Brutus Buckeye

Part One

Among the countless missions of colleges and universities for centuries is providing a responsible, safe environment and one or another curriculum for “growing up.” Of course, the terms, definitions, and particularities vary greatly across time, place, and form of institution. The doctrine/dictum known as loco-parentis held sway well into the 1960s. (See Graff, “Universities are not giving students the classes or support they need,” Times Higher Education, May 17, 2022. “Growing up was always hard to do. It’s getting harder, and universities are doing little to help,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Sept. 26, 2022. And, “How universities fail their students: The president may be ‘Born to be a Buckeye,’ but the students are not,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 10, 2022.)

18-to-22-year-olds – now 18-26-to-28-year-olds – are expected to achieve a certain level of maturity as they pass legal and so-called social “ages of majority” at 18 and 21 as well as intellectually and “in preparation for life” including careers. With seldom more than empty slogans, social, cultural, political, economic – and intellectual and vocational--development/maturity are expected to intersect and mutually reinforce each other.

But how can young people grow up if the institution itself will not?

If the administration and major “student services” do not exhibit self-control, accept constructive criticism, engage in self-criticism, are unable to learn from their own experience, accept responsibility, and demonstrate honesty, how dare they expect actively maturing young people to do so? This is among the questions of my book in progress, Reconstructing the ‘Uni-versity’ from the Ashes of the “Multi-and Mega-versity.”

That fundamental question is never raised despite its overarching importance. Let me be clear: my immediate focus falls on The Ohio State University. But it is one example of a near universal failing if, as usual, an especially egregious case in point that cries out for sustained examination and transformation.

Both in itself and compared to other universities large and small, OSU ill-serves its 65,000 students, and 25,000 faculty and staff. This uncoordinated effort crosses all levels and corners of the huge, disorganized, and disconnected university. There are no central communications. Little more than tightly controlled purchasing is coordinated. A revealing clue is that central and college level communications departments are formally named Marketing and Communications in that order. That speaks to OSU’s major mission, how it weighs costs and benefits.

No one is in charge. Ever. In fact, the current Board of Trustees saw no reason to appoint an interim president after Kristina Johnson resigned as ordered effective May 7, 2023. In other words, there is no head of the household or adult in charge. Not surprisingly, not only the students but all parties are infantilized and juvenilized.

Of the four presidents I have watched closely since I joined the OSU faculty in 2004, (and known three personally) only the first woman president, Karen Holbrook, actually made an effort to learn about and participate in the ungainly enterprise. She was not offered a second term by the Board of Trustees. 

E. Gordon Gee’s second coming, Michael Drake’s seven years of no accomplishments, and Kristina Johnson’s briefest term in university history show little distinction. As at Brown and Vanderbilt, Gee escaped to West Virginia University just prior to his all but certain termination. He is best known for working crowds, flashing his humongous bowtie collection, posing for photos with undergraduates, and propagating false slogans. (See, for example, my “An Education in Sloganeering,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2015.) He left no legacy – for better and for worse.

First Black president, Michael Drake is distinguished for never learning his way around the campus. His innovations consisted of ordering toilet paper in bulk and commanding double-sided color printing. He oversaw falling rates of admissions and enrollments of Black and racial minority students that contradicted his own and OSU’s endless false slogans. And, yes, he dishonestly negotiated his retirement bonus at the same time that he negotiated his next position as chancellor of the University of California System. That is illegitimate.

I have written in detail about Johnson, ordered to retire in Autumn 2022 at the end of the academic year. Suffice it to say that she is an embarrassment who had never led a university campus previously.

Despite being “Born to be a Buckeye” and endorsing “Buckeye love,” she left such an invisible “legacy” that her signature “Scarlet and Gray Advantage Plan” to create debt-free graduates without lowering costs – an arithmetic and logical impossibility – is already forgotten. Very few students have heard of it. She herself forgot her never fully enunciated campus-area safety promises.

Johnson’s legacy is so weak that the commanding Board of Trustees saw no need to replace her with an acting or interim president. This both signifies the immaturity of the Board and has made OSU a national embarrassment in higher education. OSU’s BOT is led by a “Gang of Five” technology and business executives who lack both interest in and knowledge about intellectual and sociocultural missions of the largest public university in the state and one of the largest in the U.S. (On university sloganeering, see my “The Banality of University Slogans ,” Washington Monthly, Jan. 10, 2022. “Slogans are no substitute for concrete university policies and programmes,” Times Higher Education, Jan. 17, 2022 . “The OSU Way: Slogans over Truth and Honesty in Graduation Rates and Student Well-Being,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 27, 2022.

Like children with no supervision, OSU refuses to learn from the examples of other institutions near and far, or its own failures. Against all logic and intelligence, OSU made no effort to follow the highly publicized and extremely well-received collaboration of Franklin County and Columbus State Community College in providing free tuition to all graduates of high schools in the county. 

