The Board of Trustees who have no understanding of higher education selects the most unqualified campus president in modern American university history
Walter "Ted" Carter, Jr.

I am both stunned and unsurprised with the August 22 2:00 pm announcement of the selection of retired Vice Admiral Walter “Ted” Carter as OSU’s 17th president. For context: days before the first football game kick-off, OSU has no starting quarterback. The Athletic Director Gene Smith is retiring.

The same Boar of Trustees (BOT) recognized no need to appoint an acting president from the time of ordered-to-resign former president Kristina Johnson’s departure on May 7 until the first day of fall classes. Their ability to read a resume obviously challenged, the BOT’s five-person search committee with no actual or direct faculty, student, staff, or community involvement chose a former ice hockey player not a football player. This is The Ohio State University not Toronto or McGill. Is the BOT confused, or is this the closest they could come? Kristina Johnson played field hockey in college.

So, the selection of an unqualified president is hardly surprising. This expresses the Board’s conception of a university for the 21st century. It is not the faculty’s, students’, or educated residents’ of Ohio or the nation’s. In ways I will elaborate, the choice of Carter, a Caucasian male married to one woman for more than 40 years with two children, is a selection for the Ohio State Legislature not the educational “mission” of Ohio’s land grant institution. Of that, there is no doubt.

Uniquely in both OSU’s modern history and across American colleges and universities, Ted Carter has only a first degree, a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. This is a training school for naval and naval aviator officers, a vocational school, not an academic institution. Carter has no graduate or professional degrees. He has never taught at the university level. He has no publications. Despite local media repetition, he does not have “more than 40 years of experience in higher education.”

Regardless of other matters, all of Carter’s predecessors for the better part of a century held terminal degrees in academic or professional fields, from scholarship to law, medicine, or business. None list “Top Gun” analogizing his aviator experience to the film, nor call themselves “Slapshot,” as in hockey high among accomplishments.

Interestingly, Walter E. Carter, Jr.’s Wikipedia entry listed him as Ohio State president at the time of the BOT’s announcement. That is what counts for Ted Carter. That entry, obviously under his own control, is almost completely filled with his military service, awards, and decorations. The present President of the University of Nebraska System (not CEO of the main campus in Lincoln as the Columbus Dispatch, WOSU, and other local and even national media erroneously report) and incoming OSU president lists almost nothing related to higher education including his time as superintendent of the Naval Academy and president of the Naval War College. Neither is comparable nor directly relevant preparation for leading a public multi- or mega-university that is by itself larger than the entire University of Nebraska System and enormously larger than the Naval Academy or War College.

Thus, Carter is not academically or experientially prepared. He has never led an academic university, let alone one of the largest in the United States. Annapolis has fewer than 2,000 full-time students.

The Board repeats the same errors that it ignorantly committed with its hiring of Carter’s predecessor, the shortest presidency in OSU’s 153 years. Kristina Johnson never supervised a university. Following less than two years in the Provost’s Office at private Johns Hopkins University, she served as head of the State of New York higher education system for less than two years.

Carter has been head of the University of Nebraska state system of only four campuses including a medical school, for three years. Nebraska, a member of the former Big Ten (then 12)—now 18—only compares to Ohio State when the Cornhuskers take on the Buckeyes on the football field. OSU’s BOT lunges backward.

Comments by the chair of the Board of Trustees make it clear that the BOT does not understand academic presidential or leadership searches. Both Johnson and Carter were identified by “executive search firms,” although Johnson’s proposer was not a specialist in university leaders. Southern California-based Education Executives search proposed Carter in return for 100s of 1000s of dollars in fees. Major university presidential searches typically look at 200-350 or more candidates including both direct applicants, and others proposed or otherwise identified. 

In contrast, BOT chair Hiroyuki Fujita reported that the search firm identified 50 and that 100 others were “nominated through the university.” Fujita deemed this “exhaustive” and consuming. Comparatively, that is untrue and naïve. Moreover, the circumstances of Johnson’s removal and the BOT’s decision not to appoint an interim president brought both local and national condemnation and embarrassment to OSU. It undoubtedly reduced the number of interested potential candidates.

Members of the university community played no more than limited symbolic or decorative roles. The five member BOT search committee was draped lightly by two advisory committees, one composed entirely of trustees, the other of faculty and primarily administrators. University members were asked to contribute to creating a decorative but nonsubstantive “profile” for a hypothetical new president. That was less than window-dressing. Three “forums” with some members of the search committee attracted minimal participation—for obvious reasons. None of that matters to the BOT. No one on campus counts in their eyes.

Revealingly, Fujita’s overflowing praise included nothing about academic or higher educational institutional leadership, or university-related specific accomplishments: “President Carter brings an unparalleled combination of strategic leadership and true service…. We were absolutely determined to find the next great leader for Ohio State in today’s highly complex and competitive higher-education environment. With input from our university community and the highest recommendations from those who have worked with President Carter during his extraordinary career, I believe we have done just that.” No, the facts underscore the opposite.

