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Ted Carter takes reins at Ohio State as college presidents face increasing scrutiny in U.S.

OSU President Ted Carter (center) walks around campus on his first day.
George Shillcock
OSU President Ted Carter (center) walks around campus on his first day on January 8, 2024.

On Monday, Walter "Ted" Carter started his second week as The Ohio State University's 17th president as classes resumed for the spring semester.

Carter starts at OSU almost five months after being chosen as president by the Ohio State Board of Trustees in August. Former President Kristina Johnson left in 2023 and Dr. Peter Mohler filled in as Acting President between Johnson's departure and Carter's first day.

Carter spoke to reporters Monday and said in his first year, he wants OSU to focus on student success, campus safety, supporting and retaining faculty and staff, making sure the medical school and academic research is excellent.

Carter also faces local and national pressures stemming from Israel's war on Gaza and the political and community response to the conflict. State lawmakers are also weighing major changes to higher education.

In the last month, two of the top universities in the country, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, had their presidents resign after facing criticism for comments they made regarding anti-Semitism on campus during testimony to Congress last year.

Carter said he would have differed in how he responded to the questions posed by members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I feel bad for what happened in the testimony with those presidents. I don't know that I would have answered those questions anywhere near the same. We have to have a moral backbone when it comes to doing the right thing," Carter said.

The office Carter spoke to reporters in was blockaded by protestors in November calling for a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calling on OSU to disinvest from programs they said benefitted Israel. Carter said he is glad students have a voice and OSU is supportive of their ability to speak up.

"We are also going to be supportive of First Amendment and free speech here on this campus. But we also won't tolerate hate speech, will not tolerate anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any type of bigotry, harassment or any type of incitement to violence," Carter said.

Carter called the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 a terrorist attack and despicable. He said OSU has been very clear concerning where it stands on this issue.

Carter is a military veteran and former president at the University of Nebraska and superintendent at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Reporters asked Carter about OSU athletics and the future of head football coach Ryan Day.

OSU is looking for a new athletic director once current director Gene Smith retires at the end of the academic year. Carter said the process to pick Smith's replacement as athletic director is well underway.

Carter said Day will continue to be the Buckeyes' coach, despite criticism the coach has faced after the Buckeyes failed to beat the Michigan Wolverines for the past three years. He said he had no comment on whether Michigan's head coach Jim Harbaugh should be fired.

Carter was also asked whether he'd met with OSU billionaire donor Leslie Wexner and whether Wexner being mentioned in the trove of documents released about accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein concerned him.

Carter said he wasn't concerned because there wasn't anything new mentioned about the relationship between Epstein and Wexner that wasn't already known. He called the Wexners "wonderful philanthropic partners" and said he thinks the Wexners will continue to be donors to the university.

Carter said his priorities during his first days are to be humble, to listen, to learn and to earn the trust of the Ohio State community. Carter said OSU is the largest organization he's ever had the opportunity to lead and he's taking it one day at a time.

"If you're going to eat an elephant, it's one bite at a time," Carter said.

Carter started officially on Jan. 1 with a $1.1 million salary.

He said moving from Nebraska to Columbus with his wife Lynn Carter was one of the easiest moves they've made after 41 years of marriage, moving 23 times in that span.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.