Ohio University won't buy new house for president

AP News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2015 6:54 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio University has backed out of a deal to buy a $1.2 million off-campus house for its president who recently moved out of his campus residence because it was infested with bats, a school official said Monday.

The university in Athens in southeastern Ohio won't exercise its option to buy the house from university athletic booster John Wharton, said Steve Golding, the university's vice president for finance and administration.

Golding said university officials decided against the purchase after learning that Wharton mentioned to an athletic department official that he planned to "continue paying on a previous pledge and to make a future gift to the university."

Golding said nobody who negotiated the lease of the home and purchase option knew about the unsolicited communication with Wharton, but the university is canceling the deal to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

"I believe that all those involved with the verbal communication concerning the gift in question acted in good faith and without any improper intent," Golding said. "Nevertheless, this communication did occur."

A record of the communication with Wharton, who could not be reached for comment Monday, was made by an athletic department official. An official with the Ohio University Foundation — the school's fundraising arm — discovered it recently while compiling documents to fulfill a public-records request, Golding said.

The university's decision to move OU President Roderick McDavis and his wife, Deborah, out of the century-old on-campus house raised the ire of many in the university community who saw it as a waste of precious higher-education resources. The new house was leased for them after a surprise encounter with a bat in the old residence caused Deborah McDavis to fall and break an ankle.

University officials said they had talked about relocating the president's residence for at least a year, and the bat problem just hastened the move. The house requires considerable structural work in addition to getting the bats out of the attic. They also noted that a nicer house will help when it comes time to recruit a new president.

More than 100 faculty members had signed a letter condemning the decision to move president, and a March 31 rally outside the old house drew hundreds of student protesters.

The McDavises will continue to live in the Wharton-owned house until the end of the lease in June 2017. The university is paying $4,318 monthly and bought the furnishings for $75,000.

Meanwhile, a campus master plan in the works will determine the best use for the on-campus house across from the library that has housed every university president since 1952.