Bats in president's attic generate flap in Ohio college town

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Posted: Apr 02, 2015 1:05 AM
Bats in president's attic generate flap in Ohio college town

ATHENS, Ohio (AP) — The grand old president's house at the center of Ohio University's campus had plenty of maintenance issues, but the bats flapping in the attic have become a symbol of what some say are misguided priorities and wasteful spending.

A surprise encounter with one of the winged vermin left President Roderick McDavis' wife with a broken ankle, driving the couple from the century-old manse and into a posh rental a few miles away. University officials now are talking about spending $1.2 million to buy the new place and repurposing the old house.

Students and faculty see the maneuverings as another waste of precious higher-education dollars perpetrated without input from the university community and the 20,000 kids who pay tuition.

The bat brouhaha is the talk of Athens, a rural southeastern Ohio town whose fortunes and culture are inextricably linked to the state's oldest university.

More than 100 faculty members have signed a letter asking the university to reconsider the move, which has been dissected in newspaper stories and excoriated in editorials. On Tuesday night, several hundred students showed up for a sign-waving protest rally in front of the old Park Place house across from the library. Someone played the "Batman" theme on a saxophone and demonstrators, some dressed in creative costumes, toted signs with such messages as "I Want My Money Back" and "Are Bats Really A $2.1 Million Problem?"

But the anger and frustration were palpable.

"This is just an absurd example of the radical disconnect between the administration's actions and the needs of students and faculty on this campus," said 19-year-old Kalten Walter, a sophomore philosophy major who came wearing bat wings and a cowl fashioned from plastic garbage bags.

History professor Kevin Mattson noted that staff has been cut and other campus buildings need major repairs, while the university crows about the football team's brand new indoor practice facility.

"What we spend money on at this university sends a message about what we care about," Mattson told the crowd.

For the university's part, the trustees have been talking about moving the president out of the campus house for at least a year, and they say the bats just forced their hand. They figure a nicer executive mansion in a quiet neighborhood will give them an edge when it comes time to recruit the next president.

University spokeswoman Katie Quaranta said McDavis didn't have anything to do with orchestrating the move and declined to make him available for an interview. She said in an email that the university supports the "constructive dialogue" about important issues on campus.

"We are glad that faculty, staff and students alike feel comfortable voicing their opinions and appreciate them doing so in a peaceful, respectful manner," she said.

Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor emeritus who runs a think tank that analyzes college costs, said moving presidents off campus is a growing trend around the country. The Ohio State University president, for example, lives in an 8,900-square-foot mansion in an upscale Columbus suburb, miles from campus.

But, Vedder said, the Ohio University community sees sad symbolism in the reserved McDavis fleeing the brick walkways and shade trees of the bustling campus for the quiet suburbs.

"I've been in this town for 50 years," Vedder said, "and I was kind of taken aback at the magnitude of the uproar over this."