighteen- and 19-year-olds away from home get little to no help. Confused from the point of entry by choices of meal plans and campus geography, as well as course selection and requirements, they are “supervised” by other undergraduates only two years older than themselves. There is little information and no basic university instruction in civil legal requirements and rights.

When I suggested to one of the dozen or so Associate Vice Presidents for Student Life that there should be a combined formal and informal, curriculum and extra-curriculum in on- and off-campus civic and social life, he thought that was an interesting idea that he would look into. Not long afterward, he was ordered to stop all communication with me. Relatedly, the Dean of Students is an Associate VP in Student Life who has no relationship with the Provost’s Office of Academic Affairs and does not return emails from faculty.

Those two are rare in their 30 to 40 program Office of Student Life (their website contradicts itself repeatedly) in having publicly available job descriptions—as if that matters. When I was so bold to ask the Vice President for Student Life for a copy of her most recent Annual Report, she had the OSU Legal Office respond: “we have no responsive document.” I next asked: “what is a ‘responsive document’”? They were unable to answer that question. Communicable English is too much for them to handle.

The overarching and the underlying failure of institutional and administrative growing up—lack of responsibility, competence, honesty, ability to learn, and communications vs. inaccurate marketing is even worse with respect to the Offices of Student Life especially Off-Campus Student Living and Engagement [sic] and Campus “Security.” Just as there is almost no presence or relationships with actual student lives in Student Life, there is little safety or security on and off campus.

The problems of real student lives worsen when more than 7000-10,000 students leave the on-campus dormitories each year for “off-campus” rental housing owned by absentee landlords almost none of whom live in Columbus and more and more are owned by out of state private interests. My University District homeowning, older neighbors (almost all with OSU affiliations) and I have witnessed dramatic decline (which began about 50 years ago but accelerated). Both the City and OSU are complicit.

Off-Campus Student Life has promised us for almost twenty years that they would place prominently on their websites and publicize widely: 1) the fact that the University District is a historic residentially zoned Columbus neighborhood with resident older homeowners—that it is not “campus,” a lawless, students only area; or never-never land. Students do not know this and it shows. Many Columbus Police do not know this either; 80 per cent of them live outside the city; 2) the basic laws of the City and state for which both student tenants and their landlords are responsible—whether the corrupt, lawless City of Columbus choses to enforce them or not; 3) students’ tenants and legal/civil rights which are not respected by many of the landlords who exploit tenants uncontrollably with few consequences, especially the largest, with few exceptions; 4) basic information on trash collection and recycling, parking, and safety. There is actually less accurate useful information in 2023 than there was in 2004. This cannot be accidental.

Almost all students want to know this. But Student Life keeps no promises, except, that is, to landlords especially those who contribute to OSU, the City, and pointless weak joint City-OSU promotion UDO or University District Organization with 16 constituent so-called “neighborhoods”—most of which are not neighborhoods by any accepted definition—and no interest in either students or the remaining homeowners in the actual University District.

Student Life along with Campus Security and the rest of OSU marketing actually do less today than they did ten and fifteen years ago. When we purchased our historic house, OSU did occasional patrolling especially on weekends and maintained a 24/7 help line that was answered by a human. That has disappeared. Both Joint Columbus Police-OSU Security “patrols” and Buckeye Block Watches are no more than inactive physical slogans. Together they do almost nothing.

Not one of the countless promises has been kept. There are many reasons for this. They begin with the radical disjunction between Student Life and student lives. They are exacerbated by Student Life as with all of OSU’s dependence on--no obsession with--truly stupid slogans about Brutus Buckeye, Extraordinary this or that, or most but far from all OSU students not driving after five or more alcoholic drinks. There is no content, no programs, no recognition or active commitment to real, living students.

Cardboard signs with this bullshit are placed illegally on both public and private property without permission by Off-Campus Student Life’s Student Ambassadors who do not ambassador to anyone except perhaps themselves in exchange for free snacks from a university food truck that damages power lines and an entry on a resume that no one on campus teaches them how to prepare. Providing information takes the form of often inaccurate small leaflets with out-of-date City and Police information that turn quickly into outdoor litter.

Exaggerated claims about crime waves led Student Life and Campus Security very tardily to distribute tiny noise makers that are useless if confronted by a gun or a gang. Similarly, free steering wheel locks were handed out only after hundreds and hundreds of cars were stolen or broken into. Columbus Police and Campus Security somehow never see any of this. Bicycle patrols cluster together under streetlamps for hours on end, while single or pairs of police sit idly in their cars unmoving for hours.

It is no wonder that students and their parents worry. Although the heads of Campus Security (before they were ordered to stop talking to me) admitted that they put no value in daily Lexus Nexus Area Crime Reports, OSU promotes them constantly. Despite repeated requests to stop including the exceedingly misleading phrase—especially to young and immature students-- “the victim is never responsible for a crime,” Campus Security persists in repeating it. The Clery Acts does not require it. That is another of active harms that OSU thrusts on its students—and other legal, homeowning, most often senior citizen residents of the University District.

