By Monica Chapman
For Tom Davis, professor of counselor education, Cutler Hall feels a lot like home. Built in the old federal style of the early 1800s, Davis' new office on campus bears an uncanny resemblance to his actual residence, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But the familiarity of Cutler Hall also is testament to Davis' deep roots at Ohio University -- as an alumnus, professor and now secretary to the Board of Trustees.
The trustees appointed the 23-year College of Education faculty member interim board secretary last spring after the retirement of Alan Geiger. Recently, the Board of Trustees named him to the position on a permanent basis. He assumes these duties in addition to his work in counselor education. He recently sat down to discuss his new role at the university.
Your predecessor, Alan Geiger, is a bit of a legend at the university, having served under six presidents during a span of 40 years. How does it feel to be stepping into his shoes?
I step into this pretty humbly, respecting the fact that there has to be a lot that I don't know. I will tell you that (Alan) is wonderful. He's certainly willing to let me call him and ask him questions. We didn't have a great deal of time in transition. But because I've known him for so long, he's very approachable and more than willing to offer direction or advice.
I understand that this position has changed a bit since Alan Geiger's days. Can you explain?
It's been redefined. Before I took it, it was a split appointment between secretary to the board and chief of staff to the president. That's what Alan Geiger did. It was reformulated so that now, my only reporting is to the Board of Trustees and the chair of the board. I don't report to the president, although obviously, it's important that we work closely together.
How did the opportunity to be interim board secretary come about?
The president called me and asked me if I'd be interested. It's as simple as that. I've been here in the College of Education since 1985. I've held just about every administrative role in this college. I've been an assistant and associate professor and a professor. I've been a program coordinator, a department chair, an associate dean, and I was the interim dean for the college for a year. I think in many ways with that history and my exposure and understanding of the university, the president felt that I was somebody who could step in and not feel like I had to learn everything about the institution -- which I do think is a benefit to me.
Why did this position appeal to you?
I have always had a deep commitment to the university. I loved it here as a student, and I've always felt fortunate that I was able to come back here. The program that I teach in, the Counselor Education Program, is truly one of the highest recognized programs in the country. We have a very strong reputation, and that has been a really positive thing in terms of what I've been able to contribute. I think as I've moved along in my own career, I've looked for ways that I can contribute to the institution. And so when President McDavis called, I thought, you know, this could be an interesting role to take, and I feel like I have something to contribute.
Will it be difficult to split roles as a faculty member and board secretary?
I think there are complexities to it. I have to really find balance in my time. But I feel fortunate that I can do (both jobs). Again, I've got a real passion for the profession I work in and for the students that I'm teaching. So I guess it's really kind of the best of both worlds. .... I'd be less than honest if I said it wasn't challenging to find the right groove. There are some ebbs and flows in (the new job) in terms of intensity, but it's not a clean little 20 hours per week here and there. I feel like I work two two-thirds jobs. But that's OK. I don't mind putting in the hours.
Describe your work with the board over the past year.
I think I had to kind of hit the ground running. Within three weeks, we had our first Board of Trustees retreat and board-member orientation. I kind of jumped right into that in August. Then there are some cyclical things. We have four primary meetings per year, and there's organization that has to take place, agendas that have to be built, resolutions that have to be in place and things like that. At the end of the day, my role is to try to make sure that our board members are well-informed.
What do you bring to the table?
I think that the value-added piece that I bring to this job is the fact that I'm an ongoing faculty member. I think that is a bit unique in terms of what some board secretaries might be experiencing. I come here every day. I hear our faculty's issues, both in my program and at the whole college. I serve on university committees. I serve within the college.
I'm not suggesting that I represent faculty at the university, but I can sit down and share my experiences as a faculty member with the board. And I can give them a perspective that I think is somewhat objective.
If you had to pick one word to sum up the job, what would it be?
Complex. The people of this institution have done a great job of putting together a strategic plan. But then we have unintended consequences, like the economic climate that we have here in Ohio and across the country. That can impact and impede (our plan), and course corrections have to be made. At the same time, we have to understand what is going to be valued and looked at as important measures of success with the University System of Ohio. Making that all mesh is a complex process. It's not bad. It's just more complex than one might think at first blush.
What is your proudest achievement at Ohio University?
The richest thing that I've done here is to be able to teach and mentor and have an impact on students' lives. I have directed nearly 50 Ph.D.s, and most of those people have gone on to be professors at universities across the country. Most of them are doing what I'm doing now -- teaching others. That, rather than specific sorts of things, is without question the most rewarding thing for me.
Do you believe your background in counseling helps you in this new role?
I do. I think so much of what I have to do is relational. And I do have to communicate with a lot of people on campus. I work with these board members who are not here. Sometimes I have to work with external constituent groups. I have to work sometimes with people who are not pleased. Much of what I do here is to be facilitative and a good listener. So I do think I use my counseling skills every day.
I can't imagine that this job was a childhood dream of yours. As a child, what did you hope to do?
I guess I wanted to be a coach. And I did coach track and field at high school, and then at Marshall, Miami of Ohio and Ohio State. All of those were good experiences for me. There aren't too many things that most of us do where we don't teach other people. Facilitating learning -- that's what we do in counseling; that's what I do as a coach; that's what I do as the secretary of the board when I'm trying to share information and so forth.
Are you still active in track and field?
I've got a group of guys who I run with. I've been doing it for 15 years. We meet every morning at 6:30 a.m. We go for a three- to five-mile run and talk politics. That gets me through until about 8 a.m. Then I head to the office after a quick cup of coffee.
It sounds like you keep busy. Any thoughts as we head into a new academic year?
To a great degree this year, I was obviously hustling hard just to stay up with everything. And I do feel like as I go into (the next) year, I'm going to have a better feel as to what we need to anticipate. So I'm looking forward to it!