Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Branch Campuses and the Planting of Seeds: A Local Story

Last time I wrote about planting seeds and suggested that the mission of branch campuses is to plant seeds in the lives of their students and then nurture their growth.  Keep in mind, however, that a “campus” is just a place; it is people who plant and nurture those seeds.  In that context, I want to acknowledge the importance of individuals who had the vision and determination to establish those branches and launch the opportunity for their contribution.  Anywhere you see a branch campus, you can be sure that the campus reflects someone’s vision for reaching out to serve place bound students.  The motivation for that vision may have been financial, political, or pushed by some other force.  Regardless, a seed was planted, an idea was nourished, and it made a difference.

I feel drawn to offer a “shout out” to a few individuals who launched and built Ohio University’s branch campuses.  None of these men has a branch building, let alone a campus named for him, but without their vision and commitment, the campuses never would have developed as they did. 

Ohio University’s campuses were founded in 1946, primarily to serve returning World War II veterans.  An economics professor, Al Gubitz, was appointed to oversee their operation, which was expected to last only a few years.  However, Gubitz recognized that the branches, offering only evening classes in area high schools, were meeting an important need.  With the president’s support, the University gained state approval to continue operating.

I never met Al Gubitz, but I’ve talked with people who knew him.  They describe him as smart and crusty, and I’ve heard that he operated the campuses out of the trunk of his car, carrying textbooks, sometimes money, and other things from site to site. 

Beginning in the mid-1960s, under the leadership of Ed Pinson, our “campuses” acquired land and put up buildings to support broader day and evening programs.  From that time enrollment began to grow significantly and the campuses thrived.  I do know Ed, who is a great guy, living in Athens.  Ed went on to become a university president and, later, a consultant.  But that substantial physical plant on five branch campuses owe their existence to his good work.

Still later, my predecessor, Jim Bryant, brought 24 years of steady, well-grounded leadership to our campuses, as they continued to grow.  Jim was an outstanding dealmaker and partnership builder with great understanding of higher education finance.  From him, I inherited a financially solid organization.

Of course, hundreds of administrators and faculty members contributed to Ohio’s branch campus success, and quite a few community members and politicians stepped up at critical times.  My point, here, is that we all need to keep in mind the importance of planting seeds and nurturing their growth. 

More often than not, planting seeds won’t get us in the history books.  Yet branch campuses exist because someone cared and chose to make a difference.  Someone planted the seeds and across generations others continue to plant, nurture and harvest the results.  Not a bad legacy.