For his part, nothing in Carter’s acceptance speech showed any familiarity with OSU or Ohio. Along with his brief Q & A with local media, it was completely generic and boilerplate. “I am immensely grateful for this opportunity to serve as president of Ohio State, an institution founded upon and well known across the globe for research, teaching and an enduring commitment to service. The work being done across Ohio and beyond to shape the future of research and innovation, workforce development, the arts, health care, college affordability and college athletics is remarkable. There are areas of particular passion for me, and I can’t wait to begin my journey as a Buckeye.” Carter’s “one on one” interview with Columbus Dispatch reporter (who is not the higher education reporter) confirms all my interpretations. See the inaccurately titled “New Ohio State president Q&A: He almost didn’t take the job, Intel, the Wexners and more,” Aug. 24, 2023)

Carter’s signature “Nebraska Promise” program to support low-income students, as far as I can tell, mirrors Kristina Johnson’s completely slogan-based “Scarlet and Gray Advantage Plan” to promote debt-free graduation without reducing any costs. That is both a logical and a financial impossibility and has already been forgotten.

Neither Carter nor his handlers mentioned a single specific example or concrete goal. Ohio State constitutes “an unparalleled opportunity.” But of what and for what? Carter does not say; he does not know. Neither does the Board of Trustees. That shows daily across the disorganized, mismanaged huge university whose places of excellence remain disconnected and its students unserved.

Carter continued, equally unfamiliarly and generically: he will make OSU “the best it can possibly be—an institution that stays true to its missions of access and academic excellence, that puts the success and well-being of students first, that celebrates the rich diversity that makes us great, and that works every day to demonstrate accountability to those who entrust us with their precious resources.” With due respect, this rings of TV advertisements, not presidential introductions.

Unfortunately, Carter’s cornhusker rhetoric does not describe The Ohio State University past, present, or highly probable future, especially in the face of SB83, the Salmon P. Chase (Anti)Diversity Center, and declining state funding and enrollments. His responses to local media at the press conference following his introduction and appointment reveal him to be surprisingly ill informed about both OSU problems such as the ongoing Dr. Richard Strauss scandal and cover-up and even more the Ohio State Legislature’s continuing assault on public higher education. He has not been apprised of State Senator Cirino’s SB83, a massive unconstitutional assault on higher education as we have known it.

Carter is also intellectually challenged. He proclaimed his commitment to what he calls “ethics,” but immediately contradicts himself. The Columbus Dispatch reports him stating “‘Fundamentally, ethics is about choice,’ Carter wrote in 2015 about the Navy, ‘The decisions to adhere to core values, adopt prescribed morals, and act in accordance with ethical standards all revolve around personal choice.’” (Dean Narciso, “Next OSU president a decorated Navy pilot dedicated to service; also a hockey fan,” Aug. 22, 2023)

No, Vice-Admiral, “choice” and “prescribed” conflict each other directly. Carter is much clearer about hockey than ethics, choice, or university goals and leadership.

This is very worrisome in a public university president in a “red state” in 2023 and 2024. Did not the five-man hiring committee or Educational Executive Search inform him?

Carter added, either anachronistically or insensitively—or both--in the 21st century “I love students, they’re the whole reason we exist …. What our students will find is that I will engage.” Obviously, no one told him that his immediate predecessors Johnson and Michael Drake were loath to speak to any students. Nor, apparently, does the incoming president know that the administration, including his office suite, has moved secretly off campus and away from the traditional campus-centered Bricker Hall. Will President Carter be surprised? (Max Filby, “Ohio State names Walter ‘Ted’ Carter Jr. from University of Nebraska as new president,” Columbus Dispatch, Aug. 22, 2023)

Carter assumes presidency of “Any University, USA” and commences his “journey as a Buckeye.” In comparison, his predecessor transitioned to “Born to be a Buckeye” when she discovered a grandfather who attended OSU in the 1890s and sat on the football team bench. Carter is still journeying…. for now, he remains Top Gun and Slapshot, however contradictory that pairing may be.

Fujita, OSU Marketing and Communications, and Carter himself repeatedly emphasize “service,” not leadership. Carter presents himself as a career-long soldier; he is committed to service, not leadership. He is not an academic or experienced campus leader.

Predictably, those who the Columbus Dispatch call “community leaders” and “stakeholders”—who do not include faculty, staff, or taxpayers—immediately state that “they’re excited to work with Walter ‘Ted’ Carter.” Former congressmen and now head of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Steve Stivers “believes the selection of Carter, a former Navy fighter pilot, superintendent of the US Naval Academy and vice admiral will ‘pay dividends.’ . . . He’s a leader who knows how to lead….” Okay. (Cole Behrens, “What community leaders, officials are saying about new OSU President Ted Carter,” Aug. 2, 2023)

The small number of current students that the local USA Today affiliate, having no press release to paraphrase, bothered to interview had a very different response. More informed than the BOT or “stakeholders,” their views will surprise the incoming Top Gun. Rithvik Kilaparthi, a computer science engineering junior “want[s] a president who kind of makes a change for a lot of the students at OSU, rather than just trying to see what’s in the public light. He “and others said they’ve noticed Ohio State pouring more money into things like football that might affect what other schools think about OSU. In the future, he said he wants a heavier emphasis on ‘what’s more personal for the students and staff’ from increasing faculty pay to improving dorms and dining areas.”