So too is OSU, along with the City of Columbus, accepting payments from four scooter rental firms not to enforce Columbus laws against riding on sidewalks and abandoning them anywhere. Campus Security officers tell me that they are provided no instruction on what to do about scooters. They join with CPD officer’s in declaring firmly: “We hate them.” So do many students and all neighbors. Not one word on Student Life websites or posted on campus.

In the OSU-Brutus Way, dishonesty, failure to serve paying students, irresponsibility, and contempt for neighbors combine inseparably. None of Off-Campus Student Life’s leaders live in the campus area or even in Columbus, not at least since they were students if they attended OSU. They won’t grow up.

Off-Campus Student Life hosts illegal gatherings on public property without permits for tiny handfuls of students who come only for free snacks. When asked by neighboring homeowners to secure and show permits, they ignore all such requests. Until the last year, they invited University District non-student residents, but that too has stopped. Student Life mounts its assault on the University District, accelerating over time.

But it is even worse when it comes to off-campus rental housing. Student Life is in all practical purposes a paid agent for the absentee landlords who would not exist if the City’s Zoning Inspectors had not granted automatic variances to the zoning laws in return for undocumented favors under and over the table.

The two most criminal, large landlords, the almost always in the courts NorthSteppe and now owned by a Dallas, Texas firm HomeTeam, have donated millions of dollars to OSU. I am almost certain that the dirtiest, worst repaired large landlord OSUlive, among others, has too. These absentee property owners also give to City Councilors. They are all but absolved from the law. It does not happen that they dominate student complaints and are often sued. (See my “A call for reparations from the City of Columbus, the large corporate landlords, and The Ohio State University for the destruction of neighborhoods with a focus on the University District,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Apr. 1, 2023    ;“The Ohio State University and its Dying University District: The Oval and the Campus Beyond,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, May 5, 2023    ;“Universities and cities often fail both homeowners and students,” Times Higher Education, Jan. 22, 2023  )

Off-Campus Student Life sees no reason to inform students about these relationships. They promote these firms, few of whose properties meet City Code or are inspected. Students’ and neighbors’ lives are at risk in many ways.

Despite years of requests from residents, students, and families, Student Life will not tell students that OSUlive, OSUproperties, OSUapartments, and others have no relationship to OSU and have not been granted any right to use “OSU” in their marketing. If not illegal, this is immoral and unconscionable on OSU’s part.

  As I reported recently, OSU secretly and illegally colludes with the City and the landlords not to enforce the Zoning laws, thus violating the legal and civil rights of all who live here. Student Life actively assaults the rights and well-being of the students they are paid and falsely claim to protect. They also violate the legal and civil rights of all other residents. This is immoral and in some respects criminal. (See my “The broken, no—the evil—triangle of the City of Columbus vs. its residents. Destroying the physical city and the semblance of neighborhoods: Zoning (Un)enforcement, Public (Private) Service, and 311, with the assistance of OSU, the City Attorney, CPD, City Council, and Mayor, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 4, 2023

Off-Campus Student Life lies to students in search of off-campus rental properties. They advertise HomeTeam, the firm with the most reports to Student Legal Services, and Edwards Company, whose rents few students can afford and whose out-of-control building has been subsidized by OSU’s multi-million-dollar loss-leading Campus Partners for (Anti-)Urban and (Anti-)Community (Un)Development.

A creation of Gee’s first coming, it continues to do far more harm than good, including the destruction of all historic character on High Street across from campus. The inappropriately designed brick four to six story buildings are rarely more than half rented because of their excessive prices. Despite continued approval of more and more “student housing,” there is actually a significant surplus not a shortage of spaces. Yet City Council overrules area commissions and review boards to build more cookie cutter inappropriately designed and over-sized structures that do not meet design and code requirements.

The information  provided to students in search of rental housing grows more dishonest and incomplete, and less useful to students each year. Comments about safety, “community,” and now inspection are so misleading as legally liable as well as offensive, I have suggested to the federal Department of Justice and the State Attorney General as well as to students and their families that thorough independent investigation is in order. Prosecution might well follow.

It is not enough for Student Life to suggest to students that they make complaints to overburdened, underfunded, understaffed Student Legal Services. Nor is it sufficient to abandon students and their families to attempt to sue NorthSteppe, HomeTeam, OSULive, Buckeye Realty, and other criminal enterprises by themselves only to be stalled in the courts for years, ignored or dismissed, or paid off with peanuts.

Of course, OSU including its strictly controlled and editorially censored student The Lantern and the Buckeye promoting Columbus Dispatch and OSU owned WOSU won’t tell. That only interferes with the business model they all share with private, technically illegal absentee property owners.

My own statement of honesty and responsibility

I retired from my position at OSU in 2017, several years earlier than I anticipated because funding for my unique university-wide interdisciplinary initiative LiteracyStudies@OSU and the position of my assistant and then associate for more than twelve years were illegitimately removed. I met with the then Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Provost. When reminded that my funding was “guaranteed in writing,” in separate meetings, each man responded, “Yes, Harvey, that is correct. But it doesn’t matter.”

Despite that I remain Professor Emeritus, Inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and member of the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee and the Emeritus Academy. I continue to work with deans, faculty, and students across the university, and develop friendships with student tenants in my University District neighborhood. I have not received a paycheck for more than six years. Unlike those I expose, I actually care about OSU. I know the university and its students, the best and the worst.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.