Harvey J Graff

Part Two

Student Life versus student lives?

Provost/OAA is not the worse example on campus. That ignoble prize goes to the Office of Student Life or SL. This model for disorganization and dysfunction is headed by a Vice President, who according to the one dimensional organizational chart on its dizzying uninformative website, sits above 10 Associate Vice Presidents and a “leadership team.”

Their titles constitute a glossary of slogans without explicit or informative job descriptions. They telegraph the performance of the much too large, unmanageable, and unaccountable organization within an organization. They reek of disorganization, dysfunction, and disconnection within the department itself and with the rest of OSU, especially with its academic “mission.” It is far too costly and wasteful. It has amazingly little to do with the daily or longer-term lives of students on- or off-campus. That large area, students themselves readily testify, literally cries out for support and constructive social and intellectual action. It also cries out for reconnection with the academic dimensions from which its parted company several decades ago. Students are lost in a dark age for growing up. They long for adult and peer supports and regular communications.

The “leadership team”—like the football coaches—begins with the Associate VPs: Health and Well-Being; Dean of Students/Student Engagement and Support; Human Resources Business Partner; Belonging and Inclusion; “the Residential Experience”; Academic Partnership and Career Success; Student Life; Senior Director of Development; and Chief of Staff; Administration and Finance. Like OAA, a university within a university, but disconnected, undisciplined, and undefined. The sheer duplication and lack of communication defies description, and imagination.

The Associate VPs are only part of the overflowing cast of characters. They are joined by a Leadership Council: directors of Dining Services, Student Philanthropy, BuckID, Student Health Insurance, Willie J. Young Jr. Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement (OCCSE), Marketing Operations, Student Activities and Orientation, Operations, STEP Program, Facility Planning and Design, Student Health Services, Housing, Communication and Media Relations, Buckeye Leadership Fellows Program, Facility Services, Technology Services, Recreational Sports, Parent and Family Relations, Student Wellness Center, Sorority and Fraternity Life, Conference and Business Development, Student Advocacy Center, Ohio Union Operations and Events, Energy Management and Sustainability, Risk and Emergency Management, Counselling and Consultation Service, Student Conduct, Residence Life, Career Services and Employer Relations, Disability Services, and Student Life Multicultural Center.

There is a Director, Center for the Study of Student Life, apparently unknowledgeable about the Office of Student Life, let alone the lives of actual students. This roster stretches beyond the breaking point. The size, duplication and waste, inability to manage, and lack of coordination and communication are unbelievable and unacceptable. The majority of students, living off-campus, are served only with silly slogans, not the civic and other information they need and want. They are not even provided with accurate information about private landlords.

Separation rather than integration across the vast campus

It all shows on the ground. OSU has the greatest disconnection between separate non-faculty student academic advising and faculty roles of any major university. That shows daily in the life of students. I often speak to seniors who have never seen an advisor let alone spoken with a professor outside of a classroom if even that. The Associate Vice President for “the Residential Experience” is responsible for residence halls in which all undergraduates are required to live for two years to swell OSU budgets, dining halls, and the majority of students who live off-campus, an impossible set of tasks. Residence advisors are now other undergraduates, only one or two years older than their charges, no longer the long traditional graduate students. Other Associate VPs and Directors have no discernible sphere of operations.

At the same time, hazing, harassment, and rape—in addition to sexual harassment and exposure--especially in fraternities but also in first- and second-year dormitories proceed unacknowledged. There is an unadmitted, quasi-legal exodus from the required second year in OSU dormitories to unsupervised rental housing.

No one in any OSU office takes responsibility for “student lives.” In their place are more slogans like “the exceptional student experience” and “home to more than 60,000 students from 110 countries” (a false statement) as the erroneous, inappropriate slogans placed without permission on private lawn in the historically-abandoned University District shout out. “Ask Brutus (the sports teams’ cartoonish mascot)” gets no answers to student questions, nor does listening to “Carmen, Ohio,” the university’s theme song.

No one knows what “student engagement,” “belonging and inclusion,” “student philanthropy,” “marketing operations,” “parents and family relations,” “conference and business development,” Center for the Study of Student Life, and so on do, if anything. Searching on their websites leads to more slogans accompanied by conspicuously empty spaces. Is this a welfare operation—“university socialism”--that would shock the right-wing Republican-dominated state legislature and Board of Trustees? Student Life has little to do with the lives of 65,000 students who are in need of advice, guidance, and instruction. Students repeatedly confirm that.

