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Q&A with SJO

Santa Ono reflects on second anniversary as UC’s president

This month, President Santa J. Ono marked the second anniversary of his appointment by the Board of Trustees as UC’s 28th president. To mark the occasion, below is a Q&A about his tenure so far and about his outlook for the future. To suggest questions for future interviews with the president, please email them to president@uc.edu and put “Q&A with SJO” in the subject line.

Q: Having served two years as UC’s president, what has been the biggest surprise to you?

Initially, a lot was very new to me. I was familiar with the University of Cincinnati because I had served as its provost, but my role was new and different. So many people have helped me to get acclimated and to feel at ease.

Q: What has been your favorite part of being the university’s chief executive?

A: My favorite part is that I feel so connected with individuals in each part of the university. Across the colleges and departments, I have gotten to know so many faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors. It has been gratifying to get to know so many different people, and it makes me feel very proud of the institution and very much at home.

Q: What has changed the most about UC since you have been president?

I don’t have any numbers or statistics to prove it, but I hope that UC has become more faculty driven and student centered. And I am happy to report that the President’s Cabinet is now much more diverse.

Q: What is Creating Our Third Century and how is it working? How can faculty and staff help?

A: Creating Our Third Century is a refinement of our priorities so that UC is in the best position for our third century when the UC bicentennial arrives in 2019. It is about investing in people and reinvesting in our core academic mission. In the past two years, we have committed several hundred million in design, construction and renovation of buildings and facilities that serve our academic mission. This fiscal year, Creating Our Third Century is investing $13 million in Phase One, including expanded markets for student recruitment, faculty cluster hiring, supporting faculty development for study abroad programs and enhancing our research capacity. Our entire university can help by thinking how best to serve our students, alumni, faculty and staff and making this an even more compelling destination campus.

Q: Your use of social media has resulted in many kudos…for example Education Dive said “UC President Santa J. Ono arguably sets the standard for the digital age.” Why do you place a priority on using social media? How do you find time to keep up with it?

Social media is a way to enhance my connections and relationships all across the  UC community and around the globe. It doesn’t take the place of face-to-face communication, but it puts me in touch with a whole variety of people and their ideas and viewpoints. It is really a part of me now, and it only takes 30 seconds or so at the beginning or end of an event. It also helps keep me grounded.

Q: Do you plan to continue using social media?

I am sure that social media will continue to change and evolve, and I expect to keep using it. One of my daughters is using SnapChat, and I have not ventured into that yet. But I am on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Q: Have there been any embarrassing moments as president?

A: I once tweeted the lyrics to a Beyonce tune without really understanding the full context of them. Fellow tweeters quickly set me straight.

Q: What is the greatest threat to achieving our institutional aspirations?

The budget is always a challenge, but the biggest threat is to be complacent. We must always keep working to think of new and innovative ways to be the #HottestCollegeinAmerica, whether that is for undergraduate or graduate students, our faculty, staff or alumni.

Q: Could you put on your “futurist” hat and tell us what you want UC to be like in five years?

I would like to see UC become an even stronger institution than it is today, with even more world-class programs and undeniably faculty driven and student centered. I want UC to be a place that faculty and staff can say is a wonderful place to work.

Q: Are you still committed to staying for the full 10 years of your contract?

I am having such an amazing time at UC and not even thinking about what comes next.

Q: What is being done to make the campus and the areas around UC safer?

A: Crime both on and around UC’s campus has steadily decreased since 2008 and is at a five-year low – down by about 20 percent. But we are not going to become complacent about safety. The President’s Safety Committee, which was initiated within a few months of my appointment as president, continues to work diligently and has created a strategic plan. Our new police chief, Jason Goodrich, arrives on Nov. 3. We have expanded patrols and are in the process of adding 24 more police officers and 10 security officers. UCPD is also partnering with Duke Energy to install additional street lights and improve visibility in areas west and east of campus. Last year, 93 lights were installed – 321 will be installed this year. We’ve expanded our NightRide service and created a LiveSafe App. Safety remains a top priority.

Q: What are your favorite things to do in Cincinnati not related to UC?

A: I love to spend time with my wife, Wendy, and our daughters, trying new restaurants, going to movies, and watching TV together. Wendy and I love going to the Cincinnati Symphony and on campus to the performances at CCM. 

Q: How do you maintain the pace, focus and strength required for the schedule and responsibilities that your job has taken on?

I draw energy from the people that I meet and from the purpose of higher education. I have recently taken up running and weight lifting. I’m trying to make exercise a part of my priorities. I’ve also started to play the cello again when I can find some free time.

Q: In addition to your UC activities, you have also become an active member in the Greater Cincinnati community. Is there something that you would like people to know about these activities?

Of all of my activities in the community, my role on the United Way Research Council is the most important, and the one I feel has the greatest impact. The United Way is a real treasure, and it has defined bold goals on how to make our region stronger and a better place to live. Their work is something that impacts most of the residents of Greater Cincinnati. And they really have thought through our biggest challenges and set goals to achieve them. I also care deeply about the Interfaith Hospitality Network, the Center for Respite Care and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Additional photos from President Ono's first two years at UC

Click any image to enlarge