Central State University President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond lives in a $485,000 house purchased for her last year in a Beavercreek Twp. subdivision located 10 miles from the Wilberforce campus.
Central State continues to pay the mortgage on the house — totaling $51,600 a year — as the school is under fiscal watch and its students graduate with more debt than any other four-year public school in the country.
“They’re kicking students out for having financial aid problems and all that, but they’re spending $400K on a house for the president,” said CSU student Jamal Evette as he walked between classes.
Across Ohio, university presidents are the highest paid government employees living in publicly subsidized housing.
University officials and presidential employment contracts say these houses are offered so university executives can be accessible and have a place to host potential donors and dignitaries. But this newspaper found that many of these homes are miles from campus and some are rarely used for anything but housing the president.
Wright State University president David Hopkins, for example, lives 20 miles from WSU in a Centerville home he purchased in 2009 for $600,000. His annual pay — which surpassed $1 million last year, making him the highest paid university president in the region — includes a $50,000 annual housing stipend.
Hopkins’ contract said this is offered “to help defer expenses for your private residence which will be available for University use from time to time,” though the only event held at his private home is an annual holiday party for staff.
Ohio State University President Michael Drake hosted a Christmas party last week at the Pizzuti House in Bexley, which is 10 miles from campus. At the event, Drake worked the room with small talk as a catering staff of around a dozen served everything from red velvet cake and hot chocolate to biscotti and brisket. Guests were entertained by three musicians, and an open bar.
The mansion was donated to the university in 2000 and the school spent more than $2 million renovating and furnishing it before former OSU president E. Gordon Gee moved there in 2008. Drake now lives there for free, on top of his $1 million-plus annual pay.
Miami University president David Hodge’s presidential quarters, Lewis Place, is on the Oxford campus and hosted 63 events in the 2015 fiscal year attended by 4,759 people. Gardening and housekeeping is provided as it is for other campus buildings, and events were catered at a cost of $25,121 last year.
University of Cincinnati president Santa Ono, on the other hand, lives in his own house, a $736,700 four-bedroom home about six miles from campus in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He receives no housing assistance from the university.
Ono in 2013 convinced university trustees to sell UC’s presidential residence and create a $3 million scholarship endowment. He is paid a $525,000 salary, and has rejected his annual bonus since becoming president in 2012. This year he asked that the $200,000 be given to scholarships and charities.
“College affordability is a top priority for families and students,” Ono said in a news release at the time. “I want us to think in new ways to do whatever we can to help students achieve their dream of a college education.”
Meanwhile, presidential accommodations have been a source of controversy elsewhere. The University of Akron this year took heat for laying off 161 workers right after a $950,000 remodel of the house where its president lives. Among those laid off: the crew that painted the house.
The University of Toledo Foundation this year closed on a $922,000 house for UT’s president. Ohio University was criticized this year over plans to buy a $1.2 million home for its president.
“I think all this building mansions for presidents goes way overboard,” said John McNay, president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a professor at UC.
“It’s just one more indicator of how badly our universities are managed,” he said. “We pay these presidents enormous amounts of money to run our universities and then we get decisions like this, which are clearly flawed.”
Private universities, including the University of Dayton, are also purchasing presidential mansions. On Friday, the University of Dayton announced it is buying a $1.55 million Oakwood home roughly 2 miles from campus for its next president.
UD officials cite a 2013 study by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities that says 40 percent of presidents at Catholic institutions resided in a home provided by the school, compared to 56 percent at public and other private schools.
Before Jackson-Hammond took the university’s helm in 2012, previous Central State presidents lived in the Wilhelmina S. Robinson President’s House across the street from the campus. A plaque at the historic house, surrounded by sprawling university-owned grounds, says it was dedicated in 1988.
“The home has been mothballed for the past three years,” according to an email from Central State.
Former CSU Foundation board president Charles Whitehead said the foundation purchased the house last year at the university’s request and is leasing it to the university. He said the foundation had planned on building a new president’s house on the CSU campus but had to rush to buy a house because the home the university was renting for Jackson-Hammond at $3,600 a month was put up for sale.