Despite almost two decades of promises to so, Student Life does not provide students with the basic information that they desire on relevant laws and zoning codes, civic responsibilities and obligations, living in a residential neighborhood, and expectations for their own actions. This is an insult to the fee-paying students and their older, home-owning neighbors.

Especially absent is the all-important nexus between academics and socialization for maturity and satisfying, engaged, and productive—in all senses—lives of learning and contributing responsibly now and later. That is a damning omission. The students with whom I have spoken since 2004 want that. A very bright graduating senior with a triple major and training a guide dog told me “you know, we’re still young, and we need help.” That is a common sentiment that no one in Student Life hears or responds.

Campus unsafety

Accompanying but not actually supporting Student Life is the too small, uninformed, and uncoordinated Office of Campus Safety. Its director is unable to answer questions. For years, this office sent out Safety Alerts four to twelve hours after crimes are reported, stating falsely and misleadingly that “the victim is never responsible for the crime.” That is dangerously untrue and misleading to late adolescents and early adults.

Some murders across the street from campus and other episodes of vandalism are never announced. In fact, Campus Safety has stopped off-campus alerts entirely. They are unable to fulfill that function. They refer instead to a LexisNexis database that dramatically underreports all offenses, and allows OSU to pretend dishonestly that crime is falling. Warnings about hundreds of car break-ins and thefts contradict the daily “crime maps.”

The Office refuses to answer questions. When they speak to the media, they do not report accurately or honestly.

There are too few campus police, aka security officers. They are uncoordinated and give false information about students, the off-campus area, and crime. So too are the Columbus Police. No one is in charge of the President’s sloganeering Buckeye Block Watch. It has no direction, is not instructed to report major sources of violations like noise and trash, and only patrols part of the University District part-time as if crime takes place on its schedule. After a great deal of fuss, it has disappeared.

Nor can anyone in Campus Safety, Student Life, or the Office of the President explain President Johnson sloganeering but not substance-based commitment of an insufficient $2 million per year for ten years for campus safety without plans, funding sources, budget, or timetable, nearly a year after its hurried debut as a rhetorical response to a small but exaggerated increase in reported offenses.

Or the harmful physical slogan-symbol of a small number of portable lamp posts in the University District. The President, VP of Student Life, Director of Campus Security, and University Marketing and Communications together join in claiming publicly and falsely that the portables are directly responsible for a non-existent huge decline in crime. There is no evidence of any such effect. There is much more evidence of their harmfulness from blinding drivers to shining into windows of homes and sitting remarkably close to pre-existing lighting.

The Ph.D. in Engineering president bases her untenable and misleading statements by repeating conflicting “conclusions” of 40 to 60 to 80% percent declines (depending on which day of the week she is speaking) based on single digits. This is an elementary school arithmetic error, but OSU’s trademark form of dishonesty in communications. CPD officers, OSU campus police, and other OSU administrators all concur with my reading of the data.

Everyone agrees except OSU’s ordered and paid-for “report” by unqualified SRMC consultants. In their unprofessionally conducted “Off-Campus Safety Assessment & Recommendations” of January 2022 but not released until February, with no new data, they wholeheartedly praise OSU, add no information, misread OSU’s own reporting, and offer a handful of weak recommendations.

Instead of actively promoting safety, and researching, planning, and funding it, OSU posts brief do-it-yourself self-defense videos on university websites and touts telephone call boxes. Their uselessness to young people when robbed, assaulted, or confronted with a gun or a gang is never admitted.

Students know this. The President’s Office and Campus Safety do not. These slogan-based “home remedies” are no more useful than Student Life slogans about staying safe, not drinking, or not driving drunk posted on yard signs placed on private property without permission, and routinely thrown around yards and streets by drunken students.

