Union Spotlight: The Ohio Union at The Ohio State University-Columbus

Union Spotlight: The Ohio Union at The Ohio State University-Columbus2004-01-0158Union Spotlightsfalse


Founded in 1909, the Ohio Union was the first college union at a public institution in the United States. The Ohio Union was also where the American Association of Student Unions, ACUI's forerunner, was formed in 1914. When the current building was erected in 1950, it was done out of students' need to assemble in one location. Consistent with the times, the men of Ohio State could gather in the Ohio Union, but the women were restricted to another building on campus, Pomerene Hall. In the late 1940s, students petitioned the university and offered to pay $5 each if they could have a building where all students could come together to interact and socialize. The voice of the students was heard, and the Ohio Union was resurrected to become a true model union of its time, equipped with an air cooling system, wall-to-wall carpeting, terrazzo floor, and a dishwasher conveyor system that took dishes from the basement level to the second floor.

In October of 2002, discussion began about building a new Ohio Union. Old and tired, the existing building is difficult for all guests to navigate and it has many of its original mechanicals. In fact, the chiller is one of the oldest operating Carrier machines in the nation, and Carrier has requested it for its museum as soon as the chiller no longer works. In addition, the union is not attracting as many students as it once did in the 1950s. A proposal to tear down the existing structure and rebuild was put forward. This project is proposed to cost just under $100 million. Staff are awaiting approval for the plan and should know within the year if the project can move forward. In the meantime, temporary improvements have been made to expand client and guest traffic; to create more appealing spaces to be rented out for increased profit; and to reinvest in students' connection to the union.

Unique features

The Ohio Union houses a variety of services and departments. Students will find more than 35 student organization offices, housing 60 student groups, as well as the Student Organization Resource Center (SOURCE), which offers services to more than 650 student organizations. Helping to bridge student affairs and academic affairs, the Ohio Union is also the site of various academic classes and a large computer lab.

The newly renovated ballrooms offer more than 13,000 square feet of multipurpose space that can be arranged as a large lecture or an intimate banquet. The deep mahogany wood accented by the light maple trim is the perfect backdrop to any event.

Perhaps the union's most well-known feature is Woody's, a restaurant/sports pub named for the infamous Wayne Woodrow "Woody" Hayes, one of Ohio State's most memorable football coaches who coached the Buckeyes to three national championships and 13 Big Ten titles. At Woody's, students can use their campus meal plan, watch games on the big-screen television, or listen to live performances on the built-in stage.
Students' role

As one would imagine, students play a large and important role in union operation. Currently, 60 undergraduate student employees assist with the building's day-to-day operation. Each year all student employees are asked to complete a development plan that is then monitored by their supervisors to ensure they are learning more than the technical skills associated with answering telephones and setting up rooms. Five to seven graduate students also work in the union through the student affairs graduate participation program. As part-time employees with a two-year assistantship, these students are treated as professional staff members.

While Ohio Union history includes the popular 1950s "Koffee Klatsch" program and a performance in the early 1970s by little-known band Aerosmith, the union has also welcomed prominent performers in recent years, such as: Adam Sandler, James Earl Jones, Kevin Smith, Rusted Root, Vertical Horizon, Howie Day, Dennis Miller, the real-life coaches (Herman Boone and Bill Yoast) from Remember the Titans, Dr. Drew Pinsky and Adam Carolla from MTV's "Loveline," and a world-record attempt at the largest aerobic workout, which brought 5,500 people to OSU's Oval for Tae Bo with Billy Blanks. Video game and card tournaments, swing dance lessons, psychic fairs, arts and crafts series, and many more activities punctuate a collection of exciting events enjoyed over the years. And a friendly competition between students and campus dining services chefs, known as "Buckeye Chef," (a take-off on the Food Network's "Iron Chef") has become a popular spring tradition.

Urban, public, four-year institution

DIRECTOR: Tracy L. Stuck
SIZE OF THE UNION: 220,000 sq. ft.
NUMBER OF FLOORS: 6 (Including basement)
FOUNDED/BUILT: First Ohio Union founded in 1909; Current Ohio Union (on different building site) built in 1950
BUDGET: $4.23 million
   Full-time: 3
   Part-time: 67
   Full-time: 32
   Part-time: 2

Updated Nov. 9, 2012