One thing you should know about President Roderick McDavis is his weakness is jellybeans. He has a wicked sense of humor. He eats salads for lunch every day. He loves fountain Coke. He personally signs each letter with a special, blue, felt-tipped pen. He reads every email and letter he receives and responds to almost all of them.
In serving on the staff of a university president, you have the great honor of being in that unique, safe, personal space where the president can be himself. That space is a necessary refuge that allows the president to recharge from his demanding role as the public face of the institution.
Being part of his non-public space also means you get to know the person for who they are, not how the public may portray them. Presidents are people too.
This is who Rod McDavis is.
He is selfless, curious, caring, humble, private and generous. He married his high school sweetheart. He holds things deeply in his heart but knows that his presidency is not about him or his passions. Rather, his presidency is about so much more.
He understands leadership is about the student who comes to office hours, crying, desperate because she is the oldest of 10 children and is spending all the money she can scrape together to fill her gas tank to drive from Athens to Columbus to work the only job she can find. His response is to find her a job, on campus, in his office where he and his team can make sure she is supported, safe and fed. And we all cried and cheered for her when she walked on stage to receive her OHIO degree.
He is the president who cheers the loudest at Bobcat games and comes to the office the next day hoarse from all of his yelling.
He is the president who speaks to classes but doesn’t publicize or tweet about it because it is a special moment he looks forward to each time and wants to keep it close to his heart rather than earn points with the public.
He is the person who is the first to say thank you and the last to take credit. He is the person who bleeds green and has committed himself to service, education, and, yes, social justice.
Jennifer Kirksey serves as President’s Chief of Staff. She is two-time alumna from Ohio University and holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in organizational communication. She also wrote for The Post during her time as an undergraduate at OHIO.
Several years ago President McDavis and City Council members agreed to have periodic discussions. At the first meeting all Council members attended. Representing the University were President McDavis and another staff person from his office. The discussion went well; we agreed to meet again. However, at the next meeting President McDavis was accompanied by several University vice presidents, administrators and the Provost. My first thought was whether the President had more University personnel for a more even balance of University and community.
What became apparent was that the President brought the University professionals to the meeting to provide fuller discussion and enable the larger group to provide information and updates to questions. With that more in-depth discussion came the possibility to build on the energy to pursue issues facing the community and the University. One recent outcome is a task force, charged to work on how we can address affordable housing in the Athens community, with a commitment from both Athens and Ohio University to continue to work on housing.
Whether President McDavis is speaking at one of these joint meetings with Council members or with students and community members at Beautification Day or at Martin Luther King Day activities, he has drawn us together to have Athens work to become a stronger, more inclusive community.
Chris Knisely is City Council President of Athens, Ohio.
I am extremely proud of the leadership of President McDavis during his time at Ohio University. As an area resident, I appreciate his effort to not only make Ohio University a leader in providing access to higher education, but also to use the talent of faculty and students to enrich and improve the lives of the people in the region.
I will miss President McDavis and his leadership in higher education in Ohio. Our governor, John Kasich, asked President McDavis to help lead several initiatives, including the capital budget process. I remember him coming to meet with Governor Kasich to be thanked for his leadership, only to be asked by the governor to address another issue within higher education. President McDavis is a problem solver who has also been an effective advocate for higher education in Ohio.
As Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, I will miss his support. He is someone whose counsel I sought frequently. When I became Chancellor, President McDavis was one of the first people to support my appointment, and he vouched for me with his fellow presidents. He and his wife, Deborah, are two of the nicest and most gracious people I know. As a fellow Bobcat, I wish them well as they continue their journey and continue to make a difference for students.
John Carey is Chancellor of Higher Education in the state of Ohio as well an Ohio University Alumnus.
OU President Roderick McDavis is leaving February 17. The Post looks back at his time as Ohio's president. Click this box to read the rest of the stories from this issue.