Ohio State University president plans to retire next year

Kantele Franko and Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press

Columbus – Ohio State University President Michael Drake plans to retire from that role next year after a tenure highlighted by strategic successes but also complicated by scandals involving the university’s marching band, a prominent football coach and a former team doctor accused of widespread sexual abuse.

Drake, 69, announced the move Thursday, saying he felt the timing is right both for the school and his family. He plans to stay on at least until this academic year ends and remain on the faculty after that.

Ohio State said it will conduct a search for his replacement.

In this Aug. 22, 2018, file photo, Ohio State University President Michael Drake makes a statement during a press conference in Columbus, Ohio. Drake is planning to retire from his role as Ohio State president next year.

The university lauded a long list of strategic successes under Drake’s leadership, including record numbers for the school in applications, graduates, research expenditures and donor support. His performance as president had satisfied university trustees enough that they took early action to extend his contract into 2021 and were considering increasing his salary to nearly $892,000.

But Drake, an ophthalmologist by training, has repeatedly found himself in the spotlight of negative national attention while leading the Buckeyes. He had left his role as an administrator in the University of California system in 2014 to succeed E. Gordon Gee in the top post at Ohio State.

Just a few weeks into the job, Drake fired Ohio State’s marching band director after an investigation that began before he arrived found a sexualized culture in the band. The decision upset many of its members and alumni, but Drake insisted the director should be held accountable for the band’s practices, even those stemming from old traditions.

Last year, Ohio State’s suspension of football coach Urban Meyer for three games for mishandling domestic abuse and other allegations against a former assistant coach drew criticism from many sides. A university trustee who advocated a harsher punishment immediately resigned from the board. Meyer later stepped down as coach after last season, citing a health problem, and became an assistant athletic director.

The wave of criticism over the Meyer case came as Drake and the university were dealing with emerging allegations that school officials years ago knew about but turned a blind eye to widespread, decades-old sexual misconduct by a now-deceased team doctor, Richard Strauss.

After a law firm investigation funded by Ohio State concluded that Strauss abused athletes and other young men throughout his two decades there, Drake apologized publicly for the school’s failure to stop the doctor.

Nearly 300 men have sued the university over that failure, and those lawsuits are in mediation toward a potential settlement. Some of the men have vocally criticized Ohio State and its leadership for not resolving the matter more quickly.