Edward H. Jennings, who dealt with a major financial shortfall and fired head football coach Earl Bruce as Ohio State’s 10th president from 1981 to 1990, died Saturday at a Tampa, Florida, hospital. He was 82.
Prior to working at Ohio State, Jennings served as the president of the University of Wyoming from 1979-1981.
Jennings, who was born Feb. 18, 1937, started his path in higher education by attending Fork Union Military Academy before receiving his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina. He later earned a master’s of business administration in finance from Western Reserve University.
After working as an industrial engineer for two years, he went back to college, earning his Ph.D in finance from the University of Michigan, the arch-rival of the school he would come to lead.
Jennings started his teaching career in 1967 at Eastern Michigan University before going to the University of Iowa, where he became the vice-president of finance in 1976.
He became Ohio State’s 10th president in 1981 at the age of 44. Shortly after Jennings became president, Ohio State’s state appropriations were cut by 27%.
“The key issue right now is the financial situation, and I consider my first duty to be to do everything I can to understand the situation and make some progress with it,” Jennings told The Dispatch in September 1981.
While it took nearly two years, he helped Ohio State move out of its financial crisis, thanks in part to the first private fundraising campaign in Ohio State’s history.
“At the time (private fundraising) was not an option,” said Stephen Buser, an emeritus professor in finance at Ohio State. “I thought he was remarkably successful in that venture to be able to fundraise and replace the money that the state had removed from the budget. I’m very grateful for him that he did. I don’t think he realized fundraising was that great of a gift for him.”
Despite being president, Jennings still taught finance classes.
“He loved to teach,” Buser said. “I respected him for that. I didn’t appreciate at the time what he was going through as president.”
In 1988, Jennings fired Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce in a decision that sent shock waves throughout the Ohio State community. In the end, the controversy led to athletic director Rick Bay resigning and Ohio State settling a lawsuit with Bruce for $471,000.
“He was an academic so he was criticized for not firing Earle Bruce, but then when he did fire him he was asked to step down,” Buser said. “He didn’t know how to handle the football dimension because he was not that big into football. He got caught up into that issue.”
Jennings announced his resignation from Ohio State on Dec. 2, 1989. He served as a professor of finance in Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business until his retirement on April 1, 2002. He later served as Ohio State’s interim president from July 1 to Sept. 20, 2002.
A memorial service for Jennings will be held in September at the First United Methodist Church in Bradenton, Florida.