The president of Ohio State University, which has been grappling with allegations that it failed to protect hundreds of male athletes and students from a sexual predator, announced Thursday that he is retiring next year.
Michael V. Drake, 69, made no mention of the Dr. Richard Strauss scandal in his parting statement and instead touted his accomplishments such as imposing a freeze on tuition hikes and boosting student aid during his five-year tenure. He said he will continue teaching at the university.
“Brenda and I are blessed to be part of the incredible Buckeye community,” Drake said, referring to his wife. “The work being done at this university through teaching, learning, research, creative expression, community engagement and leading-edge partnerships is unprecedented in our 150 year history.”
“Ohio State has enjoyed record successes in several of our most important strategic markers and has tremendous momentum,” he said.
Word of Drake’s departure came a week after one of his chief advisers, Chris Culley, announced he was leaving his post as senior vice president and general counsel for a position at Georgetown University.
Drake’s retirement is “completely unrelated” to the Strauss situation, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email.
Though Drake received a positive performance evaluation from the Ohio State trustees Wednesday and a 2.5 percent raise that boosted his salary to $892,000, The Columbus Dispatch reported: “Unlike previous years, though, they did not approve a bonus.”
Later, at a meeting of the university trustees, Drake apologized again on behalf of the university to the Strauss victims gathered there. In response, Drake got an earful from Brian Garrett, a former OSU nursing student who worked with Strauss at a clinic and says he was molested by the doctor.
"I am glad you're leaving," Garrett told Drake, who sat stone-faced and did not react.
Former wrestler, Dan Ritchie, said what Strauss was doing to the athletes was not a secret to anybody.
"This university knew about the abuse prior to my enrollment and after," Ritchie said. "I’m here to speak for those who still suffer in silence."
Another ex-wrestler, Mike Schyck, grew emotional as he echoed Ritchie. "Multiple coaches and staff knew about it," Schyck said.
While Ohio State has not reached a settlement with the 300 or so Strauss victims who have filed federal lawsuits against the school, Chairman Gary Heminger said at the meeting the university "is committed to a monetary resolution.”
The Strauss scandal became a national story in July 2018 when three former wrestlers told NBC News that powerful Republican Rep. Jim Jordan turned a blind eye to the abuse when he was an assistant wrestling coach at the school. Strauss, who worked at OSU from 1978 through 1998, died in 2005.
Jordan, a two-time NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion who coached at OSU from 1986 to 1994, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of what Strauss was doing. He repeated that denial earlier this month after NBC reported that a wrestling referee said in a lawsuit against Ohio State that Strauss masturbated in front of him in a shower after a match and that he reported the encounter directly to Jordan and then-head coach Russ Hellickson. Jordan is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
NBC News reached out to Jordan's spokesman Ian Fury for comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, NBC News has learned that two former Ohio State athletes who say they were abused by Strauss have asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a letter to launch an investigation into the university’s “continuing failure to comply with the law and keep current students safe from sexual abuse and assault.”
“Ohio State has shown that it is still incapable of implementing proper protocols and procedures to keep its students safe,” Mike Avery and Trent Petrie wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to DeVos.
In the letter, they point to data gleaned from an independent audit the school commissioned following the closure of the campus security’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit that it failed to report at least 57 potential sexual assaults to law enforcement.
There was no immediate response Thursday from Ohio State about the letter to DeVos.
Avery is a former star lacrosse player and currently a morning news anchor in Michigan who told his wrenching story to NBC News last month.
Petrie played volleyball at Ohio State for two seasons and has also spoken publicly about his abuse at the hands of Strauss.
Drake has had to contend with sex abuse scandals from the moment he assumed the presidency in 2014. He inherited an ongoing investigation into allegations that marching band director Jon Waters allowed a “sexualized culture” to fester. Waters was later fired.
Then in August 2018, Drake found himself under fire after football coach Urban Meyer was suspended for three games for his handling of domestic violence allegations against a former assistant coach. At the time, Meyer said in a prepared statement, “I followed my heart and not my head. I fell short in pursuing full information because at each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.”
Trustee Jeffrey Wadsworth protested that Meyer’s punishment was a slap on the wrist and resigned. Meyer retired from coaching in December 2018 but remains on Ohio State’s payroll as the assistant athletics director.
Drake continues to be dogged by the Strauss scandal. An independent investigation into the Strauss allegations concluded in May that coaches and administrators at Ohio State knew for two decades that the doctor was preying on young men but failed to act.
“Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male student-patients,” the investigators from the Perkins Coie law firm reported. Jordan is not named in the report.
Drake apologized on behalf of the university to the victims after the report was released and Ohio State has stated repeatedly since then that it has led the effort to “expose the misdeeds of Richard Strauss and the systemic failures to respond.”
“The university is actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directly by the federal court,” Johnson said in a recent statement.
Strauss accusers called on the Ohio General Assembly to change the state’s statute of limitations law so they could sue Ohio State for damages. They did so in an opinion piece published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
And groups like the Ohio State Accountability Project have waged public campaigns to draw attention to the plight of the Strauss victims and have demanded that the school reform the way it handles rape allegations now.
Brian Williams reported from Columbus, Ohio; Corky Siemaszko reported from New York.