Against the odds, OSU did not respond by extending that arrangement to all CSCC graduates who met OSU’s requirements for admission. OSU was silent. An exceptional opportunity to actually transform slogans toward reality and garner local and national attention about serving the public and fulfilling OSU’s hollow “land-grant mission” was missed despite president after president touting that mission.

OSU refuses to learn from Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan – “that school up north,” USC, Stanford, and other universities where numbers of male and female student athletes were abused by university staff including medical doctors, coaches, and trainers. Despite more than 600 male victims of Dr. Richard Strauss – whose crimes were known to medical and athletic department members – OSU has refused to acknowledge the criminal offenses and take responsible actions. (See my “The Ohio Student University vs. The Students, The Law, and The Truth. The Victims of Dr. Richard Strass and of OSU,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 14, 2023.)

After twenty years of silence and denial (including then men’s wrestling assistant coach and now the US Congressional Representative with the most gerrymandered district in the US, Jim Jordon), former President Johnson finally offered an extremely belated apology. The Board of Trustees did not add their assent.

The Legal Office that is never bound by the law itself did its unlawful best to stall and have a statute of limitations that did not actually apply expire. They embarrassed the entire university community nationally with their unhinged and irrational Hail-Mary appeal to the US Supreme Court in fall 2022. Even the current court dismissed this without comment.

OSU offered absolutely and comparatively far too small settlements to less than one-half of the certified victims. The university that refuses to grow up remains in the courts, embarrasses itself continually, and refuses to set a positive example for its students, employees, alumni, community, or the nation. The victims have responsible legal representation. They will not allow OSU to escape its obligations.

Despite having a large, accredited law school, OSU’s Legal Office breaks the law regularly. It even regularly refuses legitimate public open records requests that as a public university cannot do lawfully. University spokesmen regurgitate the lies endlessly. 

OSU Legal Services do not assist students, staff, or faculty. The much too small and underfunded Student Legal Services cannot meet its obligations, especially when they are magnified by the failures and corruption of the Offices of Student Life and Campus Security. This is one of many ways in which a 150-year-old public university works against its students. 

As I report often in these pages and nationally and internationally, OSU’s senior administration is characterized by a creed of dishonesty, irresponsibility, and refusal to communicate or cooperate. They are equally defined by lack of qualifications for their often-undefined positions. They are appointed through searches without faculty or staff input through “executive consultants.” Or no search at all. 

What, for example, in the Provost’s Office are “Inclusive Excellence,” “Strategic Enrollment Management,” or “Interprofessional Practice and Education”? There is no “exclusive excellence” or “nonstrategic enrollment management.” There are countless Diversity and Inclusion officers, but none include Equity. There is no DEI for courts, the state, or Congress to disallow. 

I do not know if that lapse is purposeful advance planning by someone’s crystal ball or negligence. But by all accounts the many DIs apparently do not speak with each other. Can’t members of the Board of Trustee’s suggest a better marketing firm for communications?

The most recent president’s constant unknowledgeable out of tune choruses about “land grant mission” and “model land grant university” obscured much more of the past and present of the primarily vocational, racist, and sexist mid-nineteenth-century foundations regularly on lands stolen from Indigenous Peoples. Johnson, Drake, and Gee compete for the most inappropriate, dishonest, and false promotional slogans.

The Ohio State University Press makes matters worse through its anti-historical university chronicles and volumes of self-praise in its Trillium Series. Take for examples, former Vice President of Finance William Shkurti, The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order (2016); Tamar Chute, Time and Change: 150 Years of The Ohio State University (2019 – a year early); and Stephen M. Gavazzi and David J. Staley, eds., Fulfilling the 21st Century Land-Grant Mission: Essay in Honor of The Ohio State University’s Sesquicentennial Commemoration (2020) – that is a 1870 with no defined 21st century mission and honoring a commemoration. The collection of marketing statements does not explain how to do that.

From top to bottom The OSU refuses to know itself. The only way that a semi-professional college football team, a cartoon character Brutus Buckeye mascot, and TBDBITL – along with the former president leading the 65,000 students – is by illegally crossing out all M’s in public in advance of the annual end of season “The Game” with Michigan “That Team Up North” – actively represent and symbolize the university. No one in Ann Arbor, especially the university president, crosses out O’s. I check each November with colleagues and friends.

Nor is it accidental that the coach of the football team is paid $9.5 million per year, ten times that salary of the president. Is it completely surprising that the smaller and quieter University of Cincinnati increasingly passes Ohio State in college rankings (for what they are worth).

Unlike almost all public and private universities built on illegally misappropriated lands, OSU’s presidents and Board have never made a public statement or apology. The tiny Center for Belonging and Social Change – whatever that means – in the Office of Student Life, not President’s or Provost’s Office, made the only public “land acknowledgement.” But even that aspirational comment does not include a direct public apology. In fact, it constitutes a deflection from responsibility.

The exceedingly large institution lacks a learning curve. Students would fail for that absence. 