Graduate student Niharika Patel expanded. She thinks that as a public university, “Ohio State has a duty to respond more directly to public interests put forth by the community…. ‘I feel like the university is becoming more and more of a private institution, and tuition is going up. More public funds should be in a public state university like Ohio State ….”

Senior journalism major Angel Godfrey specified: “the incoming president needs to ‘prioritize more community and union on campus’ ….” Sophomore Mikaylee Horton elaborated, ‘With all the stuff going on with diversity and including different things in the curriculum, I’d like to see I guess a push for making sure that those are protected, like Black studies and including the LGBTQ (community) in the curriculum as well.” (Sheridan Hendrix and Lily Carter, “OSU students: Incoming president Carter should prioritize diversity, public interest,” Aug. 22, 2023) None of this is in the rhetoric or agenda of the BOT or Carter.

Inexplicably, after 3 ½ months with no interim president, the Board suddenly named Medical Center professor Peter Mohler as acting president until Carter takes office on Jan. 1, 2024. This is a surprising, unprecedented action. Less than one week earlier, the BOT named Mohler to be Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Knowledge, a new mélange of mixed parts and endless new highly paid vice, assistant, and associate ___ administrators.

Until very recently, this was simply Vice President for Research. Adding “Innovation and Knowledge” only takes more space on the page and printer ink. (It also begs the question of who will be appointed Vice President for Ignorance. Sources reveal an intense competition among highly qualified candidates).

The selection of Mohler surprises in other ways. Provosts are almost universally named acting or interim presidents. In theory and in written job descriptions, they are supposedly most knowledgeable about the university as a whole—not a one-week-only appointee from the Medical Center. OSU’s last acting president, while OSU awaited Gordon Gee’s second coming, was Joe Alutto, provost, and former dean and professor in the Fisher College of Business.

Mohler’s position at Ohio State is highly unusual. His rise in the organizational chart is no less than meteoric in one decade of employment in the College of Medicine. Wearing  multiple hats and occupying multiple offices ensures conflicts of interests and responsibilities. Hired in the College of Medicine as Director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute (2011-2021), Mohler added Department Chair of Physiology and Cell Biology (2014-2019), Associate Dean then Senior Associate Dean for Research (2012-2019), Vice Dean for Research (2017-present), and finally Chief Scientific Officer (2019-present) under the Chancellor and Executive VP of Health Affairs at OSU.  The latter promotion coincided with the Covid pandemic. Mohler appears to be largely credited with developing infection diagnostics. But they were in fact established by other, more qualified colleagues. Mohler most likely identified space in a building.Mohler’s numerous leadership hats place him in oversight of himself on multiple occasions within the College . He was plucked from his new position as Chief Scientific Officer into the newly expanded and renamed Office of Research, Innovation, and Knowledge in 2021. He then took over its leadership as interim in 2022, and was appointed to full leadership at the mid-August BOT meeting, less than one week before ascending to interim president. 

Apparently a favorite of powerful OSU Trustee Les Wexner (who has not yet donated the entire promised $100 million for naming rights of the now Wexner Medical Center—and who is turning the center into a “cash cow” to the distress of physicians), Mohler has no record of university-wide activity or knowledge. Incomprehensibly, while serving as the newest VP on North High Street across from the campus, he continues as Chief Scientific Officer of the medical center. That appointment is also controversial.

Knowledgeable College of Medicine researchers view Mohler skeptically and even more critically after he flubbed the design of a new, very expensive Interdisciplinary Research Building (among other things). It  can only be used by a small set of medical researchers because it lacks fundamental research infrastructure.

He appeared to stack a committee designed to investigate alleged scientific fraud by an international research star. This incident is particularly surprising since Mohler himself was party to a research publication’s retraction for scientific fraud in 2006. He is also facing suit for violating legal protection under the law rights. These facts escaped both OSU and BOT due diligence.

In addition to Mohler, the College of  Medicine retains at least two other leaders who are entangled in scientific fraud that occurred as recently as 2022. Most reputable institutions immediately disqualify faculty from leadership roles when academic misconduct is revealed or even alleged. The president of Stanford University was recently removed for just this reason.

Apparently, College leadership and the BOT accept this behavior. How Mohler can serve as “chief scientific officer,” let alone Acting President is incomprehensible. But this is the OSU Way.

These facts, once again, contradict BOT chair Fujita’s pablum, “Dr. Mohler is a trusted and proven member of the university’s leadership team,” after less than one week as Vice President. “We are grateful that he has agreed to serve in the role of acting president. He will provide vital continuity this semester and a seamless transition in the new year.” Dr. Fujita: Specifically, what “continuity” and “seamless” is that?


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.