By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
Ohio University President Hugh Sherman will recommend that the Board of Trustees appoint a representative from the region to the Board, addressing a frequently levied criticism that the body lacks southeast Ohio representation. The suggestion, to be made at the Board’s August meeting, was announced on Friday in a news release.
If the trustees approve Sherman’s request, the regional member would hold a nonvoting seat, meaning they would wield little power in the way of hiring and firing the university’s president or contributing to other critical roll call votes. Still, the member would be privy to private body deliberations.
The position would be created either through changing an existing nonvoting national trustee seat, one typically held by someone out of state with a connection to the institution, or by adding a new seat, according to a news release.
“By securing a seat on the Board of Trustees for a Regional Representative, we will ensure the region has a role and voice in University leadership,” Sherman said in a statement. “This individual will bring a unique, and needed, perspective to board discussions and deliberations. The trustee will improve the lines of communication in the region, strengthen the University’s existing Southeast Ohio partnerships, and help establish new ones with the focus on advancing our region.”
In his first meeting with the Board, Sherman emphasized the university’s need to serve the economic interests of the regional community and to work toward solutions to problems posed by the university in their areas, according to the release.
Sherman’s move follows the Board of Trustees’ choice to deny Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and five other mayors of cities that house OU regional campuses a say in the appointment of Sherman. The mayors sent a letter to the body in May asking to be involved in the search process for Nellis’ successor, arguing that the institution’s dire financial state had economic spillover effects on their respective municipalities.
“Strengthening our service to the region is one of my key presidential priorities,” Sherman said. “We need to cultivate a stronger alliance with the communities in which we live.”
Sherman’s proposal also addresses a common impression held among the community that the Board of Trustees lacks southeast Ohio representation and often fails to understand how decisions made at the top affect life on the ground in Athens.
It’s a sign that Sherman is working to instill faith in his administration amid the institution’s greatest financial crisis in decades and in the wake of the two previous unpopular leaders, outgoing President Duane Nellis and former President Roderick McDavis, both of whom received votes of no confidence from Faculty Senate for what many in the university community argued was poor leadership.