Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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OSU to pick Holbrook as new leader

COLUMBUS - Ohio State University is expected to name University of Georgia Provost Karen A. Holbrook as its first female president today.

The university's board of trustees scheduled a special meeting for this morning to name a replacement for Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, who left at the end of June to return to the University System of Maryland.

The post has been temporarily filled by former President Edward Jennings, who had retired from the university in March and was never a candidate for the job.

Dr. Holbrook, 59, a biologist who researched skin diseases and the development of fetal skin, will be OSU's 13th president and join three other women as leaders of Big 10 schools: Nancy Cantor, chancellor at the University of Illinois, Sharon Stephens Brehm, chancellor of Indiana University, and Mary Joe Coleman, recently named president at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Holbrook could not be reached for comment. As provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, she has been the No. 2 administrator since 1998 at University of Georgia. Although provost, she has continued to teach at the 32,000-student, public university in Athens, Ga., and has taught at the Medical College of Georgia as well.

She was a dean and anatomy professor at the University of Florida before going to Georgia in 1998.

“She's quite a leader,” Neil Sullivan, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Science at the University of Florida, said yesterday. “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.”

She is paid $255,000 at UGA and would see an automatic bump to $262,650 as of Oct. 1, according to a UGA spokesman. Dr. Kirwan, at the 55,000-student OSU, was paid $274,400 a year.

The trustees had looked at applicants from within and outside OSU and moved relatively quickly in finding Dr. Kirwan's successor.

Dr. Holbrook has been looking for a promotion. She was among the finalists earlier this year for the presidency of the University of Arizona and the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

She is no stranger to Ohio. She worked seven years as a paid consultant to the Ohio Board of Regents for its Eminent Scholars Program and other initiatives.

“She's spectacular,” said Gary Walters, the regents' vice chancellor for academic affairs. “She was recommended to us the first time as one of the nation's leaders in graduate education, as well as a very distinguished scientist. She's just exceptionally insightful, thoughtful, very collegial, and pleasant to work with. That's why we kept inviting her back.”

Delmer Dunn, a former political-science professor who now works under Dr. Holbrook as Georgia's vice president of instruction, said Dr. Holbrook did not mention the OSU job at a morning meeting yesterday. He said her vision at Georgia should mix well with the direction Dr. Kirwan was pursuing before leaving.

“Here she has focused on biomedical research and teaching programs,” Dr. Dunn said. “We were already strong in some of that already, but she has a knack for getting a wide-ranging group of people with divergent interests to work together for a common cause.”

Just before Ohio's economy began faltering last year, Dr. Kirwan and the trustees began an ambitious, long-term effort to turn OSU into a leading institution with nationally recognized research, faculty, and technology. The move included higher student admission standards and bigger tuition bills, even before the latest state budget cuts.

Dr. Holbrook joins OSU when the state is trying to redefine itself in terms of higher education. Despite poor performance in getting K-12 students to go on to college, the state cut back on funding for higher education and has been slow to jump-start investment in high-technology and biomedical research.

Dr. Holbrook is from a state that, unlike Ohio, does not allow college professors to unionize.

Ohio State, whose Columbus campus is the second largest in the country, has more than twice the budget of the UGA, $2.5 billion to $1.1 billion. Ohio State has branch campuses in Newark, Lima, Mansfield, and Marion.

Dr. Holbrook spent five years as vice president of research and dean of the graduate school at the University of Florida before being lured to Georgia. Her resume includes the University of Washington as a professor and associate dean.

She earned her bachelor's and master's degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin and her doctorate in biological structure from the University of Washington School of Medicine, where she was a biology professor and associate dean for scientific affairs.

She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1996 received the Marion Spencer Fay Award as the distinguished woman physician/scientist of the association's board.

“She has tremendous vision,” said Christine Langone, a professor who chairs the executive committee of University Council, Georgia's faculty government.

“I think you're lucky.”

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