Editor's Note: The inauguration of Roderick J. McDavis as the 20th president of Ohio University will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, in the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. For more information on the inaugural activities planned for the University community or to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony, visit www.ohio.edu/inauguration/.
By Mary Alice Casey
Looking back, McDavis sees his college years as a play in two parts.
"The first two years were fun," McDavis says. "Those of us who were fortunate enough to be in college had a good time. We worked hard and we played hard."
Fred McDavis also chose Ohio University, as did many Dayton-area students at that time. The University, to satisfy then-President Vernon Alden's goal of increasing diversity, recruited students from several of Ohio's predominantly black high schools.
The McDavis brothers joined a fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. Rod was the more active of the two, serving as basileus (president) his junior and senior years. They ran in the same crowd, although each had different friends as well. While Rod was into track and frat life, Fred was drawn to the music scene. He played piano, sax and drums, eventually joining a rock band, and earned a bachelor's degree and a master's, both in English.
"He really loved Ohio University," McDavis says of his brother, who died three years ago of emphysema. "For a while I almost thought he was going to live in Athens." He notes that Fred's son, Joe McDavis, shares his late father's passion for music.
McDavis returned home on some weekends to see Deborah, who was working on her education degree at the University of Dayton. "I visited him (on campus) two times," Deborah McDavis recalls. Once was for "the grandest homecoming" she had ever witnessed. "The parade was extraordinary. It was an old-fashioned, down-home college weekend." Another time, Clarence and Mary Moses drove their daughter to Athens for the day.
Among McDavis' closest friends in those days was fraternity brother Cleve Bryant, BSED '70, who quarterbacked the football team and came back as its coach from 1985 to 1989. He saw a knack for leadership in his friend even then.
"Whatever the mission, he'd say, 'Let's get it accomplished. Let's not procrastinate. Let's get it done now,'" says Bryant, now on the football staff at the University of Texas-Austin. "Any challenge made him tick. To me, he was just a natural leader."
The last two years of McDavis' undergraduate experience sharply contrasted the first. "My junior and senior years were more socially conscious with the war reaching a peak," he says. "My senior year was scary."
As the Vietnam War escalated, so did tensions on campus. McDavis remembers watching the draft lottery on a television in Baker University Center and thinking he might avoid military service if his birthdate wasn't among the first 100 drawn. It was No. 169.
While many students were involved in the anti-war movement, McDavis focused on another cause of the times: civil rights. He was on the board of the Black Studies Institute, which first offered courses in the fall of 1969, and he tutored freshmen as an institute volunteer. The previous spring, Alden had approved submission of a proposal for the degree-granting institute to the Ohio Board of Regents and committed $250,000 to create it.
"(We) really thought we had been given an opportunity -- as a result of the work of Dr. King and others -- to get a college education," McDavis says of African-American students of the day. "We were proud of who we were." The institute reinforced that pride and validated African-American studies as an academic pursuit.
The Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, led to increased violence on the Athens campus and an abrupt end to McDavis' undergraduate years.
"All of us were fearful of what was going to happen at Ohio University," he says. "I remember clearly when the decision came down to close the University (on May 15). It was a sad day. It meant those of us who were seniors were not going to have a graduation."
The Ultimate Homecoming | The Athens Years | A Family Man | The Academician | Leading His Alma Mater | Setting the agenda
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today. Joan Slattery Wall, who served until recently as assistant editor, also contributed to this story, which appears in the fall issue of Ohio Today.