Off-campus student lives

Almost all parts of the university refuse to respond to the illegal actions of the largest landlords and property managers of student rentals in the University District. Michael Stickney of NorthSteppe Reality, lowest-rated and most often sued by former tenants, has donated at least $5 million to OSU. He appears on the OSU website stating that he is “OSU Student Housing.” He is not. Nor does NorthSteppe Reality cooperate willingly or fully with either the City of Columbus or OSU Student Life. But the senior administration blocks efforts to remove their false claims. Other landlords and property managers falsely represent themselves as OSU student housing.;; and have no recognition or relationship to the University. Why it permits the use of its name (when it goes to court to protect its rights to use “The”) makes no sense. The university does nothing in response to inform students and their parents, or protect either its own interests or its students’ wellbeing.

Despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, OSU has never seriously taken responsibility for its adjacent University District, on which it has long depended for faculty, staff, and now especially student housing. Always a mixed historic neighborhood, rich in architecture and landscape, it shifted in recent decades primarily to students renting from profit-seeking large corporate landlords. These landlords exist only because of the City’s all but automatic granting of variances from zoning laws in a residentially-zoned neighborhood. This transformation contributed directly to an unstable mix of a diminishing number of owner-occupied historic homes and student boarders and renters in large landlord/property manager units.

Along with the City of Columbus’ failure to enforce its own zoning laws, OSU is responsible for the large-scale decline of the University District, including its physical and human attributes over three to four decades. If units like OSU’s Campus Partners for Urban Community Development, Off-Campus Student Life, or Campus Safety had ever focused on the University District, its decline might have been mitigated if not completely halted.

Instead, both OSU administrators and its “non-profit private real estate development arm” overpaid to purchase properties along High Street, held them unprofitably for years, and then sold them at significant financial losses to large developers. Those developers then actively damaged the landscape and life of the University community by walling off “the campus in the city” from the city by overbuilding large office and apartment buildings. Destroying long-time student, faculty, and staff haunts, the too-high, architecturally undistinguished blocks often sit vacant (when not subsidized by OSU’s renting space for its own offices), while competing with OSU’s own residence halls across the street. None of this makes economic or common sense.

OSU never came to terms with its encirclement by a growing city. It has never been an urban university. It conducts itself as if it remains an almost rural agricultural, mining, and manufacturing 1870s “land-grant” university without truly updated “mission,” occupying Indigenous Peoples’ land well into the 21st century. Only in this context do the President’s and Provost’s rhetoric make sense.

OSU recently announced “Framework 3.0” of its “community development program.” But it never detailed, developed, or reported publically on its invisible and unlabeled Frameworks 1.0 and 2.0.

Campus Partners failed at all points to promote university cooperation and responsibility for gown-town relationships in the University District. Its unpublicized tiny (in absolute terms and in comparison to other universities) short-term mortgage assistance for faculty or staff is inadequate. Those who manage it are unaware of the actual boundaries of the University District.

With less than a handful of exceptions, it has refused to purchase houses on the market for either resale to OSU-affiliated persons or, at least as importantly, purchase suitable dwellings for use as theme or honors houses which student, faculty, and some Student Life administrators desire. Both are increasingly common, popular, and successful at other universities. Yet OSU adds more Vice Provosts for Engagement who do not engage with the immediate community.

University mis- and non-Communications & Marketing, and ilLegal Affairs

Topping off the “5½ D’s” of Disorganization, Dysfunction, Disengagement, Depression unDisciplined, and Dishonesty are the purposely small University (Marketing and ) Communication and Office of Legal Affairs. Communications is notorious among the media for its unwillingness to answer almost any questions. When spokesperson Ben Johnson does, the answers range from insufficient to false. Despite its legal and ethical status as a public university, OSU recognizes no obligation to provide public information. Nor does the university respond to formal, legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests, notwithstanding its legal requirements to do so.

The too-small-to-serve usefully Office of Legal Affairs dances with Communications in a choreography of extra-legal proceedings. Legal Affairs counsels not faculty, staff, or students but senior administrators and Communications. Thus, OSU refused to respond to the sexual abuse victims of athletic team Dr. Richard Strauss for almost two decades. This insured that the legal statute of limitations on victims’ claims expired. The limited settlements that OSU offered to barely one-half of the certified victims are paltry in comparison to those much more quickly offered to victims at Penn State, University of Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA, USC, and other major universities. Only in late 2021 did President Johnson “apologize” (whatever that means), but neither Drake nor the Board of Trustees did even that much.

