By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Bowling Green State University President Sidney A. Ribeau, who during a 13-year tenure at the Ohio campus raised low morale, exceeded fundraising goals and created model learning opportunities for students, was named president of Howard University yesterday with the hope that he would do the same for one of the nation's premier historically black universities, officials said.
Ribeau will succeed H. Patrick Swygert, who is stepping down at the end of June after a 12-year tenure in which he led a record-setting capital campaign and a technology overhaul on campus, but whose management style was described by some students and faculty as aloof and authoritarian. Earlier this year, the faculty legislative body voted no-confidence in Swygert.
"We had an understanding of the needs of the students and the needs and desires of the faculty, and we tried to match that with the candidate," said former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, co-chairman of the presidential search committee for Howard.
Powell said that Ribeau, 59, "has a superb track record as president of Bowling Green State University. He has a tremendous reputation in the community. He is in very close touch with the students. They really admire their president. And he has the good leadership and management skills that we are looking for at Howard."
University officials said they could not release Ribeau's salary or the terms of his contract. According to the most recent figures available, Swygert received $552,196 in total compensation in 2005-2006.
Ribeau, who is married and a father of three, will take over as the 16th president of the 11,000-student university Aug. 1. He was traveling yesterday, but said in a statement: "I am excited by the opportunity to serve this historic institution. Howard is a remarkable university, a truly international university and one that has made significant contributions not only in this country but around the world, training principally African Americans for global leadership roles in America and the world."
Word on the Bowling Green campus that Ribeau was leaving sparked an outpouring of praise from students, faculty and administrators, who said he was charismatic, funny, accessible and a model of collaboration, commitment and cooperation.
Supporters said he balanced the many aspects of the job of a university president, understanding the need to promote academics and athletics while fundraising and dealing artfully with local and federal officials.
"Howard made an incredible choice," Bowling Green Executive Vice President Linda S. Dobb said. "I think we were hoping that because we are in the Midwest he would remain a secret."
One of the few criticisms of Ribeau was his inability to make faculty salaries competitive with those of other Ohio universities. But some faculty members said they blame the school's board of trustees as much as they do Ribeau, who declined to take pay increases some years.
Ribeau arrived at Bowling Green in 1995, at a time when morale was shattered, staff had been reduced, the budget was in crisis and the university community was questioning the mission of the school, faculty and administrators said.
"He pulled the divided campus together, and that includes faculty, staff, students and alumni," said Ed Whipple, vice president for student affairs, who arrived on campus shortly before Ribeau.
John Waynick, president of undergraduate student government, said Ribeau was a frequent presence on campus, attending many student activities and even breaking into a dance with his wife at one. "It is clear that he works for the students," Waynick said.
Said Professor Patrick Pauken, the immediate past chairman of Bowling Green's Faculty Senate: "He turns a 21,000-student university into something that feels like a family." He added that the president and the Faculty Senate had very good relations.
Ribeau is credited with leading major academic reforms at Bowling Green that resulted in nationally recognized residential learning communities in which faculty have offices and classrooms in student residence halls and lead activities that take students into the community to help others.
"Universities traditionally reward the discovery of new knowledge," said Bob Midden, an associate professor of chemistry. "President Ribeau has been instrumental in helping to shift the focus to recognition of work that is aimed at applying new knowledge to the benefit of society."
Ribeau led a capital campaign that reached its goal of $120 million a year early and is approaching $130 million. Colleagues said he does not like to go glad-handing for money, but he doesn't have to because people like to give to Bowling Green when they find out how warm and caring he is.
Before Bowling Green, Ribeau was vice president for academic affairs at California Polytechnic State University in Pomona and professor of communication studies at California State University at Los Angeles.
He received a bachelor's degree in English and speech education from Wayne State University in 1971 and master's and doctoral degrees in interpersonal and group communications from the University of Illinois.
Swygert, who will preside over his final Howard graduation Saturday, is credited with calming a campus that had seen a succession of leaders when he arrived. University officials said he also completed a $250 million capital campaign -- a Howard record -- and helped revitalize the nearby LeDroit Park neighborhood.
Swygert could not be reached for comment.