Office of the President
A Blueprint for the 21st-Century University
May 2, 2012
Thank you, Professor Price. That was stunning. I know BalletMet presented the world premiere of DanceTech a few weeks ago to rave reviews. Thank you for sharing that extraordinary excerpt.
My thanks also to Jim Rathman. I am grateful to him for opening this session for us, and for his leadership of the Faculty Council.
I am also grateful to be here today at the Wexner Center for the Arts, one of my absolute favorite places on campus.
Its singular architecture references both the past and the future. The turrets echo the historic Armory Building, which once occupied this very space – and the scaffolding suggests a bold template of what is yet to come.
It is, in many ways, a striking metaphor for our University in 2012. I believe the great universities of today and tomorrow will honor their histories by adapting for the future.
The Center has become a powerful force in the national and international art world. I look forward to a major exhibition by the great Annie Leibovitz this fall. What a remarkable coup, that is! Congratulations to all of you who made that possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, time has always been the precursor to change. And no doubt, these are ornery times for public universities, requiring change of the highest order.
Questions about the central purpose of higher education swirl in the current of national discontent. We are being held to an unprecedented level of scrutiny – both from within, and from without.
On the national and international levels, higher education is a critical part of the political discourse. In fact, there may be only one issue upon which the presidential candidates agree, which is that escalating student debt is nearing crisis level.
Parents and students are alternately concerned and outraged by tuition costs. Many public and private universities are trying to make up budget deficits with fee increases or by freezing expenditures. And a college degree at some private universities can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is fierce competition from the for-profits. A recent article in The Chronicle cites a 236 percent increase in the number of new students enrolled in for-profit colleges.
Prominent universities such as Princeton and the University of Michigan are joining the online education revolution, developing MOOCs – massive open online courses – to facilitate learning in today's fully wired and global world.
And many of you have no doubt heard of the Stanford-tenured professor who taught his "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" class online for free. The response was so overwhelming—160,000 students enrolled in the course—that he quit Stanford and started a new online university called Udacity.
Time and change, indeed.
By all indications, the higher education institution of the future is going to be vastly different from the university of today.
The modes of learning are evolving. The funding model is devolving. Technology is revolutionizing our lives and integrating the global landscape.
It is clear that in order to remain relevant, we must step outside of the comfort zone of the past century.
At the same time, we must remain fierce advocates of the traditional collegiate experience that values interaction between students and faculty and transports teaching and learning beyond a computer screen.
"Disruptive technologies" without boundaries or quality control could lead to disruptive models of higher education that stray far from the notion of academic values.
In this race to discover the best model, I refuse to allow this great University to be overtaken. I refuse to allow us to be edged out by the next new thing.
I firmly believe that we must be the architects of the University of the Future. In order to fulfill our founding promise to be the intellectual and economic engine for Ohio, we must create a wholly new blueprint for the university of the 21st century.
I want to be perfectly clear on this note: If we are serious about moving from excellence to eminence – and I assure you that I am adamant on this point – we also must develop a new funding model that will enable us to achieve our aspirations.
We must do it ourselves. We must do it now. And we must do it together.
At the national level, leaders from six higher education associations have come together to address these thorny issues. Last year, we created a national Commission on Higher Education Attainment, which I am honored to lead.
This unprecedented initiative includes presidents from every type of college and university. We are working together to answer this fundamental question: How can we give more people access to a high-quality education and graduate more students?
The entire funding model for public universities is in fast-forward decline. Gone are the days when we can hold our palms outright and hope for the best. We know we cannot depend any longer on federal and state funds to support our aspirations.
In the past, I have reiterated the litany of woes of universities around the country. Layoffs, astronomical tuition hikes, larger class sizes, fewer services. You have no doubt heard the horror stories.
Thus far, Ohio has fared better than most. However, I will tell you that current analyses of funding scenarios based on state and federal budgets in the near term do not look promising. To be frank, early indications suggest even more perilous challenges ahead for higher education.
For example, at the federal level, the agencies that support faculty research programs – existing and future – are facing the very real possibility of targeted reductions.
Let me assure you, we are watching this very closely. We will be sharing more specifics in the next two or three weeks as we develop our understanding.
Today, I prefer to talk about what we are doing, and where we are going, in these vexing times.
No doubt, it must seem to many of you that the entire axis of the University is beginning to shift. One University. Global Gateways. Semester conversion.
