Exploring the legacy of Robert Glidden as he retires after 10 years of leadership at Ohio University
June 22, 2004
Stories by Mary Alice Casey and Joan Slattery Wall
"He recognizes the importance of students on a college campus, respects them and makes them a priority."
--Tara Stuckey, a former student member of the board of trustees who graduated this spring
One simple phone message was all it took for Tara Stuckey to realize how much President Robert Glidden values students.
Ohio University President Robert Glidden
"I had just received a call from the governor's office informing me I had been appointed a student trustee," says Stuckey, who served a two-year term as a student representative to the University's Board of Trustees before graduating this spring. "Two hours later I received a voicemail on my cell phone saying, 'Hello, Tara. This is Ohio University President Robert Glidden. I'm just calling to congratulate you on your appointment as a student trustee.' That gave me an indication of how closely I'd be working with him in the next two years."
Just as Stuckey's experience illustrates the care Glidden takes in personal dealings with students, his desire to initiate a conversation about reforming the undergraduate curriculum points to a concern for all students.
"His position, that undergraduate education is what we are primarily about, is an awfully important position," says Tom Carpenter, the Charles J. Ping Professor of Humanities, who helped conceive the plan for revising the core curriculum required of all undergraduates.
The new general education program requirements, expected to be implemented in fall 2005, replace the tier system used since the early 1980s. They emphasize skills vital to learners who can be expected to change careers several times during their lives.
"Under its present circumstances, I think the program is innovative," Carpenter says. He points to the notion of enriching a humanities course, for instance, by incorporating technology or writing expectations. "Disciplines aren't necessarily rigid little boxes that don't interact with each other."
The revised approach will thread general education courses throughout undergraduates' years on campus and involve more faculty, which Glidden sees as a plus.
"Instead of it just being a few faculty in the arts and sciences, relatively few faculty, it will be spread out so we will involve people in the professional schools in general education," he says. "All faculty ought to be sensitive that we're preparing citizens as well as professional people."
While Glidden regrets that an original implementation target of this fall won't be met, there is no mistaking the satisfaction he takes in the campuswide effort that produced the reforms.
"If the general education revision works as well as I think it's going to work," he says, "and if it can really be implemented according to the plan that's now drawn up, it's going to be one of the most exciting in the country, and it will be my single biggest source of pride in 10 years as a president."
Glidden also pushed for more emphasis on research, as evidenced by a rise in external funding. University faculty members pulled in $54.3 million in outside grants in 2003, up from $34.4 million just six years earlier.
"We are now recognized as a genuine research university," says Associate Professor of Geography Hugh Bloemer. "Dr. Glidden has helped see to it that in order for the faculty to do more research, they have time off to do it."
As professors hired during the post-World War II years retired, young faculty with strong research interests were recruited. Students, Glidden says, are the primary beneficiaries.
"One of the things we've focused on is providing opportunities for undergraduates to get engaged in research," he says, "which they can do a lot more at an institution like Ohio University, where we don't have a heavy percentage of graduate students."
"Bob is remarkably sensitive to the folks behind the scenes who make things happen."
-- Staffer Maggi Channell
Those who have worked closely with Glidden appreciate his management and leadership skills. He trusts them to do their jobs well and works toward consensus without sacrificing progress.
He's known for his communication skills; he personally responds to the more than 80 e-mail messages he receives daily, for example, and he regularly meets with the executive committee of Faculty Senate to address concerns and pinpoint his primary messages.
"He always opens the questions to any subject," says Bloemer, chair of the Faculty Senate, referring to Glidden's remarks at monthly senate meetings. "If he doesn't have the answer, he gets it. He follows through. ... Sometimes the questions get rather testy, you might say. I've never heard him come across condescendingly to anybody. He takes the senate seriously enough to be there and takes every question seriously."
Charlotte Eufinger, who served on the search committee that recommended Glidden for his position and now is chair of The Ohio University Foundation, says the search committee was especially cognizant of the president's management style.
"We wanted someone who would listen to all the aspects of the University so everyone would feel their views were heard," Eufinger says, "because we valued everybody's views."
Charlie Adkins, president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, knows he has access to Glidden whenever he needs to discuss an issue. And Glidden makes known to Adkins the value he places on bargaining unit employees, who work in maintenance and service positions. The president goes out of his way, Adkins says, to let him know of campus visitors' compliments on their work.
"He's never been shy in saying the union is a good partner with Ohio University," Adkins says. "Some people don't want to say that out in the open."
Glidden is forthright not just with praise but also in handling conflict.
"He is a man of integrity and careful thought," says Maggi Channell, BSJ '73 and MA '80, who works in the president's office as director of events and communication. "Folks may not always agree with his decisions or actions, but they can be totally confident that he has examined all the information, looked at all the potential consequences and made what he has reason to believe is the best decision under the circumstances."
And Glidden doesn't rush to judgment without all the facts.
"I've never seen Bob hear some something from a student, parent, newspaper, legislator and take it as gospel," says Vice President for Administration Gary North. "He trusts his staff, gets the facts and takes their recommendations. All those traits build consensus."
The general education reform is one example of Glidden efforts to foster communication and agreement. The process started with a series of 11 dinners with faculty from all of the colleges to gather information about students' needs and ways to make a difference in their education. As committees continued the task, he simply checked in occasionally to assess members' needs.
"I wanted it to be a faculty initiative," Glidden says, "because I knew very well it would never succeed if it were a top-down effort. ... Consensus building doesn't always mean standing at the front of the room and making certain everybody agrees with you. Sometimes it's compromises, sometimes it's a newly formulated plan that no one by themselves would have thought about before but that everyone can kind of come around. ... Sometimes consensus building is making certain you step out of the way and aren't looking for the credit for yourself."
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Mary Alice Casey is editor and Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.