Ohio State names California educator as first Black president

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State University trustees picked a California educator as the school’s next president Thursday, ending a search that began with the former president’s retirement following remarks critical of Roman Catholics and Southeastern Conference schools.

Trustees voted unanimously in favor of University of California, Irvine chancellor Michael Drake to become the 15th president of Ohio State.

“Dr. Drake was the strongest and the consensus candidate,” said Jeffrey Wadsworth, an Ohio State University trustee who led the search.

Drake, 63, is an ophthalmology professor who also is a published textbook author. In 2005 he was named the fifth chancellor of UC Irvine, where he also served as a professor.

Drake, who will be Ohio State’s first Black president, begins June 30. His salary is still being negotiated. Former president Gordon Gee was one of the country’s highest paid presidents with total compensation of almost $2 million.

Drake said he was humbled by the opportunity and looking forward to working at Ohio State. He said the university is “in many ways the premier position in higher education in the United States today.”

“The trajectory of Ohio State and the power of Ohio State are admired and understood throughout the world of higher education,” Drake said. He said the university is one of only a few with “the heft, the power and the capacity” to serve not just the state but the country and world.

Ohio State University board trustee Jeffery Wadsworth, right, presents Brenda Drake, second from right, with flowers as her husband Dr. Michael Drake, third from right, looks on with board chair Robert Schottenstein, left, and interim university president Joseph Alutto after Dr. Drake was voted in as the incoming president of the university during a board meeting at the university Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Ohio State University board trustee Jeffery Wadsworth, right, presents Brenda Drake, second from right, with flowers as her husband Dr. Michael Drake, third from right, looks on with board chair Robert Schottenstein, left, and interim university president Joseph Alutto after Dr. Drake was voted in as the incoming president of the university during a board meeting at the university Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Under his tenure, undergraduate applications at Irvine increased more than 90 percent and the four-year graduation rate rose by nearly 20 percent. In 2006, Drake oversaw the creation of the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years. He also launched new programs in public health, pharmaceutical sciences and nursing science tailored to meet the community’s hiring needs.

Before the chancellor’s job, Drake worked for five years as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system, where he oversaw academic program policy at UC’s 15 health sciences schools. Prior to that, he was on the faculty of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine for more than two decades. He also serves on the NCAA board of directors.

Drake received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and his medical degree from UC San Francisco. He and his wife, Brenda, have two adult sons and two grandchildren. Drake’s mother grew up in Youngstown where she graduated from high school, and Drake said he felt a sense of completing a circle by coming to Ohio for the president’s job.

At Ohio State, Drake will lead one of the nation’s largest public universities, one with a national profile in both academics and sports. The search committee had said that it was looking for someone with a record of significant fundraising and that an understanding of an academic medical center and top NCAA athletic programs would be desirable.

The presidential search was on track to cost more than $300,000. About a third of that is expenses for a one-day forum on the state of the college presidency. More than $200,000 was being paid to a head-hunting firm.

In addition to its undergraduate academic programs, medical school and hospital, and high-profile sports teams, Ohio State also has professional schools for business, law and pharmacy, among many others.

Gee retired from Ohio State last year following remarks about “those damn Catholics” at Notre Dame being the reason the school was never invited to join the Big Ten athletic conference. He also took shots at Southeastern Conference schools.

Gee, now the interim president at West Virginia University, had called his remarks “a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate.”

In a statement Thursday, Gee called Drake “a world-class academic and an exceptionally able and seasoned higher education leader.”

Drake said he had known Gee for years and expected to work with him as a colleague.

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