COLUMBUS — When Ohio State president Karen Holbrook steps down at the end of the month, she’ll leave behind a university with more stringent admissions requirements and an improved national academic ranking.
She says she has few regrets, despite criticism of crackdowns on football tailgaters and other measures aimed at putting a stop to post-game rioting.
Holbrook, 64, announced last summer that she would resign when her contract expired at the end of the 2006-07 academic year, putting an end to a 35-year academic career that included five years at the helm of Ohio’s largest public university.
She said she wanted to spend more time with her husband, Jim Holbrook, an oceanographer who retired 10 years ago. But her decision came as the university’s board of trustees privately considered whether they would support a contract extension.
In a 2004 performance review, former board chairman Zuheir Sofia said Holbrook was “challenged by the task of leading one of America’s largest universities,” a job that includes overseeing fiscal and facilities issues, working with an independent board and lobbying with top state officials and legislators.
She also drew fire — and boos at Ohio Stadium — for her response to campus-wide mayhem after the 2002 football win over Michigan.
Rioters burned cars, threw beer bottles at firefighters and fought with police. City and university leaders were furious as video images were shown around the world.
Holbrook asked city and Ohio State police to enforce open-container laws to keep drunken tailgaters from roaming the campus area after games. She also suspended students and promised severe consequences for rioters in the future.
Tailgaters complained that Holbrook ruined school traditions, and a Web site called for her firing.
“It’s a tough thing to take a tough stand, and my guess is if a man had done it they’d say, ‘That took courage’ instead of, ‘That was stupid,”‘ Holbrook said.
Holbrook came to Ohio State in 2002 after serving as provost at the University of Georgia, and before that as vice president for research at the University of Florida.
She came to Ohio State in favor of a plan, outlined under previous presidents, to improve the university’s stature in research, student selectivity, donations and community involvement.
“Karen bought into that lock, stock and barrel, that that would be our direction,” trustee Dimon McFerson said.
With Holbrook’s support, the board phased out open admission, which allowed any Ohio resident to be admitted to the main campus regardless of academic performance.
Since 2002, the university’s U.S. News & World Report ranking has risen from 24 to 19. Five years ago, 33 percent of Ohio State’s freshman had been in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Today, that number is 45 percent.
Holbrook, a cell biologist, said her only regret is that she wishes she’d had time to teach at Ohio State.
“I’ll be sad,” Holbrook said of her final commencement ceremony at Ohio State on Saturday. “...I’m always sad to leave a place where I’ve found a home.”
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com