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The Ultimate Homecoming Part 5: Leading His Alma Mater

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

McDavis' journey to the president's office has required a career of smart, deliberate steps. Among the many people who've enjoyed watching him get there is son Ryan: "One thing I admire about my dad is that I've always known what his goal is. He didn't take the easy way to achieve it. My dad has worked hard and gone through the right means to the end."

On a personal note

  • Favorite word: "We. ... I like to be part of a team. We can accomplish a lot more than I can."
  • Credo to live by: "There is no substitute for hard work."
  • Favorite book: "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge
  • TV shows he tries to catch: "60 Minutes" and "Dateline"
  • How he describes himself: consistent, persistent, personable, passionate about excellence, peaceful but firm
  • What irks him: incompetence, unpleasant surprises, insensitive people, too much red tape
  • Favorite CDs in his collection: Earth, Wind and Fire and jazz musician Joe Sample
  • Top choice in ice cream: French vanilla
  • Pro sports teams he follows: Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Dodgers
  • What makes him tick: "I enjoy a challenge. I like to do things that people say can't be done."
  • First car: 1964 Corvair
  • Most treasured keepsake: Some of his mother's personal belongings
  • If he had $1 million to give to any cause (other than Ohio University!), where it would go: United Negro College Fund

Education at a glance

  • Bachelor's degree in social sciences in secondary education, Ohio University, 1970
  • Master's degree in student personnel administration, University of Dayton, 1971
  • Doctoral degree in counselor education and higher ed administration, University of Toledo, 1974

Career highlights

  • Provost and vice president for academic affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1999-2004
  • Dean, College of Education, and professor of education, University of Florida, 1994-1999
  • Dean, College of Education, and professor of counselor education, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 1989-1994
  • Director, Arkansas Academy for Leadership Training and School-Based Management, 1992-1994
  • Professor of education, Department of Counselor Education, University of Florida, 1974-1989, and associate dean, Graduate School and Minority Programs, 1984-1989
If patience (not his strongest trait, he acknowledges) was required for most of the trek, stamina was needed for the last leg. McDavis, 55, was involved in eight presidential searches in the past year; he was among the final three candidates four times.

"Over a year ago we decided it was time for us to seek a presidency," he says as Deborah sits an arm's length away. "It was a joint decision. The Ohio University opportunity was special. Not only is it a presidency, but it's the presidency of my alma mater. You can't put into words the feeling of going back - as president - to the place where you started your higher education experience."

He's very honored to be the University's first African-American president, but he's impressed that hasn't been the emphasis of other people. "What is nice is that it's been secondary to Rod McDavis the alum," he says. "When green and white becomes more important than black and white, that's significant."

McDavis has identified five major goals he wants to see the University community work toward. At the top of the list is broadening the vision, and thus the reality, of what Ohio University can become. The work of former Presidents Alden, Charles Ping and Robert Glidden set the stage for the next act, he says.

"The strength of the University has been - and is - its undergraduate education," McDavis notes. "I want to keep that reputation of offering a high-quality undergraduate education and add to it an emphasis on world-class graduate education and research. It should be a holistic university."

His wife shares that vision and wants to further it by becoming involved with student leaders, faculty and community members. "What thrills me the most about being part of this is being around college students. They're good people," says Deborah McDavis, who has retired from her teaching career and, in addition to campus activities, wants to become involved in local literacy efforts.

"It's satisfying to know that we've been through this together," Rod McDavis adds. "We've been on the mountaintops; we've been in the valleys."

One of the couple's recent conversations focused on McDavis' Sept. 10, 2004, inauguration as president of Ohio University. It seems the comments he made during in passing then may say as much about his goal-oriented nature as any.

"He loves his work. He goes to work with a smile on his face," relates Deborah McDavis. "We were talking about the inauguration and he said, 'This event is really going to be something special. But, you know, I just want to get to work.'"


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.

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