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Miami University president reflects on first year in Oxford

Renata and Greg Crawford recently paid a visit to the Oxford Rotary Club to talk about his first year as president of Miami University, while she spoke about the relationship between the city and the university. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN
Renata and Greg Crawford recently paid a visit to the Oxford Rotary Club to talk about his first year as president of Miami University, while she spoke about the relationship between the city and the university. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Eleven months into his first year as president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford recently told the Oxford Rotary Club he is “almost through the firsts” and looking forward to his second year here.

Crawford and his wife, Renata, tag-teamed a presentation at Rotary for a weekly club lunch talking about their impressions of Miami and the Oxford community as well as the things they have found which make the university special.

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President Crawford said Miami has been ranked in the Top Ten in three areas — the Public Ivys, producing Fortune 500 CEOs and in best undergraduate teaching.

“Only one school is in all three and that’s us,” he said.

He started his remarks with some personal favorite things about his first year.

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He said his favorite moment came at his inauguration day when football coaching legend and former Miami coach Ara Parseghian was given the Presidential Medal.

“At the time, Miami (football) was 0-6,” Crawford joked. “I put him next to Coach (Chuck) Martin at every chance.”

He said he and his wife were invited to serve as honorary bench coaches for the volleyball team which proved to be the night when the team won their 19th consecutive match, something Miami had never done before.

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He said his favorite place on campus is the Freedom Summer memorial on the Western Campus. He said he likes to go there for quiet moments and reflection, adding the people around him know not to disturb him when he is there.

Crawford said he appreciates the liberal arts emphasis of the university in a time when other places want to get rid of it. He said the liberal arts are important to critical thinking and helping people sort through lifelong learning with a “learn to learn” emphasis.

He said that style of learning encourages intellectual virtues, criitical thinking and transformational learning.

All of that is important, he said, because statistics show college graduates will often change jobs two or three times in the first five years after college, often not even staying in the same field.

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Miami helps its graduates with an emphasis on convergent thinking, which allows students to have a co-major often in an area different from their primary interest, and a multi-discipline approach where those in different academic areas work together to offer a more in-depth program, the president said.

“Miami is a big university. We want to encourage a multi-discipline approach,” he said, adding the various divisions can work together on what he called Big Ideas. “We try to tie all these things together. That’s how we make one plus one equal three. Almost everything revolves around that concept.”

He said this is the first year in which digital television has overtaken cable in consumer usage and Miami programs are geared to teaching the various aspects of working in the digital age.

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“The $100 billion gaming industry grows at a rate of 25 percent a year,” he said, explaining that Miami offers an opportunity for students to spend a semester in Silicon Valley to see such businesses behind the scenes for experiential learning. “Now, when students come in, they want to get started in research as freshmen. Our students will be creating new knowledge.”

They also will be creating jobs when they leave college and that is an important fact to emphasize, he said.

“Columbus asks how many of our graduates get jobs,” he said. “A major consideration is how many jobs they create.”

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While Greg Crawford has spent his first 11 months in Oxford going through his firsts and learning about programs on campus, Renata Crawford, also a doctor in her own right, has been taking the lead in learning about the Oxford community and encouraging health and fitness both on and off the campus.

She told Rotary Club members she has been working with the Town/Gown relationship.

Renata Crawford said health and fitness have been an emphasis for her with a program she called MOVE—Miami and Oxford Value Exercise. That has included a Boot Camp program held on the back lawn of Lewis Place several Saturday mornings this spring with everyone invited to take part.

“We will continue that,” she promised.

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She said she also expects to repeat a “Spin and Movies with the Crawfords” held once each of the two semesters this past year with participants invited to watch a two-hour movie at the Recreational Sports Center while spinning all the time. She said that is a good workout and joked that partway through, some of the students remembered important papers they had to work on and had to leave.

She also mentioned other activities she has learned about in the past year such as “Opening Minds through Art” in which elderly participants create artworks with the help of Miami students as a way to stay connected and exercise the mind in order to stave off some of the effects of memory loss.

“(OMA) is building bridges between generations,” she said.

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Later in a question-and-answer session Renata Crawford said it has been good to see the cooperation between students and the Oxford community.

“Oxford is reaching out. It is really encouraging to students to have events Uptown, and the reverse. To have events on campus and inviting people over,” she said.