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Tuesday, February 3, 2004
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Looking back: Vernon R. Alden recalls his University presidency

By Betsy Vereckey and Joan Slattery Wall

After his talk on campus Monday, President Emeritus Vernon R. Alden was surrounded by well-wishers sharing memories and asking the University's 15th president to sign their copies of Alden's book, "Speaking for Myself."

Vernon R. Alden"Who do I write this to?" Alden asked one gentleman.

"My name is Richard Nostrant. You hired me as a faculty member," answered Richard Nostrant, now a Russ College of Engineering professor emeritus.

Nostrant recalled how he was hired to teach engineering and stayed at the University until he retired in 1995. He had contacted Alden from a teaching assignment in Brazil after reading a Time magazine article about Alden's efforts to build international programs at the University. Nostrant was one of many whose interest was sparked by Alden's desire - and successful marketing and publicity endeavors - to raise the University's profile.

"I thought we were probably the best relatively unknown university in the country, and we would have to do something to get us better well known nationally and internationally," Alden told the nearly 100 people gathered for his talk, which was sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Alden Library, one of several buildings constructed during Alden's administration from 1962 to 1969, is named for the former president.

Alden recalled other problems - opportunities, he called them - that he met as president.

He spearheaded new construction on campus and recruited faculty to meet needs brought on when the student body nearly doubled. To handle financial challenges, he proposed changes in state funding formulas and devised ways to increase private giving. Through negotiations with key legislators, he facilitated the rerouting of the Hocking River and the development of the Appalachian highway and worked to attract businesses to the area.

Alden also encouraged students to set their goals high. He persuaded undergraduates such as Robert Walter, BSME '67 and HON '97, chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health Inc. who is now chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, to attend Harvard Business School. Alden had served as associate dean of the school before joining Ohio University.

To further motivate students, he suggested that snippets from speeches by dignitaries visiting the University be placed on plaques outside Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

"I thought some evening there might be some lonely youngster on the Ohio campus who might come over and be inspired by what he read," Alden said.

Ellsworth Holden, an alumnus and assistant professor who attended Monday's talk with his wife, Ann Holden, said Alden's term was a time in which the University was growing.

"It was a golden era for higher education in general," he said. "He was a great leader at that time."

"He would give you wonderful responsibility that you hardly knew you could do yourself," said Ann Holden, who was hired by Alden in 1967 as a speech writer and research assistant.

Repeatedly, Alden expressed pride in the success of Ohio University and its students, and he said he hopes the next University president exudes the same warmth and leadership that President Robert Glidden has, especially considering challenges facing the University and higher education in Ohio.

"This," he said, "is going to be one of the most critical appointments Ohio University has made in a long time."

Betsy Vereckey is the graduate student writer for Ohio Today Online. Joan Slattery Wall is the assistant editor of Ohio Today.

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