In the words of one of our own professors of English, Henri Cole, who last month received the prestigious Jackson Poetry Prize: "Like an outdated map/my borders are changing."
Ladies and gentleman, so, too, our borders are changing. That is the reality. I have been a university president for three decades. I feel the change as acutely as anyone in the room.
I have been called a dreamer. And I will unabashedly admit to being an optimist. But I am also a pragmatist.
I know we cannot fulfill our land-grant promise to the 11 million citizens of this state by curbing our aspirations. I know we cannot help to solve the world's most pressing challenges by slowing our pace and committing to stagnation.
Simply put: We cannot move forward by standing still.
When I returned to this University nearly five years ago, I said we were poised to move from excellence to eminence. Today, we are fully ready.
At the April meeting of the Board of Trustees, Provost Alutto presented a strategic vision for the University, which maps out our aspirations for the next decade, including our goal to become a top-ten public university by the year 2020.
This is a pivotal moment for the University and for the State of Ohio, but for some among us, I feel we are at a philosophical crossroads.
The way forward has implications not just for those in this room, but for your sons and daughters, and your grandchildren, and children across Ohio.
The way forward is not about my presidency or your tenure. It is not about this quarter or next semester. It is not about committees or parking or publications.
It is about something larger than any individual in this room or any group of individuals on campus. Frankly, we will all come and go.
It is about a University with 140 years of history.
It is about our responsibility to sustain this remarkably complex and wonderful University for generations to come.
It is not about surviving. It is about thriving.
It is about enabling the full promise of our intellectual prowess and its potential to help feed more people, provide clean water, mend cultural divides, create art, save lives, change lives, and educate the entrepreneurs and artists and engineers of the future...
We have a unique opportunity here – and an enormous obligation – to chart the course of this University – not just for this year or the next. We have the opportunity to do something quite extraordinary together, and that is to write the future of this University.
We have the opportunity to reshape the University, so that 100 years from now, in 2112, The Ohio State University will be one of the premier universities in the world.
We have the opportunity to do something truly historic in the timeline of this University.
Think of that for a moment.
That is what we are here to consider. That is our moment of opportunity.
In his Address to the University Senate in February, Provost Alutto distilled the concept of excellence to eminence into a measurable goal: We believe we can become a top-ten public university by the year 2020.
I have been on the record as being a critic of national college rankings. But the truth is, they are here to stay and we are determined to have a strong showing. To some extent, these ranking systems provide some general metrics of success that will help to guide us on the University's path to eminence.
As Dr. Alutto pointed out, most of the rankings systems share common indicators for top-tier universities – number and quality of faculty, student quality and success, and adequate funding to support academic programs.
Allow me to talk briefly about a few of these, specifically the importance of growing our faculty and funding our vision for the future.
There is no doubt that gifted faculty are nothing less than the lifeblood of a university. Clearly, it is through an unwavering commitment to all of you that we will reinforce the overall academic mission of our university for the long-term.
To this end, our strategic vision calls for an increase in the number of highly talented faculty at Ohio State. We are looking at an eight to ten percent increase, with a focus on retaining and recruiting a mix of both junior and senior faculty members.
Many of these faculty will be hired to support the University's Discovery Themes of Health and Wellness, Food Production and Security, and Energy and Environment. These areas require broad disciplinary expertise and encompass issues of worldwide importance.
In this, we have already begun to make some progress. We are adding to our core faculty. And I will tell you, adding faculty is almost unheard of in this day and age. I can think of no other university in the country that is able to take such bold leaps into the future.
You know that we have hired new deans across campus; most recently, in nursing, engineering, dentistry, medicine. There is a reason we are attracting the cream of the crop. People are making the move here because of the opportunities at our University... Because it is well-known that we are on the move, and we are firmly committed to making this University a great place to work.
And I want to make this point: I am already utterly and irrevocably impressed with the talent and intellect and true genius that we have here.
Our blueprint for the future calls for us to build upon our present talent, not to deconstruct it. We know we must work diligently to re-recruit our current faculty, even as we attempt to recruit new faculty to our campus. They want to come here because of your excellence.
To be sure, there are giants among us. In toto, we have the unparalleled breadth and depth of expertise to accomplish remarkable things – to truly become the University of the Future.
Right now, 300 cancer clinical trials are taking place on our campus, and more than 200 researchers in 11 colleges at Ohio State are focused on creating a cancer-free world.
