Drake, 69, announced the move Thursday, saying he felt the timing is right both for the school and his family. He plans to stay on at least until this academic year ends and remain on the faculty after that.
"Ohio State has enjoyed record successes in several of our most important strategic markers and has tremendous momentum,” Drake said in a statement. “It was important to (my wife) Brenda and me that the university be accelerating on a path forward as we decided to begin the transition."
Ohio State said it will conduct a search for his replacement.
The university lauded a long list of strategic successes under Drake’s leadership, including record numbers for the school in applications, graduates, research expenditures and donor support. His performance as president had satisfied university trustees enough that they took early action to extend his contract into 2021 and on Thursday approved increasing his salary by 2.5%, to nearly $892,000.
But Drake, an ophthalmologist by training, has repeatedly found himself in the spotlight of negative national attention while leading the Buckeyes. He had left his role as an administrator in the University of California system in 2014 to succeed E. Gordon Gee in the top post at Ohio State.
Just a few weeks into the job, Drake fired Ohio State’s marching band director after an investigation that began before he arrived found a sexualized culture in the band.
The decision upset many members and alumni of the band, but Drake insisted the director should be held accountable for the band’s practices, even those based on generations of tradition.
Drake’s strident response to the band controversy prompted the U.S. Department of Education to close its four-year investigation into Ohio State’s handling of sexual abuse cases early, citing the standard he’d set for future conduct.
He proceeded to build a five-year financial plan; to expand financial aid to needy students, part of a $400 million commitment over five years to improve student access and value; and to put forward the first comprehensive plan to freeze tuition, fees and room and board on the Columbus campus in more than 40 years.
After the CEO Drake had recruited for OSU Wexner Medical Center resigned amid criticism in 2017, positive student news followed.
Fall enrollment that year hit a record high 66,444 students, which included a record 20% minority students — a particular accolade for the university’s first black president. Incoming freshmen that year had the highest ACT scores the university had seen to date.
A university trustee who advocated a harsher punishment — the same man who’d led the search committee that recommended Drake — immediately resigned from the board. Meyer later stepped down as coach after last season, citing a health problem, and became an assistant athletic director.
The wave of criticism over the Meyer case came as Drake and the university were dealing with emerging allegations that school officials years ago knew about but turned a blind eye to widespread, decades-old sexual misconduct by a now-deceased team doctor, Richard Strauss.
After a law firm investigation funded by Ohio State concluded that Strauss abused athletes and other young men throughout his two decades there, Drake apologized publicly for the school’s failure to stop the doctor.
Nearly 300 men have sued the university over that failure, and those lawsuits are in mediation toward a potential settlement. Some of the men have vocally criticized Ohio State and its leadership for not resolving the matter more quickly.
Drake’s retirement announcement Thursday came the same day a group of Strauss accusers again attended a trustees’ meeting to urge the university to take more responsibility for what happened.
During the meeting, trustees thanked Drake for his leadership and honored him with a round of applause.