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Ohio State University looks to privatize parking lots

Ohio State Buckeyes fans tailgate in a parking lot outside Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. OSU President Gorden Gee discusses his school's decision to lease out its parking facilities and the impact it could have.

Kai Ryssdal: Between state cuts to education on the one hand and students demanding more classes, better services and affordable fees on the other, public colleges are having to get creative budget-wise. The Ohio State University, which is in talks to lease out its parking lots to a private company to the tune of $483 million over 50 years. Gordon Gee is the president of Ohio State. We tracked him down yesterday, somewhere near Cincinnati, I think, and I asked him whether he longed for the budgetary old days.

Gordon Gee: Not really. You know, I've been a university president for half my life -- about 32 years. This is just part of a larger effort, which is to make sure that we keep costs and quality and control and that we make certain that we understand that our future is not the grand bargain that used to be, where you could raise tuition and you could expect the state to support you at a certain level. Those grand bargains no longer exist, so we now have to be in charge of our own future and that's going to require us to do what we're doing.

Ryssdal: Obviously you've had conversations with the board of trustees and I imagine members of the legislature and the governor, since Ohio State is a public institution. Do they have concerns about this monetization, I guess, of university assets?

Gee: First of all, there is always a concern among a certain group of people. I mean, this is a totally different direction. Given the fact that we have a $16 trillion deficit at the federal level and that we have considerable challenges in the state that what we're trying to do is we're trying to make certain that every Ohioan has an opportunity to come to a world-class university without any concern about raising tuition astronomically.

Ryssdal: I hate to use the term "windfall" because obviously this is a considered decision, but it's a whole boat full of money that you guys are getting -- $500 million.

Gee: It's going to be used to support our students with scholarships and to grow our faculty. We're probably one of the few institutions in the country that's actually talking about growing its faculty.

Ryssdal: You can't have any conversation about the rising cost of education and what states are doing to try to meet it without noting that you are, if not the highest paid, then one of the highest paid university presidents in the country.

Gee: I am.

Ryssdal: I'll say for the record you donate a large part to charity and back to the institution, but any second thoughts in that regard from you?

Gee: Well, I've never been in the position of defending my salary. I look at the output and hopefully the people of Ohio are getting a good effort out of me. The quality of my institution is something that I take great pride in.

Ryssdal: Gordon Gee is in his second term as the president of The Ohio State University. Thanks very much for your time, sir.

Gee: Bye now.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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