July 9, 2014 at 11:59 pm

Oakland University students, faculty look to new president for fresh perspective

Hynd (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Rochester — Oakland University’s newly named president said Wednesday that his priorities include promoting liberal arts and persuading more students to live in dorms, instead of commuting.

“I’m ready to launch the ship,” George W. Hynd said after the OU Board of Trustees chose him as the school’s sixth president. He had been provost and executive vice president of the College of Charleston since 2010.

Hynd, 66, moves into the top spot as the school deals with surging enrollment, rising costs and last year’s abrupt departure of longtime President Gary Russi. After 17 years at OU’s helm, Russi retired the same day in June 2013 that his wife, Beckie Francis, was fired as the school’s women’s basketball coach.

Students, faculty and school officials said they welcome the chance for a new beginning under Hynd.

“I’m ... very excited because this is a fresh person — I mean a really fresh person, like from a different state,” said junior Lauren Barthold, 20. “He’ll have a new outlook on things, new ideas, and I think he’ll really be there for the students.”

Hynd said he wants to create a “campus community” that will transform OU from a mostly commuter school. About 14 percent of the university’s 20,169 students live on campus.

“One thing I’d like to take a look at is how to attract more students who see this is a residential campus and not just a commuter college,” he said. “If we can drive up the number of students living on campus, the evidence shows you’ll have a higher retention rate and a higher probability the students will graduate in four years.”

Hynd takes office as OU prepares this fall to open a $30 million dormitory that will add 500 on-campus beds to the 2,100 previously available.

University spokesman Brian Bierley said OU can add more if there is demand. “Absolutely, there’s enough room,” he said. “We’ve got 1,443 acres of land owned by Oakland University and we only sit on a very small portion right now.”

For students who live nearby, such as senior Adorian Marc, getting them to move on campus could be a hard sell.

“I live in Troy, which is only a 20-minute commute, so it would not be realistic for me to think about living here,” said Marc, 20. “If they would make it worth it, then maybe more people would consider living here.”

Hynd takes over a school that has grown rapidly over the past 15 years.

OU’s enrollment has risen more than 40 percent since the late 1990s, and the school, founded in 1957, has expanded its curriculum to 260 programs.

The school partnered with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2002 to bring a law program on campus, and opened the state’s fourth medical school in 2011.

Besides the new housing facility, OU broke ground last year on a 151-foot carillon clock tower. Other projects in the past four years include the $65 million Human Health Building, a $75 million Engineering Center and a $23 million parking structure with 1,240 spaces.

That growth, however, has been accompanied by controversy. Faculty members went on strike in 2009, protesting what they said were attempts by Russi to withhold information and sideline professors from shared decision-making.

Controversy roiled the Rochester school again last year when Russi retired and his wife was ousted from her coaching job after 13 seasons.

Some former players alleged that Francis forced her religious beliefs on them, held them to a strict nutritional policy and obsessed about their weight; the ex-coach has denied the allegations and sued OU last November, demanding specifics about why she was removed.

Russi’s sudden departure shook the campus, said student Rachel Deratany, 22, of Macomb Township.

“With such an abrupt leaving, it left us without a sense of guidance, without someone to lead us in the right direction,” she said. “It left us unsure of what to do and how to think of ourselves, even though we knew this is a very good school.”

Kevin Grimm, president of OU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said instructors at the school have high hopes for Hynd.

“His extensive experience as a teacher, scholar and administrator have prepared Dr. Hynd to lead OU as we negotiate the challenges facing institutions of higher learning today,” Grimm wrote in an email. “We look forward to working closely with Dr. Hynd in the coming months and years.”

Betty Youngblood, who had been associate vice president for outreach, was OU’s interim president during the past year. Bierley said she “will remain a part of the university, but her role is still being determined.”

Besides Hynd, the trustees interviewed Rodney K. Rogers, senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and James Spaniolo, former president of the University of Texas at Arlington and former dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.

Board trustee Monica Emerson, who is an Oakland University alumna, said Hynd is “absolutely right for the university.”

“His thoughts are very much in line with our strategic vision in terms of continuing and growing education excellence and globalization, and the need to have more of an international experience for our students,” she said.

Speaking at a news conference after his appointment, Hynd said OU’s focus on liberal arts was one of the main reasons he wanted the job as president.

“If you read the history of the university, you’ll see that (OU founder) Matilda Dodge had a commitment to liberal arts,” he said. “Through liberal arts, a student learns to think critically, and can engage in respectful and thoughtful dialogue.”

With a background in clinical child neuropsychology, Hynd has authored, co-authored and edited 11 books, written 57 book chapters and published 153 peer-reviewed journal articles, most of which focus on theoretical and clinical issues in clinical child neuropsychology.

In Charleston, Hynd oversaw all undergraduate and graduate programs, including seven academic schools and programs at the College of Charleston North Campus and at Grice Marine Laboratory at Fort Johnson.

OU at a glance

Founded: 1957
Enrollment: 20,169
Degree/certificate programs: 260
Tuition (full-time, in-state undergraduate): $11,460
Budget (fiscal year 2014): $221.4 million
Source: Oakland University

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