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OU mourns the death of its 18th president Charles J. Ping

ATHENS – Ohio University President Emeritus Dr. Charles J. Ping, died Monday at his home in Athens.

“As we mourn the loss of Charles Ping, we also celebrate his enormous contributions to Ohio University,” said OU president Hugh Sherman. “In addition to his vision of what Ohio University could become, and his dedication to the humanities, he will be remembered most dearly for who he was – compassionate, loving and respectful of all. He deeply loved our students, his colleagues and our community.”

Ping arrived on campus in 1975 to an institution with great potential but in deep turmoil from Vietnam-era student protests, declining enrollment and staggering debt. In 19 years as president, he launched multiple capital campaigns to raise money and established many new academic programs to attract more students.

Vice president emeritus of Development Jack Ellis, BSCOM ’57, who was chief development officer throughout Ping’s tenure, said the first capital campaign served to help build confidence among university staff and alumni.

“Our financial situation was so dismal that we didn’t have financial resources to even undertake a campaign. To take on a campaign of that magnitude… if it was not successful, imagine the impact of a failed campaign. It took a lot of courage to undertake something like that,” Ellis said.

When Ping arrived in 1975, Ellis said the University was embroiled in a crisis of confidence.

“I’ve heard Dr. Ping say that when he studied Ohio University, he saw a tremendous amount of academic quality at Ohio University among the faculty and staff, but just a lack of confidence because of what the University had been through over the past four or five years. His first role was to help instill confidence in the faculty and staff that this was still indeed an exceptional University.”

Ellis noted that Ping’s success was due to his character.

“He was a man of great character, strong character. He was a very fair individual. He tried to surround himself with a staff of people that he had confidence in that could run their particular operation, and he kept informed as to what was going on, but he did not interfere,” Ellis said. “Charlie was a great boss, an admired mentor and colleague, and a very dear friend.”

Ping worked diligently to increase the then-low rate of enrollment at OHIO with a focus also on student retention. He established new academic programs including sports administration, international business, and remote sensing. During his tenure, the College of Health and Human Services (now the College of Health Sciences and Professions) was established to attract more students.

“Charles Ping was a great man and a great president for Ohio University. He assumed the presidency during a time when the University was at a low point in its history, and in the early part of his 19-year tenure he successfully restored financial stability and gave the institution solid academic governance,” said OU President Emeritus Robert Glidden, who succeeded Ping as president in 1994. “Charlie was a perfect gentleman. We always had a very good relationship, and I very much valued and appreciated what he did with the Cutler Scholars Program and his relationship with many of our important alumni during his post-presidential years.”

OU Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Gaddis, who founded the Contemporary History Institute and is now a professor of history at Yale University, summed it up succinctly: “Charles and Claire Ping rebuilt a university.”

Ping created the tier general education system for undergraduate students to give each student a well-rounded learning experience over a broad range of subjects.

With the rate of enrollment steadily rising, Ping oversaw some additions and renovations on campus. During his presidency, the Aquatic Center was built, Peden Stadium was enlarged, state-of-the-art equipment was provided for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, and construction began on the Charles J. Ping Student Recreation Center.

After retiring from his presidency at OU, he continued to teach at the Charles J. Ping Institute for the Teaching of the Humanities. Dedicated to ensuring that history, philosophy, languages and other fields in the humanities are available to all, the Institute includes three named professorships as well as fellows that serve three-year terms to encourage the flow of new ideas.

Ping held multiple leadership roles on council boards following his retirement, including the Council for International Education Exchange, Muskingum College Board of Trustees, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Board of Trustees and the Manasseh Cutler Scholars Program.

Before coming to OU, Ping had served as professor of philosophy, dean of faculty, vice president, and acting president of Tusculum College in Knoxville. He also held the positions of professor of philosophy and provost at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Ping attended Rhodes College in Memphis, where he received his bachelor of arts. He received a bachelor of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and earned his doctorate in philosophy from Duke University in Durham, N.C. He was also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Management Program.

Ping is survived by his wife, Claire Oates Ping, for whom Claire Cottage is named, and his children, Ann Venable and Andrew Ping.

Services will be held on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church at 2 N. Court St. in Athens.