To my mind, there is every reason to believe that our researchers have the potential for a major breakthrough in cancer treatment and detection.
I ask you, why not at Ohio State?
We are also home to one of the premier neuroscience programs in the world. Dr. Ali Rezai and his team in the Center for Neuromodulation are performing techniques that are nothing less than miraculous in the field of deep brain stimulation.
They are collaborating with other Ohio State specialists to treat patients with severe disabilities – Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders – and are federally approved to explore the effects of this surgical option in traumatic brain injury, addiction, obesity, and Alzheimer's.
These innovative medical techniques are literally life-changing, enabling some patients to walk again, to work again, to regain independence and normalcy in their lives.
In March, history professor Geoffrey Parker received the highly coveted international Heineken Prize for outstanding scholarship on the social, political, and military history of Europe between 1500 and 1650.
He is that marvelous amalgam of both scholar and teacher, having inspired thousands of students over his 45 years in the classroom, while producing 36 books, 100 articles, and 200 book reviews.
Professor Parker acknowledged the rarity of winning a Heineken. Rarer still is the fact that another scholar and colleague at Ohio State, earth scientist Lonnie Thompson, also won a Heineken Prize in 2002.
Also in March, the first-ever images of atoms moving in a molecule were recorded. First ever in the world – and these images were recorded right here on our campus by Professor Louis DiMauro and his physics colleagues.
One day this technique could help scientists to control chemical reactions on an atomic level, which could yield applications in materials science and chemical manufacturing. For now, we can all take pride that this signal scientific moment occurred at Ohio State.
These are just a few examples of the remarkable research and discovery that are already under way here.
Drafting a new blueprint for a 21st-century university is a colossal undertaking, a composition that requires the hearts and minds of the entire University community.
I know without a doubt that faculty are intensely curious about research and teaching and intellectual pursuits – they are fascinated with molecules, sonnets, fossils, and algorithms.
I do not believe that faculty are as interested or as invested in the mechanics and minutiae of the University – scrolls of data, balance sheets, operating budgets.
I have acknowledged that transforming this complex and multifaceted University into a 21st-century model of efficiency is akin to transforming an elephant into a ballerina.
You are likely tired of hearing me talk about this cumbersome metamorphosis.
Let us just acknowledge there is another elephant in the room.
We have had some frank and open discussions about how to move forward in this era of diminished funding.
And some of our strategies to fund our core mission have ruffled some feathers. The idea of leasing the management of our parking facilities, in particular, has hit a nerve with some of you.
But let me be very clear: These are merely tactics. They are a means to an end, so we can reinvest in our core academic mission and deepen our work to improve lives and enrich communities.
Are we searching for innovative and unconventional ways to fund our mission?
The undeniable realities of these times demand that we examine everything we do and find new ways to sustain and grow our excellence.
The proposed leasing of our parking operations is just one part of a comprehensive blueprint to strengthen our position and enhance what you do – in the classroom, the operating room, and the laboratory. And I remind you that until we receive more information, we will not know if and how we will move forward.
Without resources, a university cannot be an economic, cultural, social, and global force. Without a long-term investment pool, we will not achieve our goal of becoming a top-ten public university.
In these unique times, as the very foundation of the public university is shifting under our feet, civility and curiosity are critical.
Remember, this is uncharted territory. I ask that you remain open-minded as we examine every avenue available.
This very clearly requires a willingness to change, a curiosity about possibilities, and the belief that our bold aspirations are attainable.
As we focus on sustaining the infrastructure of our University, we are fully aware of the burden that college tuition and loans place on our students and families.
The University as a whole continues to streamline operations and look for innovative ways to reduce costs. I am thrilled to report that through conscientious stewardship, together we saved $26 million last year, which will be directly reinvested in our students and our mission.
Just last month, our Board of Trustees approved an additional $50 million over the next four years for student financial aid and scholarships. This is in addition to the $100 million the University already awards annually.
These funds will not only help attract the best and brightest, but also will allow the University to boost need-based aid, increase access for deserving students, and help an additional 1,300 students each year earn college degrees.
This spring, we have ushered in a series of innovations that will be integral to the success and sustainability of our University. In April, the Board approved transforming the campus experience for sophomores.
One of the overall goals is to develop programming – such as faculty mentoring, career preparation, and learning strategies – that will nurture these second-year students in the next phase of their intellectual and social development.
