The nickname references the look of the prestigious Ivy League school and is used by students, alums, staff and other Ohioans. It is not uncommon for the nickname to spark debate concerning the validity of the nickname and where it originated. Although the phrase may be common lingo around Southeast Ohio, very little is widely known about the origins of the nickname.
A common explanation for the nickname has to do with the architecture on campus and its uncanny similarities with Harvard’s.
Georgian-style architecture, named after the four King Georges of England, has a heavy influence on current campus buildings as well as those that have been renovated. The style typically features brick walls, symmetrical designs and multi-paned windows. These details give the buildings classical and timeless looks straight from the 18th and 19th centuries, which make the campus feel like a snapshot from history.
The building curation is a drawing point for prospective students and alums.
“Sometimes it feels like an office park but other times it feels like it's a traditional college campus,” Sarah Stepleman, a freshman studying acting said. “I like it. I don't know how to describe it, (the campus is) just very homely, I suppose. It looks like its own town.”
Current students are not the only ones with fond opinions on campus curation and architecture.
“The architecture to me is just the perfect combination of tradition and just beautiful-ness,” Melissa Mccoy, OU class of ‘97, said. “I know that’s not really a word, but I really do believe that.”
It is no coincidence that OU resembles the architecture of Ivy League schools. When founding the school, former OU President Mannaseh Cutler, a Harvard MBA graduate, took inspiration from his time in Massachusetts.
“The founders really wanted to make it look like Harvard and the Ivy League schools.” Bill Kimock, OU archivist and records manager said. “I think over the years it's worked so well to attract students here and to attract the alumni to keep coming back.”
Aside from the architecture of the school, there are other apparent Harvard influences on campus as well. Both Mannaseh Cutler and John Calhoun Baker were Harvard-educated, and Baker’s time as president had no shortage of influence from the Ivy League.
Baker came into the presidency after the passing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly referred to as the G.I. Bill. The bill increased educational assistance to servicemembers and veterans, and Baker used this opportunity to increase OU’s outreach and resources. The campus was declining in admission rates and falling into economic disparity when Baker stepped into the position, but the Harvardsman sought to bring elements of his Alma Mater to re-establish the institution.
“I was just putting out my stuff downstairs for the homecoming display and looking at the first page of The Post every year, and every year, they're setting a new record during the Baker administration for enrollment,” Kimock said.
According to Kimock, Baker’s efforts exponentially increased the student population by way of renovations, establishments of regional campuses and even sending professors off to study at Harvard.
Baker’s positive impact on the campus is inarguable, and there is strong evidence that the nickname “Harvard on the Hocking” could have potentially started from this era of rejuvenation when looking back on past archives.
An article written by TIME during Baker’s presidency claims speculators of the new investments wondered, “What's he trying to do, make this a Harvard on the Hocking?”
Cutler and Baker’s heavy Harvard influences most likely contributed to the nickname being adopted by Ohioans, but there could potentially be another more unexpected, and furrier, Harvard influence running around the campus grounds today.
According to the Bulleted and Pictorial History of Ohio University, in 1908, the University Board of Trustees introduced squirrels, allegedly from Harvard, onto the campus to increase wildlife. This story is widely believed by many Ohioans, but may not be inherently true.
Although a committee was formed in 1908 to discuss the introduction of squirrels onto campus, Kimock notes that there is no hard evidence of the squirrels originating from Harvard.
“In the meeting minutes (of the June 1908 Board of Trustees meeting) it says there was a motion made, and then seconded, that there should be a committee forum to consider the introduction of squirrels to the campus,” Kimock said. “I couldn’t find anything beyond that (or that) they bought all the squirrels in a truck or anything.”
Although there is no direct evidence that the squirrels were brought onto the campus from the East, there is nothing directly combatting this claim.
“I get this picture of these Harvard guys running around trying to catch the squirrels, (but) I don't really know how it happened,” he said, “I don't think there's a definitive answer, but people like to say that they came from there anyway. So I'm not trying to dispel it. It may very well be.”
Regardless of how OU became known as the “Harvard on the Hocking” it is inarguable the campus has also become a place of memories, both old and new, for students and alums alike. The influences and efforts of the founders and figureheads of the school contribute to the identity and pride of the school today, with students parading around wearing green and white all over Athens. Harvard University's influences over the school were stepping stones for the school to flourish, but OU has taken a new culture and identity of its own. The student body finds comfort in the same brick roads and shaded trees generations of Bobcats prior found enjoyment in, and Homecoming Weekend is a time to celebrate the OU community coming together over a shared love of this campus.