The administration, which has literally moved off campus, secretly does not learn from faculty, students, or staff, other institutions, or its own history. (See my “After more than 150 years, The Ohio State University administration abandons campus and the landmark Oval, and secretly goes into hiding off-campus,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 23, 2023.)

The channels of communication and genuine exchange – not marketing – are few and inactive, including faculty and university “senates.” There are no ongoing traditions of activism or efforts at organizing within sectors or across them. All parts of the university remain disconnected from each other. Few faculty have intellectual or other relationships outside their primary and occasionally secondary departments and centers. 

This shows especially tragically, even damningly, with the failure of reform for the stake of students and all of the university general education requirements. (See my “US universities should teach a genuinely common core of knowledge,” Times HigherEducation, June 28, 2023) Present arrangements satisfy only the bullying College of Engineering and the one Vice Provost who has obstructed deeply needed curriculum reform for more than three decades. He has promised to retire for more than one of those decades.

Collaterally, from the top down, no one at OSU accepts responsibility for either or both actions and inactions. Presidents and Board continue to refuse both responsibility and excellent opportunities to make a truly educational example by renaming Thompson Library and relocating William Oxley Thompson’s overly large statue to an indoor location with historical interpretation, and nearby Bricker Hall, as students and community groups have long requested. Both were racists and arch-segregationists.

Instead, the Board of Trustees who know even less about the university and the students than president after president raises tuition annually. In 2023, they also reduced staff paid holidays.

Despite faculty senate documented reports and national discussion, the administration adds associate, assistant, and vice presidents and provosts at least monthly. Few have published job descriptions. The Provost announced this year that she has too many vice, associate, and assistant Xs and Ys to meet with all of them. 

But no one on, or now off campus, draws the obvious conclusion. The most recent president informed the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee last fall that contrary to the PPAC’s chartering document and all her predecessors that she had no need to meet with them at least twice a year.

Yet OSU leads the Big Ten (now 18) in ratios of numbers of administrators to faculty (whose numbers are declining) and ratios of average salaries of administrators compared to full-time faculty. Neither appearances nor realities matter to the administrators now in hiding off-campus behind Smashburgers and Chicken Tenders. 

Nor does the most important bottom line: the work does not get done. There is no connected, coordinated uni-versity working to serve the students, the city, state, or nation. It shows dramatically.

Glaringly, at the same time, OSU refuses to follow Columbus State’s example in creating a large new student, faculty, and staff daycare center, and in collaborating with the City of Columbus to meet in part the crisis of students without housing. The Oval – and now the east side of High Street – is silent in response to both campus and larger community calls for respect, cooperation, and collaboration. 

Yet, OSU fools the City of Columbus to approve requests for unneeded tax abatements first for the for-profit Wexner Medical School expansion and then for all but completely fictitious Carmenton (meant to be “Carmen Town” sources tell me) Innovation [sic – that is Imitation] District of one- and one-half buildings. The City’s actions reduce its funds for public schools, health, and safety. OSU annually begins classes days before the city schools to the distress of students, staff, and faculty with children at home.

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.

Update on City and OSU sanctioned illegality and threats to both homeowner and student tenant safety

  1.  On August 16th a major multiple alarm fire in a student rental large house at corner of Iuka and Woodruff. Two raging fires on third floor, 10 students successfully evacuated. Fire chief on site tells me very likely electrical fire. City is no longer inspecting/enforcing. OSU just fine with that. 5 days before classes begin.
  2.  The Cooper brothers continue to support their tenants’ knowing and blatant disobedience of City laws. The students are now actively harassing me and other neighbors. The City endorses this. OSU does not care. We are in discussions with the State AG and a private attorney.
  3.  HomeTeam continues to have visible zoning code violations on almost every property. The garbage at the house beside ours has not been emptied for a month. It is impossible to reach HomeTeam. Even the emergency number never answers. Just fine with the City and OSU. New tenants not warned.
  4.  As mentioned earlier, A&R alternatively LLC or Management places the top-rated landlord OSUproperties before their initials without permission. Their houses on E. Northwood and E. Norwich violate multiple laws. When I attempted to contact them, the woman who answered the telephone refused to identify herself and then hung up on me.
  5.  New to the Hall of Shame is Richard A. Williams (an attorney according to a website) and Joanne Williams (who claims to teach sociology but about which there is no public record). They own 175 E. Frambes, a property badly in need of repair which carries the illegal sign “Domeshire House, Est. 2008.” Among many lies, Ms. Williams claims to have City permission. She cannot produce any evidence. Of course, Est. 2008 cannot receive any historic approval. Her new tenants were not told when and how to deal with trash or recycling.
  6. Neither OSU Campus Security nor its touted but useless Block Watch are told the laws or their responsibilities. I have spoken with a number of both.

Go Columbus! Go Buckeyes! Fail the residents and the students both of whom pay you. 


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.