*Award-winning higher ed coverage
I started covering higher education for The Blade in February of 2015. Good timing, given that the University of Toledo was in the midst of a national search for a new president to lead northwest Ohio’s largest university.
It was and still is a critical juncture for UT, as I explained in a story this week about the president’s first year on the job:
During one of last fall’s pep rallies, a crush of University of Toledo students cheered for the Rockets along with the school’s new president.
The football team was enjoying a winning season — it would go on to win a bowl game — and the campus was buzzing.
President Sharon Gaber, now 52, had left her provost post at the University of Arkansas a few months before to lead a school battling dwindling enrollment, battered finances, and, in some cases, broken trust. The board of trustees picked her from a field of 29 candidates, gave her a five-year contract, and told her they wanted to transform the university.
On this particular day, she stood in Centennial Mall, the grassy gathering place in the center of campus and one of her favorite spots. Months later, she still recalls someone telling her how, in 20 years at UT, they had never seen so many students on the mall.
“How fun is that?” Ms. Gaber said, during a recent interview in her University Hall office. “The students were excited, and the faculty were excited, and … it was a great moment.”
She counts it as one of the best of her first year, an inaugural lap she finished Thursday amid applause from campus leaders who have cheered her fresh approach.
It came full circle this week, with the publication of the above story and a personal exclamation mark from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists in the form of a first place award for best higher education issues reporting among the state’s largest circulation newspapers. I share the honor, announced this week, with my pal and coworker, reporter Lauren Lindstrom.
A lot of ink (digital and liquid) was spilled over the presidential search, the presidential pick, and her first 12 months at the helm: from this piece introducing the three finalists for the position and explaining what was at stake with the choice, to the various campus constituent groups lining up behind various candidates, to the surprising decision by one of the finalists to pull his name from contention, to this piece on the board’s decision to hire Sharon Gaber, to a break down of her $450,000 contract compared to other Ohio public university presidents, to this story on her first full day on campus, and then inauguration day coverage when she was formally sworn in as UT’s 17th and first female president.
Along the way, of course, lots of other stuff happened at UT:
Four people, including a former dean and associate dean, no longer work in YouCollege (and the college itself no longer exists), after an internal review uncovered a culture of bad management (Think: doors slamming, racially insensitive remarks).
A fraternity was placed on probation and six students sanctioned after a black student was allegedly punched, kicked, and called by a racial slur at an off-campus party.
A UT graduate student found a link between depression and binge-watching TV shows, bad news for this reporter and many other House of Cards/Gilmore Girls/Parenthood fans.
And, UT’s new president began thinking about how to bolster the university’s lagging national reputation, perhaps by hiring big-name researchers and professors.
In other words (lots and lots and lots of words), it’s been a very busy 18 months on the education beat in Toledo. Thanks for following along.