Ohio University Trustee Criticized Over E-mail Race Reference


Ohio University donor Steven Schoonover has come under criticism for sending an email that included objectionable statements about race.

In an email to Ohio University Administrators concerning petitions against plans to buy a mansion for President Roderick McDavis, who is African-American, he advised them to “play the race card.”

In late March, faculty spoke out against spending $1.2 million for the house. On April 2nd, he sent an email that said:

I want to be on [the call] to express my outrage that we let a bunch of loudmouths and demonstrators who have probably never given a dime to OU and a bunch of newspaper reporters and university professors who have no idea or don’t care what it takes to attract top notch Presidents to live in a small town like Athens.

… I think we should handle it the same way the Democrats do every time Republicans attack President Obama… They label them racists. So if you are worried about the petition by the Faculty just place the race card and call them racists and make them defend themselves! They pull that in Washington everyday! Seriously we have to stand up for what is right and the decision to buy that house for the Presidents of Ohio University is the right decision.

Some OU students and faculty are asking the OU Foundation trustee to resign, for his name to be removed from the school’s Schoonover Center for Communication building (for which he donated $7.5 million), and for two trustees who supported him to be removed as well. The Ohio University Student Union published a petition to these ends on Sunday morning, and by Monday afternoon it had over 200 signatures, writes Reis Thebault of the Columbus Dispath.

According to Zoey Holmstrom of the Post Athens, Joe McLaughlin, a former Chairman of the Faculty Senate and an Associate Professor of English, said:

It is highly problematic that such an individual occupies a position of responsibility with the OU Foundation and has the ear of our executive administrators and trustees, no matter how much money he has given to the university. It is also disconcerting, though predictable, that in the face of legitimate and reasonable objections to the proposed purchase of the Coventry Lane property, Mr. Schoonover suggested the administration spin it as a personal attack.

The Associated Press quoted Beth Quitslund, Chairwoman of the faculty senate and an Associate Professor of English, who made the point that this incident should be seen as a gateway to discussion and policy changes.

The idea that financial donations to the institution make you an authority on institutional policy is an anathema to the value of higher education.

… I would always prefer open discussion and debate to swift punishment. I would like to see the result of this be a greater institutional willingness to discuss issues of conflict rather than to manage them.

Schoonover explained himself in an apology statement published by the Athens News:

My off-the-cuff statements were not intended to be serious, nor do they reflect my actual feelings toward the faculty and students at Ohio University. Read carefully, the ‘race card’ comment was actually a criticism of the way things are handled at other plays, not at Ohio University.

In mid-April, the university announced that it would continue to lease the house at 31 Coventry Lane for $4,318 per month, writes Karen Farkas of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.