March 13, 2011
By Lori Higgins
Gary Russi credits partnerships between Oakland University and various parts of the community for much of the school's growth, but many say he deserves a lot of credit.
"President Russi has had a strategic vision that we can and that we should grow," said Jay Meehan, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Russi first came to OU in 1993 as vice president for academic affairs. In 1995, he was named interim president, then appointed president in 1996. He is one of the longest-serving presidents of Michigan's 15 public universities.
Russi, who has degrees from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the University of Kansas, had been vice president for research and strategic planning at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
He said during a recent interview that one of the first things he wanted to do as president was open communication with the community -- business and community leaders, alumni, donors, lawmakers -- because the university wouldn't be able to grow without that connection.
"In today's world of higher education, if one doesn't develop meaningful and lasting partnerships with the community it serves, it really won't succeed," Russi said.
Russi hasn't been immune from controversy. Many were angered when the Board of Trustees gave him a 40% raise in 2008 -- a year before OU had the highest tuition increase among Michigan's public universities. He now earns $350,000.
Ted Montgomery, spokesman for the university, said Russi was rewarded for his accomplishments in moving the university forward and for his length of service. The increase also put his salary in line with other university presidents.
Russi's salary has not changed since that 2008 increase.