The reserved parking space for the 22nd president in Miami University history is empty.
Instead of a car in the prime campus parking spot, there is a well-traveled bicycle and an attached weathered helmet leaning against the president’s parking sign on Miami’s main Oxford campus.
And soon that bike is rolling around the school’s lushly wooded campus, steered by a 51-year-old man who has pedaled across America and is now steering one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges.
Biking is Gregory Crawford’s preferred mode of transportation and is now one of his favorite ways to explore his new campus and community.
“I’ve always been a big biker since my high school days,” said Crawford, who was hired away earlier this year by Miami trustees from his vice president and associate provost position with the University of Notre Dame.
“I’ve done cross-country bike rides to raise money, and I’ve always had a commuter bike in town to try and do all the errands I possibly could, and I’ve always had a campus bike to get around campus,” said Crawford, who succeeded retiring Miami President David Hodge on July 1.
“It’s great to see a campus from the perspective of the bicycle and having students track you down or holler at you so you can stop and say hello. I always bike on campus every day, and I typically get in three or four morning (rides) a week … probably (ride) 200 miles a week,” he said while taking a mid-ride break, relaxing on a bench at the tiny Oxford Memorial Park in midtown Oxford.
“I’m blown away by how friendly and welcoming the people have been,” said the northern Ohio native who earned his undergraduate degree (mathematics and physics), master’s (physics) and doctorate (chemical physics) from Kent State University.
Hodge, “an avid runner,” regularly invited students to join him on his 6 a.m. cross-campus jogs, said Miami Spokeswoman Claire Wagner, who has worked at the school for more than a quarter of a century.
“But to my knowledge Dr. Crawford is our first avid bicycling president,” said Wagner of Crawford, who has logged nearly 15,000 miles biking for fundraisers.
Crawford’s wife, Renate, is also a biker and together in 2010 they did a cross-country bicycle ride to raise awareness and funding for a research into a rare disease championed by acclaimed former Miami and Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, a close friend of Crawford.
Miami University Trustee Chairman David Budig said Crawford and his biking is proof that “he doesn’t live in a bubble and he truly wants to hear from students” and interact with the campus and Oxford community.
“We were lucky to get him, and when he talks about his love of students, he walks the walk. He is very interested in the students’ perspective and for him, students come first,” said Budig.
On a recent pedal across campus, Crawford paused to chat up students, leaving them surprised to have spoken directly to the top official of their school.
“It was really nice to meet him, and he was really friendly and interested in what I’m studying,” said Ashley Tettenhost, a Miami senior.
“I think it’s awesome. He is really active and it’s also nice to have president who wants to get involved and get to know the people in the city and campus,” said Tettenhost.
Crawford said he is touched by the campus community’s reaction to him.
“I feel very heartened that everyone is reaching out and saying hello and introducing themselves,” he said. “I knew it was wonderful community and very family oriented, but I just did not expect the welcome I received, it was just phenomenal.”
VIDEO: Ride along with Miami University’s new President as he explores his new campus @journal-news