Alan Geiger talks about his life at Ohio University
July 2, 2007
By Mary Reed
Alan Geiger, assistant to the president and secretary to the board of trustees, retired June 30 from Ohio University after 40 years of service. He sat down with Outlook writer Mary Reed about a week before his last day on the job.
Geiger served under six presidents – Vernon Alden, Claude Sowle, Harry Crewson, Charles Ping, Robert Glidden and Roderick McDavis – and reported directly to the latter three, serving in his current position since 1983. Glidden, who worked hand in hand with Geiger for a decade, shared these sentiments when contacted recently: "Alan was just invaluable in helping me understand the culture of Ohio University. It was clear that Alan's interests were for the benefit of Ohio University and not the president himself. And that's very important. He wanted me to do well because he wanted the university to do well."
How did your career at Ohio University begin?
I got a letter inviting me to come and be the campus planner. Neither Vernon Alden nor I know where that letter originated. It was a $9,500 salary in 1967. And so I came.
How has Ohio University treated you?
This institution has been very loyal to me and I've been very loyal to it. I'm not sure that institutions and people will see that kind of relationship anymore. My signature as board secretary is on more than 116,000 diplomas. I've attended 87 commencement ceremonies.
Forty years. You must have loved your job.
It's been wonderful to be a part of Ohio University. No one person is responsible for what goes on here. Half of the trustees have to be Ohio University alums; we're the only university in the state with that requirement. President McDavis is an alum. It doesn't matter where you are in this world, if you have a tag that says Ohio University on it, someone's gonna tap you on the shoulder and say, "I went there. I had a daughter who went there."
You've reported directly to three presidents. What kind of relationship did you have with them?
The trick is not to say, "We used to do it this way," because they want to do it their way. My relationship with the presidents, the vice presidents and the provosts has been that I don't have an agenda -- I'm there to support them.
Who was your favorite president? Just kidding!
Jacob Lindley (the university's first president). I'm kidding. I don't have a favorite; they're all my favorites, because they have all given me the opportunity to work with them, and I've been flexible enough to take advantage of it.
What are some of the opportunities you've enjoyed?
I've enjoyed unique things. For example, I was able to fly to Americus, Ga., to escort Jimmy Carter when he spoke here. He was amazing; we told stories back and forth.
How has the role of the board of trustees changed through the years?
If you looked at the board meeting minutes 40 years ago, it was two pages typed on onion skin. If you look at my most recent minutes, it's 200 pages. Our current total university budget is $540 million. The fiduciary issues they have to deal with are much more. The demand on the trustees is greater than it's ever been. For example, they have to file ethics statements. Their greatest job is the selection of the president.
What were the university's most profound gains in your time here?
I think we've offered a high-quality educational experience to more and more students because we've grown over time in the number of students. I think the regional campus development has been significant in that it deals with the workplace- or family-bound student who can't get here (to Athens). I think the development of the medical school starting in '74 and '75 is tremendous. I see the widening and commercial development of East State Street as a positive thing.
Looking to the next decade, where do we have the greatest opportunities to advance further?
I would go back to the goals of Vision OHIO where we're talking about enriching the undergraduate experience, where we're talking about doing the same with graduate education and research. We're talking about the economic impact on the region and trying to be sensitive to what goes on here in the region. These would be three of my top goals out of the Vision OHIO goals. If your questions is, am I optimistic about our future, you bet.
What's the craziest thing that's happened during your time at Cutler?
I'm gonna go back to Charlie Ping. He and I were in here one Saturday morning. There was a bang on the door. There was a young couple who wanted to be married. I don't know if the minister wasn't there or what, but Charlie Ping was a minister. He married them, and I witnessed the marriage.
What's next for Alan Geiger?
I don't know. It seems to me that there is an opportunity for me to get comfortable with the rest of my life. I don't know how long that is or what that means. I volunteer for a lot of things. I feel pretty good because several people have offered me jobs. But I don't want a job. I started working in the fourth grade passing newspapers and worked ever since.