The list of qualifications was long. Ohio State Board of Trustees said they wanted a president who has knowledge of a land grant university, someone who can manage complexity and is familiar with the workings of a large medical center. They desired someone who understands academics, diversity and athletics.
Some on the committee wondered if they’d set to the bar too high. But trustee Jeffrey Wadsworth, who led the search, says Michael Drake surpassed the qualifications.
“I have to tell you that not only was he very well-prepared, but he had the most articulate description of the needs of a 21st Century land-grant university that I’ve ever heard,” Wadsworth said. “And things got better from there.”
Coming back home, kind of
Wearing a scarlet-and-grey tie, Drake equated the wait to hear he was selected to the anticipation of a rocket launch or Christmas.
“I just would say, I think, how excited and thrilled and honored we are to be here,” Drake said.
The move to Columbus will be a homecoming of sorts for Drake whose mother was raised in Youngstown.
“Ohio was where her home and family were for her,” Drake said. “And we came to visit as a child, and so coming back has been quite touching and special for me.”
An ophthalmologist, Drake was named the fifth chancellor of U-C Irvine in 2005, where he also was a professor. There he oversaw the creation of a new law school, helped raise more than three-quarters of a billion-dollar fundraising campaign and launched several new health sciences programs.
But Drake says Ohio State could be the “capstone of [his] career” with the greatest challenges.
“I’m at an institution now that has a budget of just over $2 billion a year, that’s a lot, here it’s $5 billion,” Drake said. “We have nearly 30,000 students. Here it’s more than 60,000. The academic medical center here is twice as large. The level of intensity and heft and important and weight of this university are as great as any that exists.”
In the coming months, Drake says he will hone in on the university’s greatest needs and where his support is needed most. He touched on sustainability, health sciences and college affordability.
“Particularly for our increasingly diverse population,” Drake said. “We want to make that sure the talent and potential of everyone is fulfilled. And anything that we can do to make that easier particularly for those who have challenges is something that I think the benefit accrues to the society broadly.”
Drake, who is 63 and will be Ohio State’s first African-American president, doesn’t come to Columbus alone. He and his wife, Brenda, a lawyer, are described as a “power couple” known for interacting with students.
“A couple times of year collect a group of students, who are average students, who don’t have anything that allows them to stand out in any particular way except being a part of the community, and then have them for dinner,” Drake said. “And then, Brenda has also hosted for several years recitals with student performers playing for different members of the staff on the campus.”
Drake was unknown to many at Ohio State. But after attending the board’s announcement, faculty and staff expressed excitement for the Drakes’ arrival.
OSU Associate Provost Stephen Myers says he is eager to see how they’ll help continue OSU’s momentum.
“The both of them understand developing a vision, putting together the plan and doing the hard work,” Myers said. “And so I think it’s just incredible.
And Kim Shumate, who works in Ohio State’s human resources department, says she gets the impression Drake intends to interact with the students and faculty.
“I think he’s going to be a very engaged, hands-on person that people will very quickly come to love,” Shumate said.
The details of Drake’s contract, like salary and length of term, are still being negotiated, but he said,
“I will stay as long as I’m loved and we’re having a great time. And I hope that that’s a long, long time.”
His first day on the job is set for June 30.