Ohio University Provost Pam Benoit, the fourth highest paid Ohio University employee, is the fourth finalist for the university’s presidential position. She spoke and answered questions posed by students, faculty and community members at the final Presidential Candidate Open Forum hosted by the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
Benoit, who has been provost since 2009, faced many of the same questions previous finalists answered. She echoed Bresciani and Frank in their sentiments of student activism, saying she “didn’t see a problem with activism,” and students who are active on campus are more likely to be active throughout life.
Similarly, Benoit expressed her support for the visibility, donations and diversity intercollegiate athletics give the university, though she advocated for change at the conference level.
“Alumni frequently come back because of athletics, they have fun memories. Sometimes it’s about the marching band, and donors will give on the basis of an athletic foundation,” she explained. “But I also want to say that I think there is a lot to think about when assessing the athletics. Academics must always come first, always at an institution.”
A recurring topic at the forum was OU’s drop in national rankings, especially in the U.S. News and World Report, which ranked the institution at 146 in National Universities. Benoit said she did not put much stock in the report’s rankings, but added the number should not be taken lightly because prospective students will take it into account.
“We have a unique niche at Ohio University,” Benoit said. “The kind of students we attract are high quality students in terms of ACT, but they are high-needs students. If you track what is happening in terms of the quality of students, that hasn’t fallen, but we are also attracting students who have access issues.”
She went on to explain that universities like The Ohio State University also maintain high-quality students but have a lower number of high-needs students. Ultimately, Benoit believes OU is doing much better than the rankings reflect, citing inaccurate data regarding faculty as the primary reason for the most recent ranking. Correct data, she argued, “would have changed (OU) into the top 100.”
Benoit continued to praise the university when speaking about OU’s current sustainability.
“We have a composting facility that’s larger than any other university in the state, the fact that there is this wonderful plan…the bus pass system is another example (of successes),” Benoit reminded the audience.
She spoke about building sustainability into the future by possibly collaborating with the city of Athens for more advancement, as well as making OU’s classes and programs on sustainability more visible, especially during the admissions process.
Benoit also conveyed her concern on an Ohio Safe Transfer bill. While the legislation would require higher education institutions to note incidents of sexual assault on student transcripts in the event a student is found guilty, Benoit said she would prefer adding a letter detailing the situation to the transfer school. She later expressed trepidation about OU’s possibility of becoming a sanctuary campus, saying she “would not be in favor of anything that would violate federal or state laws.”
The university’s new president is anticipated to be announced later this semester, but OU’s Board of Trustees will meet on Thursday, Jan. 19 and Friday, Jan. 20 to vote on an interim president, as well as to discuss other issues.