Countless studies and personal experience confirm that first-year retention, graduation rates, and sense of engagement with the university are all enhanced when students live on campus.
And last month, we opened a new office for technology commercialization. We know we have been missing vital opportunities to transform the magnificent brainpower of our faculty into products and processes that can improve lives.
The campus culture is being re-created to build a robust and creative commercialization program. And this office will be the hub of people and ideas, the starting point for invention and innovation at Ohio State.
We are reaching out to entrepreneurs, start-ups, and external inventors with open-pitch events such as "Wakeup, Startup!" and Business Builders. The fact that the first three events quickly sold out tells us that we are on the right track.
Students are also a critical part of the equation. We are launching a Student Commercialization Advisory Board to help create more robust and interactive student programs such as Patents and Pies. This new program brings together faculty and students to discuss breakthrough innovation and start-up ideas. And let me remind you, there will be pie.
We also announced a unique partnership with Ohio University to generate venture capital to help move research from the laboratory to the marketplace – bridging the "death valley," where good ideas too often die.
This new fund completes the cycle of innovation – it is the water and sunlight that will grow new ideas and new companies. It is not just about making money, but about using our tremendous, collective brainpower for the good of the community, the state, and the world.
As we continue to invest in our core disciplines and in eminence based on scholarship, we must also invest in the application of this knowledge to the most critical issues of our times.
There must be a dual focus. We will not be successful if we do one without the other. And we will not be successful if we do not work in unison.
Finally, as we near the end of the very last quarter at The Ohio State University, I commend you all on the Herculean efforts required for the semester conversion.
You used this as an opportunity to totally re-think, re-imagine, and reinvigorate how and what you teach.
I must give special thanks to Professors Randy Smith and Steve Fink for co-piloting us through this gargantuan undertaking and this milestone in the history of the University.
To be sure: It is the end of an era.
On June 10, we will celebrate the 400th Commencement at our University, and we will close the final and glorious chapter of a firm tradition: Spring Quarter Commencement in the month of June.
Together, we will begin a new chapter – one that begins squarely in the 21st century, and marks the beginning of our transformation into a University of the Future.
Ladies and gentlemen, exactly 150 years ago, President Lincoln had the wisdom and foresight to invest in young people and rechart American higher education when he signed the Morrill Act.
Without knowing what the future held, our forefathers determined that the path forward was paved with education.
I bring this to your attention today quite purposefully. What Lincoln did was thoroughly radical, and he undertook this act in a moment of great peril and challenge for our country.
We, too, are at a pivotal moment in our country's history. What hangs in the balance is nothing less than the future of public education, our ability to sustain democracy through an educated citizenry.
In a recent Chronicle of Education article, a university dean scoffed at the calls for innovation in higher education. She said: "You can hardly mention higher education today without hearing the word 'innovation'...or its understudies 'change,' 'reinvention,' and 'transformation.'"
To some minds, perhaps it seems I overuse these words. To them I say, guilty as charged. But I am here to tell you: It is not lip service. I firmly believe that innovation is no longer an elective; it is a prerequisite. A requirement for our future.
I believe more than ever that we are in the midst of a major learning revolution. Some universities are content to be bystanders, unwilling to acknowledge the "new normal." But I urge you to think of the newspaper industry. They thought they were immune from change. They were not.
Our colleges and universities spring from a rich and wonderful past, and traditions are important. But that past cannot serve as our compass for the future.
We must find in ourselves – and inspire in those we lead – the vision to see through a gloomy present and the confidence to construct a bright future.
As I ponder this moment in time, and the challenges ahead, I think of Senator John Glenn and his wife, Annie, for inspiration.
As you know, in February, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's historic flight, in which he was launched into the vast and unmapped wilderness of space.
Those of us of a certain age recall that day, and how perilous an endeavor it was.
There are singular moments in the history of our country that require unprecedented daring, a willingness to move forward into uncharted territory, and a bold investment in the future.
I believe this is one of those defining moments in public higher education.
We simply cannot – and we absolutely must not – allow this transformational moment to pass.
We must re-imagine what education can and should look like in the coming century.
Our obligation today – our duty – is to redraft the blueprint of this University with bold strokes, so that we may truly be the catalyzing force for America's future.
Thank you for joining me today, for thinking through these issues.
And now, I am open for some questions.