Ohio State Set To Appoint First Woman President

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio State University trustees voted unanimously Thursday morning to hire the university's first woman president after a nationwide search of only six weeks.

Six of the nine trustees were present at the meeting to appoint Karen Holbrook, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia, to lead the nation's second-largest campus. Three trustees were traveling but supported the measure through board Chairman James Patterson.

Holbrook will begin Oct. 1 with a salary of $325,000.

"It would be very hard to be any more excited than I am right now," Holbrook said as she was introduced by Patterson.

Holbrook will replace former Ohio State President William Kirwan who left the job last month after four years to become chancellor at the University of Maryland.

She was selected from a pool of more than 100 candidates, said Lee Tashjian, Ohio State vice president for university relations.

He said she is a likable person who will also be a firm leader.

"She has a way of bringing people together," he said. "She's a coalition builder, a consensus builder. I think she just has a great mix of personality characteristics and leadership skills that will serve her very, very well here."

Holbrook, 59, the Georgia school's second-ranking administrator, was a dean and anatomy professor at the University of Florida before going to Georgia in 1998. She is a cell biologist who specializes in embryonic development of human skin.

Holbrook has been a finalist or under consideration in presidential searches at three other universities recently, including the University of Kentucky last year, the University of Alabama in May and Arizona State University in March.

She is a well-regarded administrator and researcher with the skill to direct the numerous groups that make up a university, said Bill Luttge, executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida.

"She clearly understands science but also knows how to temper that with a strong appreciation for the nonscience pursuits at a major university," Luttge said.

With government funding eroded, the Ohio State hopes to earn more money by spending more on cutting-edge science, including building a $145 million Biomedical Research Tower.

Establishing Ohio State as a leader in biomedical research is part of an academic plan that also seeks better and higher-paid professors and smarter students.

Holbrook will join two other women who lead Big Ten universities and one other woman who leads a public, four-year Ohio university.

"She's quite a leader," said Neil Sullivan, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Science at the University of Florida. "One of the things about Karen is she inspires confidence -- she reaches out to people, listens to everybody's views, brings people together in ways not everyone can."

Holbrook was also an associate dean for scientific affairs and a biology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

She earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Wisconsin and her doctorate in biological structure at the University of Washington.

The University of Georgia has an enrollment of about 31,000, including 24,000 undergraduates, and annual budget of about $1.1 billion.

Ohio State, the state's largest public university, enrolls about 55,000 students, including about 48,000 on the Columbus campus. Only the University of Texas at Austin is larger.

Ohio State has a budget of about $2.5 billion and has branch campuses in Newark, Lima, Mansfield and Marion. Holbrook is also skilled at dealing with funding issues, Luttge said.

That's an issue in Ohio, where last fall, Gov. Bob Taft and lawmakers cut higher education's 2002 budget by $120 million -- $28 million at Ohio State.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)