“Job No. 1 of the foundation is to support the institution, and they were in the situation where they had to come up with a place for the president to live,” Whitehead said, noting the foundation also owns student housing that it rents to the school. “I find nothing unusual about that.”
Whitehead said the $485,000 cost is close to what the foundation planned to spend building a new house, which is still the plan.
“We don’t think we will have any problem getting rid of this property and using the funds to help the university build something closer to the university,” he said.
‘Convenience and benefit’
Jackson-Hammond declined to comment about the new house when a reporter recently rang the doorbell. She directed all questions to the university office.
Her contract with the university, renewed this June, lists her salary as $248,745, plus a car allowance and other perks. It requires her to live at the Beavercreek Twp. home nearly 20 minutes from campus.
“This condition is imposed for the convenience and benefit of the university, which has determined that the president should reside near campus in order to embody the spirit of the university and be easily available for university functions,” the contract states.
University officials say they purchased some appliances for the home for about $2,000 and hasn’t hosted any events there this year.
Greene County property records show that the Central State University Foundation purchased the house in June 2014. It is a 3,508 square-foot, two-story brick home with five bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms and was built in 1999. It’s in the Country Club of the North subdivision.
The university foundation is the fundraising arm of Central State, and is being relied on to help collect money to assist the school in climbing out of fiscal watch.
Tax documents from 2012 — the most recent year readily available — show it had nearly $4 million in revenue and spent $334,039 in grants and assistance that year.
OSU’s $225 lamp shade
A $532 shower curtain was among the $673,000 in furnishings and adornments put into OSU’s Pizzuti House in a 2008 remodel when Gee was president.
Drake moved into the house after becoming president last year, and continues to be an active host. Three days of holiday parties last week — costing more than $18,000 a day — were among 32 events held at the house so far in 2015, with a total estimated cost of $176,636.
The university has spent $16,197 furnishing the home, including more than $3,000 on new china and silver serving pieces and a $225 lamp shade. University officials say purchasing some of these items will bring down the cost of renting items for future events.
Drake was asked about Gee’s spending habits by this newspaper earlier this year and said he didn’t want to compare himself to anyone else, and wasn’t sure if the shower curtain was still there.
“What I do is try to make a good decision every time. If I see something that looks like it’s not a good use of funds, then I don’t think that’s something we should spend funds on,” he said. “If I see something that requires a different kind of investment, then I’m perfectly willing to do that.”
In addition to the cost of hosting events, the university has spent $23,153 this year on renovations or improvements, such as re-upholstering some chairs. It has spent $50,981 for housekeeping at the residence and $20,400 for landscaping and snow removal.
Miami University hasn’t spent any money this year on improvements at Lewis Place, nor has it purchased any furnishings.
“Lewis Place has served as the home of Miami University presidents since 1903,” university officials wrote in a statement. “The majority of the furnishings on the main floor of the home — the public entertaining areas of Lewis Place — were purchased or donated to the university over the last 100 years.”
University officials say the home’s maintenance and furnishings are paid for with a specific endowment fund, except for furniture in the private residence area, which is paid for and owned by the president and his family.
Wright State records show the only expense at Hopkins’ private home is a holiday party every December.
At the most recent one, in December 2014, the university paid more than $2,000 for food and serving staff. The university foundation picked up the $124 bar tab for wine, Bud Lite, Yuengling and Stella Artois. The 56 listed attendees were largely university employees.
University of Cincinnati officials say they don’t fund any events at Ono’s private residence. The university foundation was unable to tally how much it spent on such events by press time.
The endowment funded with the sale of UC’s presidential house will support roughly $160,000 a year in student financial assistance. This year it benefited a doctoral student studying the impact of Europe’s Thirty Years’ war, as well as 29 female and minority students studying math and science.
“I think Santa Ono has probably taken the best approach,” said the AAUP’s McNay. “He makes plenty of money, and so do the rest of them. Why we have to throw in a house, I don’t know.”
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