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A fine reflection
Exploring the legacy of Robert Glidden as he retires after 10 years of leadership at Ohio University

June 25, 2004
Stories by Mary Alice Casey and Joan Slattery Wall

"My first impression was that I found him to be unusually common. ... I just felt very comfortable around him and still do today." -- Union President Charlie Adkins

President Robert Glidden's openness helps him easily connect with people.

"There's really no public Bob or private Bob," Vice President for Administration Gary North says. "What you see is what you get."

Closing comments from President Robert Glidden


Characteristic for which he'd like to be remembered: "I think honest, fair and objective, all wrapped together. That's not to say that I've always achieved all that as a way to run my life, but to me, those are very important traits."


On what motivates him: "I think new ideas partly motivate me, and I think just kind of the basic puritan desire to do a job well. I have always believed what I've told students ever since I can remember: Do the work first and then the fun's more fun."


If asked to describe Ohio University to a complete stranger: "I would say it is a place with a number of distinguished academic programs and has a very friendly, caring, family-like atmosphere that provides a very conducive environment for learning."


Proudest day at Ohio University: "From a very personal standpoint, it probably would be the day that we were inaugurated. It was partly a proud day because we had a number of friends come from Tallahassee for that weekend. I had a favorite uncle, who was really my inspiration for higher education, who came. I hadn't seen him in many years."


Saddest moment at Ohio University: Learning senior class president Amanda Cunningham was killed in a car accident in 2003. "I was shattered by that because I worked a lot with Amanda as a student leader and thought very highly of her and really respected and appreciated her."


Words of wisdom to his successor: "Don't screw it up! I think in graduate education we're going to have to focus more to make certain that we're really investing in the areas where we can be world-class. And that takes some fortitude, because it isn't popular with a lot of people. We need to make certain that our faculty are expecting as much of the students as they can give. I think these students are brighter than the faculty give them credit for. ... They need to be stimulated and engaged. You have to really entice them to be scholars."


On his contact with the new president: "I would want to be friendly and offer any assistance when asked, and frankly not expect to be asked very much. People have sometimes said, 'Well, aren't you going to stay around and have some overlap with the new president?' And my response to that is: Overlap is overrated. The person who comes in who is capable of this presidency doesn't need any overlap."


Retirement plans: Moving to a home designed by his wife, Rene, near Lexington, Va., and spending more time with daughters Lisa, Michele and Briana and their families. "I probably will stay associated with Ohio University in some respect."
It's a genuineness that has earned him the high regard of others.

"He doesn't waffle or dissimulate," College of Arts and Sciences Dean Leslie Flemming says. "He gives you the straight story. If he has a direction laid out, he doesn't soft-pedal that. Honest and forthright is how I have found him. And also supportive. In most cases I don't go directly to Bob with an issue, because I go to the provost. On the very few occasions where I have had to, I have felt supported and at the very least felt I got an honest answer from Bob, even if it wasn't always what I wanted to hear."

Perhaps it's Glidden's rural upbringing, North speculates, that enables him to communicate well with people from all areas of the University. The president grew up on a farm in Grand Junction, Iowa, and graduated in a high school class of 30.

"He came from roots that were grounded in agrarian philosophies and has the ability to relate to people," North says. "I've always been impressed with the ease with which he moves within and among groups. Bob's got a capability to convey understanding and a sense of purpose that people tend to resonate to.

"Bob's just got a great sense of humor," he adds. "It's not that he doesn't take his job seriously. He just doesn't always take himself so seriously."

University administrators, staff, students and alumni alike take note of his congeniality.

"Bob's a terrific guy, a regular guy," says John Susany, AB '83, an Ohio University Foundation board member. "He's fun to sit around with and talk about a lot of things with."

Maggi Channell is trying to forget one of her most memorable Glidden stories, but it illustrates perfectly his down-to-earth nature. Channell, BSJ '73 and MA '80, works in the president's office as director of events and communication.

An event she was coordinating at the president's residence carried a Southern theme, and one of the hors d'oeuvres was pickled okra. It's a favorite of Glidden's and he'd been circling the platter since the catering staff had set it out.

"Go ahead and do a taste test. You obviously want to!" Channell coaxed while they waited for guests to arrive.

When he asked Channell if she'd ever eaten pickled okra, she assured him she had not -- nor did she ever plan to.

"Long story made short, when the president urges, you do it," she says. "I can only imagine the horror on my face as the slimy, nasty little thing hit my tongue. And I will never forget how he nearly exploded in laughter at my plight! It was so very human."

NEXT: Memorable moments with the president.

Mary Alice Casey is editor and Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.

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