Ohio State Appoints First Woman President

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Her background in biomedical research and commitment to Ohio State University's academic plan thrust a University of Georgia administrator to the top of the school's list of presidential candidates.

Ohio State trustees on Thursday unanimously selected Karen Holbrook, a biologist, as the first woman president of the state's largest public university. Holbrook, 59, provost and second-ranking administrator at the University of Georgia, takes over as Ohio State tries to improve its academic and research reputation.

The trustees settled on Holbrook over more than 100 candidates because of her commitment to academic excellence and in particular the university's academic plan, said Jim Patterson, trustee chairman.

"More than any other person, Dr. Holbrook conveyed a thorough understanding of our vision to become a great teaching and research university and what it will take to achieve it," Patterson said.

The school academic plan, initiated by former Ohio State President William Kirwan, seeks to establish Ohio State as a leader in biomedical research, recruit and retain top faculty by raising salaries and improve the undergraduate experience.

Holbrook said Ohio State's plan was solid.

"It's one that makes a great deal of sense, it's one the outside community and the academic community can buy into. I'm strongly supportive of it," she said.

Holbrook has been a finalist in at least three other presidential searches in the past 18 months, including Arizona State University in March. She said Ohio State will be her last job.

"I am here as my last career move," she said following the trustees' vote. "I'm not interested in any other position at any other time."

Holbrook said she was attracted to Ohio State because of its size and scope, from the focus on research to the strength of its undergraduate programs.

"This institution exemplifies truly the best in public research universities," she said.

Holbrook was previously a professor and administrator at the University of Washington and the University of Florida. She feels most at home at state schools, she said.

"Public institutions are vibrant, exciting and ever-changing because they have both the mission and charge to be relevant, to serve society and to offer solutions in an increasingly complicated and complex world," Holbrook said.

Holbrook, wearing a black skirt and scarlet knee-length jacket, also paid quick homage to another aspect of Ohio State -- college football.

"I never dreamed I would be fortunate enough to return to my Midwest origins and cheer for the Buckeyes as they clean Michigan's clock 121 days from now," she said.

Holbrook, who received a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, will begin Oct. 1 with a salary of $325,000.

Kirwan left the job last month after four years to become chancellor at the University of Maryland.

Her announcement capped a quiet and swift four-month search that left many people inside the university and around the state surprised by its speed.

Brian Hicks, Gov. Bob Taft's chief of staff, only learned of Holbrook's selection on Wednesday.

"They were working a lot faster than I thought," he said.

Holbrook didn't directly comment on Ohio State's decision to raise tuition 19 percent for new in-state students and 9 percent for returning students to address falling state support.

The increase came after Taft and lawmakers, citing shortfalls in state revenue, cut higher education's 2002 budget by $120 million -- $28 million at Ohio State.

Holbrook said the university must look to a variety of sources for money.

"I don't think that any state institution can simply look to the Legislature for its answers in funding," Holbrook said. "This is a situation in every state around the nation today, that there are so many competing interests for state resources that higher education is only one of them."

Holbrook, a former consultant for the Ohio Board of Regents on doctoral programs at state schools, understands both big research institutions and smaller schools, said Gary Walters, a regents' vice chancellor.

"That's why she'll be a great leader not only for Ohio State, but for the state's higher education community as a whole," Walters said.

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