Exploring the legacy of Robert Glidden as he retires after 10 years of leadership at Ohio University
June 24, 2004
Stories by Mary Alice Casey and Joan Slattery Wall
"Every budgeting decision is a matter of choices. Where do you want to invest?"
-- President Robert Glidden
If the way a university deals with money problems is any measure of a president's success, many think President Robert Glidden has passed a pretty tough test.
Ohio University President Robert Glidden
"I believe that Bob Glidden has been the leader we have needed over a significant span of time in the history of the University -- from a time that was less fiscally challenging to a time that was most fiscally challenging," says University Trustee Patricia A. Ackerman. "He has managed to do that in a very graceful way."
State support has declined steadily since 2000, necessitating tuition hikes and budget cuts. To avoid layoffs, the University instituted a hiring freeze and reductions aimed at protecting academics.
"He has really led," says Tara Stuckey, a student who served on the University Board of Trustees' finance committee and graduated this spring. "He's had to make some extremely difficult decisions, and there is no easy way out. I think he's approached it in the most humane way possible."
One of those approaches was the early retirement incentive, which Associate Professor of Geography Hugh Bloemer saw Glidden push for as an alternative to putting University employees out of work.
"I am forever impressed that when somebody comes up with an idea, he sits back and says, 'How is that going to affect the people?'" says Bloemer, chair of Faculty Senate. "He's what you call in German and Yiddish a real mensch. ... He has a paternal attitude toward the employees of Ohio University."
Alexandra DeLuca, who was campus editor for The Athens News while she was a senior this year, admires Glidden's handling of budget issues.
"Especially in the crisis of higher education today, I think he was a good fit for Ohio University," she says. "He was forthcoming with information, especially about how we were losing so much money in state funds. I think you do have to be honest and up front about that."
Despite these hard times and choices, Ackerman says, the president has set a positive tone.
"He has worked to keep the best face on it and to keep people moving forward in the best possible way," she says. "He has led in a way that leaves open the hope that tomorrow will be better."
He also has focused on another topic that has remained a concern through much of the Glidden era, that of increasing diversity within the student body, which is 88.6 percent Caucasian. Glidden often stresses the importance of a diverse student body that reflects the world in which graduates will live and work.
Erek Perry, MED '95, who heads the President's Office of Diversity, says scholarship programs and other efforts to attract underrepresented students have had an impact in recent years.
"We have been able to enroll a variety of talented students. ... The biggest challenge is the pipeline issue," Perry says, noting that students from underrepresented groups are highly sought after by all universities. Many of these students choose schools closer to metropolitan areas, where services and cultural offerings important to them are more readily available.
"Dr. Glidden created this office within his office," Perry says, "and I think that speaks volumes about what diversity means to him."
Ackerman finds the president's focus on international ties, which also promote diversity, heartening. The University has about 150 such agreements, mostly with other universities.
In 2000, Ackerman traveled with Glidden to China's Shandong University, which since has partnered with Ohio University to establish the Ohio-Shandong Center in East Asia. Ohio University students can begin studying there this fall.
"He was such an excellent representative of the University," says Ackerman, explaining how Glidden spoke to an auditorium of Chinese students. His speech was translated sentence by sentence as he delivered it, and then he asked for questions. "The students who spoke English, and pride themselves on their ability to speak English, wanted to ask him questions. I can't tell you how many hands shot up."
"This is all about teaching," adds Ackerman. "The students who are pursuing an education today area going to be global citizens."
"When it comes to defending budgets and advancing policies in the interest of higher education, I think Bob has been a leader in the state."
-- Miami University President James Garland
Standing with Glidden in front of Ohio legislators, Stuckey witnessed the president's persistence in fighting for improved higher education funding.
He has testified before committees and rallied alumni and friends to advocate the cause to government officials. He has supported not only Ohio University but also higher education across the state, especially in his service as president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, an association of state university leaders.
"That's just really important to keep all the schools in Ohio engaged in those discussions in that lobbying for funding," Stuckey says.
Just as he did within Ohio University, Glidden has facilitated consensus among Ohio's public university leaders.
"When we're all trying to figure out what to do and people are going in every which direction, he has a way of getting to the bottom of an issue and articulating it in a thoughtful and creative way and drawing us together," says Miami University President James Garland. "I think there's a long rivalry between (our) two schools, but it's grounded at heart in our similarities."
Garland also praises Glidden's national leadership on accreditation issues, a topic he's been involved in since 1972. This year he's completing his service as founding chair and eight-year board member of the Council for Higher Education and Accreditation. One of his first tasks in retirement will be to join a team of European rectors and chancellors in the evaluation of the universities in Ireland.
"I've always tried to look at things from the broader perspective and not always just from the vested interest of my university," Glidden says, "and I think that earns one respect from your colleagues, if you're consistent."
NEXT: A personal glimpse at the president.
Mary Alice Casey is editor and Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.