Similarly, OSU refuses to respond to the heirs of the Moritz family who endowed the School of Law and who document OSU’s breaches of contractual agreements. It does not deal openly or honestly on fiscal matters or its incomplete, tardy probes of faculty and others’ misconduct. In this too, it compares poorly with other major institutions.

As I begin to outline this essay, another “Dear Buckeyes” missive arrives from Johnson (Feb. 17, 2022). Under the heading Celebrating #BuckeyeLove, she begins, “As members of the Ohio State family, we are all part of a vast, vibrant caring community. Buckeyes support and inspire each other. . . .”

This massaged message is an effort by University Marketing to sell “Buckeye Love… during an affinity campaign in the beginning of February…. University Marketing collaborated closely with partners across the entire system to create a unified, engaging experience for various audiences—resulting in an impressive return of user-generated content that expressed affinity for The Ohio State University.” Nothing in the 12 pages online makes sense. There are no concrete examples. The marketers do not provide a thesaurus or footnotes. I have no idea what they mean. Do they? Their disconnection from university life is near total.

Questions never asked or answered

To Kristina Johnson: on a daily basis, the conduct of The Ohio State University contradicts your slogans. To whom are you writing? Not to your faculty, students, or staff, or Ohio tax-payers. You refuse to acknowledge their communications to you. To meet with you, a student must complete a questionnaire and submit an essay. But no student is called back. You refuse to meet or even speak in public with brave, articulate, knowledegeable student environmental activists. You seldom attend your own much- touted class, which is outside of your field of expertise. It is self-taught by juniors and seniors working in project groups.

But if you read, and acknowledged messages from your faculty, you might have a clearer idea…. Can an immature institution develop a learning curve?

References by Harvey J. Graff

Throwing the Baby Out With the Interdisciplinarity Bath Water,” letter to the editor, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 12, 2014 

Early-college programs lack many benefits of the real thing,” Commentary, with Steve Rissing, Columbus Dispatch, June 7, 2015 

An Education in Sloganeering,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2015 

How misguided university policies are harming the humanities, arts and sciences,” Inside Higher Education, December, 18, 2015 

The decline of a once vital neighborhood: Columbus’ University District,” Columbus Free Press. Sept 14, 2021 

For Ohio State, bigger is not better,” Columbus Free Press , Sept. 16, 2021 

Columbus’ University District: Students and the institutions that fail them,” Columbus Free Press, Oct. 8, 2021 

OSU isn’t having a crime crisis; it’s having a leadership crisis,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov 2, 2021 

Update’ to Ohio State isn’t having a crime crisis,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 13, 2021 

The Ohio State University promotes public health crises,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec. 6, 2021 

The Banality of University Slogans,” Washington Monthly, Jan. 10, 2021 

Slogans are no substitute for concrete university policies and programmes,” Times Higher Education, Jan. 17, 2022 

Sloganeering and the Limits of Leadership,” Academe Blog, Jan. 19, 2022 

Academic collegiality is a contradictory self-serving myth,” Times Higher Education, Feb. 10. 2022 

OSU Falters Once Again, a continuing tragedy,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Feb. 28, 2022 

Ohio State versus ‘campus safety,’” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 13, 2022 

Should colleges make anti-racism part of their mission?” Chronicle of Higher Education, Mar. 22, 2022 

Ignore the books: there is no single Big Problem with higher education,” Times Higher Education, Apr. 2, 2022 

“Columbus, Ohio State University, and major developers destroyed a historic neighborhood,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press,  Part One, Apr. 26, 2022; Part Two, April 29, 2022; “A continuity legacy,” May 2, 2022  

Universities are not giving students the classes or support they need,” Times Higher Education, May 17, 2022

How Young People Have Changed,” Inside Higher Education, Aug. 4, 2022 

Recreating universities for the 21st century without repeating the errors and myths of the 20th century? Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 7, 2022  

“Disconnecting Gown and Town: Campus Partners for Urban Community Development, Ohio State University,” forthcoming.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history. Palgrave Macmillan published his Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies in August. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian is forthcoming. His essays appear in Inside Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Washington Monthly, Academe, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current, and other outlets. His specialties include the history and present condition of literacy and education including higher education, children and families, cities, interdisciplinarity, and contemporary politics, culture, and society.