COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A decorated combat veteran and Top Gun graduate will be the next leader of Ohio State University.

Ohio State’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted Tuesday afternoon to name Walter “Ted” Carter as Ohio State’s 17th president. Currently president of the University of Nebraska System, Carter will assume the role in January, a little less than a year after the university launched its presidential search.

Walter “Ted” and Lynda Carter. (Courtesy Photo/Ohio State University)

A Rhode Island native, Carter will bring decades of military experience, thousands of hours in flight and years of working in higher education. He also comes with a bouquet of accolades for his military and educational service. But serving as president of Ohio State will be Carter’s “greatest honor,” he said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Carter outlined his most general goals for his upcoming presidency, among them student success, college affordability and excellence in research.

“What our students will find is that I will engage. I hope they will think that I’m approachable and that I will listen,” Carter said at a Tuesday news conference. “I will listen to their concerns. I will care greatly about their success, about their ability to have the best value education at the best price, and also make sure that we keep this campus as safe as possible.”

Carter will replace Kristina M. Johnson, who announced her resignation last November and stepped down after May commencement. Johnson and Carter assumed their previous presidencies months apart – Carter in January 2020 and Johnson that August.

At the helm of Ohio State, Carter will earn a base salary of $1.1 million, according to his offer letter. He is eligible for an annual performance bonus up to 30% of his base salary, will receive a $50,000 fringe benefit allowance each year, and the university will contribute $300,000 annually to his retirement fund.

Carter’s contract is slated to expire at the end of 2028. Should he voluntarily leave early — or should he be terminated for cause within a year of his start date — he will have to repay a $250,000 “transition” bonus the university is giving him.

Meet ‘Slapshot,’ the military man

Carter’s military experience has been intertwined with his education for decades. 

In 1981, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also played ice hockey. He then graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School – colloquially known as Top Gun – and earned further credentials from the Navy Nuclear Power School, the U.S. Air Force Air War College and other military colleges.

As a military flight officer, Carter’s callsign was “Slapshot.” During his 38-year Navy career, he served in both combat and the classroom.

Carter logged more than 6,300 flying hours and flew 125 combat missions, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. He’s collected several awards for his skill and service, including the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross with combat distinction. 

Photos of incoming Ohio State President Ted Carter

Having landed thousands of planes on the decks of Naval ships, Carter holds the national record for aircraft carrier “arrested” landings. Last year, he received the U.S. Naval Academy’s Distinguished Graduate Award, the academy’s most prestigious honor whose honorees include former President Jimmy Carter and former Senator John McCain.

Following combat, Carter was briefly president of the Naval War College in Rhode Island before serving a five-year stint as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. While leading the Naval Academy, the school earned top national rankings for student success and diversity. 

By the time he retired from the Navy and the Naval Academy in 2019, Carter achieved the rank of vice admiral, a three-star commissioned officer ranking.

From one Big Ten university to the next

Carter was just two months into his presidency at the University of Nebraska when the COVID-19 pandemic began, requiring him to navigate the closure of the system’s four universities across the state. With a focus on affordability and access, Carter launched the Nebraska Promise, which guarantees free tuition for low- and middle-income students, and froze tuition for two years.

He looked toward Ohio State’s own college affordability initiatives, including a Johnson-established program for students to graduate debt-free, and said his work coming into the presidency will be to evaluate that program and others. Within six months, Carter said he hopes to identify strengths in the university’s current strategy and modify it — or rewrite it entirely.

Like Ohio State, the University of Nebraska is an R1 research university, and Carter has bolstered its reputation for quality and innovative study. Under his leadership, the Department of Defense awarded the University of Nebraska a $92 million federal research contract, making the university one of 14 conducting “exclusive” research for the department. 

“We were absolutely determined to find the next greater leader of Ohio State in today’s highly complex and competitive higher education environment,” Hiroyuki Fujita, Ohio State board chair, said. “I believe we have done just that.”

Ohio State’s announcement comes days after the University of Nebraska approved Carter’s contract extension through 2027. As part of that contract, Carter was promised a $30,000 raise – to a base salary of $962,638 – and a 11.5% deferred compensation package.

Carter said during a Tuesday news conference that the day was “bittersweet” — as he is welcomed by a new university, he must bid farewell to another.

“I loved working at Nebraska. I’m not leaving there disgruntled, unhappy about anything,” Carter said. “It’s a tough job. And Nebraskans have welcomed my wife and I the entire time we’ve been there.”

Until Carter assumes the presidency in January, the role will be temporarily filled by Peter Mohler, executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge at Ohio State, the board announced Tuesday. Carter will leave the University of Nebraska at the end of the year.