Office of the President
Autumn Quartet: Envisioning a Knowledge City
October 18, 2012
I want to thank Caroline Hartig for sharing her remarkable gifts. She is a new faculty member in our School of Music, and we are clearly fortunate to have her talents. Professor Hartig, thank you for starting us out on such a lovely note. And Professor Halasek, I thank you as well for opening our session today. I am grateful for your leadership of the Faculty Council.
I also want to thank members of the University Senate and Senate leadership for their flexibility today. As I found out last week, the University is big enough for everything except two presidents.
Before I begin, I want to point out that following my remarks, I look forward to your questions and observations, as always.
Let me just begin with a frank statement.
As you know, higher education in the United States has been facing tremendous headwinds. The financial crisis has been deep and pervasive, and recovery is slow in coming. Many public universities have been on life support for months. The very real threat of federal budget sequestration looms likes a massive storm cloud above research universities across the country. And, for my part, I will say that this is a time in which the heads of university presidents rest lightly upon their shoulders.
Even before the recession struck, it was evident that we needed to protect our funding streams in order to protect our academic core. In developing new financing strategies to fund academic excellence, we have taken a deliberately broad approach.
As you know, many of these financial strategies have not been universally embraced on this campus. But after leading universities for more than 30 years, one thing is absolutely clear to me: We cannot carry out our historic purposes and focus on teaching and knowledge without a firm financial foundation.
And I am pleased to report that some of our bold, innovative strategies have attracted the attention of dozens of universities, state treasuries, and investor conferences, as well as the The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The New York Times.
The question is, now that we have begun to reposition ourselves financially, now that we are well under way in securing our fiscal foundation, how do we position ourselves academically to become the most vibrant, intellectual environment in the United States.
Indeed, I am envisioning our University as a dynamic “knowledge city” – a place where scholarship and intellectual endeavors are pursued with unbounded curiosity…
A knowledge city that inspires and ignites human inquiry, from the depths of oceans to the edges of outer space…
A community that cultivates and attracts arts and culture in myriad expression…
One that invites civil discourse while welcoming all perspectives…
In essence, a knowledge city that is a crucible of discovery, innovation, and epiphany.
My remarks today will focus on the prerequisites of this knowledge city.
As I see it, there are four pillars that support our overarching vision to become a university of eminence, a campus of unmatched vibrancy. These areas of focus comprise the broad framework of our strategic vision. I will mention them briefly here and then explore each in greater detail.
First of all, we must retain and hire the very best faculty in the country, and increase their numbers.
Second, we must elevate and redefine the student experience, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Third, we must envision and build an infrastructure that supports the very best academic programs and facilities.
And, finally, we must leverage the full power of our University to compete and contribute through our new financial and Advancement models.
That is what is on my mind today. To borrow from T.S. Eliot, these are the Four Quartets, the four imperatives that will structure my talk. And while I will be vastly less elegant than Eliot, I will, at the very least, attempt to be more comprehensible.
First Quartet: Emphasis on Faculty
The first pillar for a university of eminence and intellectual diversity is the quality of the faculty. If we are to realize our enormous capacity and aspirations, we must be unequivocally committed to retaining, attracting, and growing our faculty.
I made that commitment when I first returned to the University. The faculty are, quite simply, the core of this University. Without your talents, energy, diverse intellect, passion for discovery, love of learning, and dedication to your students, this University would wither. There would be no Ohio State.
In the face of current financial pressures, many universities – particularly public ones – are retrenching. We all have felt those pressures. Some universities have subscribed to a philosophy of caution, austerity, or even denial. Let me refer back to Eliot for a moment. He wrote: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” At first glance, caution might seem the prudent approach. It is not.
In fact, of all of the things we are doing to move ourselves toward eminence, our commitment to grow the faculty is the most dramatic. This is simply because most universities, especially public universities, are running fast in the opposite direction.
As I see it, now is not the time to hunker down. It is the time to invest – as wisely and prudently and aggressively as possible. And that is what we have set out to do.
As a matter of fact, as other universities slow their hiring, I believe this is a particularly good time for us to go on a shopping spree – but, as I said, a wise and prudent shopping spree.
I can report that we are doing very well in hiring and retention. Where we need to redouble our efforts is in the growing of our faculty.
To be clear: We have made a strategic commitment to expand our faculty – our non-medical faculty – by 8 to 10 percent within the next 10 years – and that is what we are going to do.
I am aware that some of your departments have been hindered by budget restraints. Some of you are uncertain about how the hiring model will be structured.
I can tell you that much of the hiring will be centered around our Discovery Themes, which tap broad expertise throughout our six campuses, 14 colleges, 111 departments, 260 centers and institutes, all 88 counties through Extension, as well as countless partnerships with independent programs and government and industry.
Provost Alutto announced two weeks ago at the launch of our fundraising campaign that the University will be investing at least $400 million in central funding into the Discovery Theme initiative to support the hiring of new tenured and tenure-track faculty.
This 10-year initiative will bring together interdisciplinary and transinstitutional teams of faculty – many of them recruited to Ohio State specifically to work in these areas.
I know you have many more questions about this initiative. The Provost will be sharing more specifics over the coming weeks and months.
As you know, these Discovery Themes are focused on global questions of the greatest magnitude: How will we cure the world’s devastating diseases? How will we make the world’s food supply abundant and safe? How soon will we produce the next generation of sustainable energy?
Ohio State is singularly positioned to find solutions to these global issues through the massive intellectual platform built by our faculty.
And because discoveries and breakthroughs are increasingly found at the intersections of disciplinary inquiry, rather than in the silos of traditional disciplines, an emphasis on transinstitutional discovery is paramount.
I will offer one example of how the Discovery Themes might ripple across disciplines. The Discovery Theme of Energy and Environment, like all Discovery Themes, is broadly focused. It could include, for example, energy systems, farm management, fossil fuels, climate change, wind energy – and, as we saw in The New York Times a few weeks ago, advanced materials science research to build lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles and even lighter shipping pallets.
I mention wind energy purposefully because I want to quickly underscore our new partnership with Blue Creek Wind Farm in northeast Ohio to purchase 50 megawatts of wind energy – enough to power 25 percent of the entire Columbus campus electricity load with clean, sustainable energy.
Think of that: a full one-fourth of all the energy we use on this campus!
This is one of the single largest purchases of actual renewable energy by any university in the entire country. And it is a significant leap forward in achieving our goal of creating a “carbon neutral university,” a commitment made when I signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2008.
This unprecedented investment in our faculty and issues of local and global importance makes this a remarkable time to be a member of the Ohio State faculty. The appeal of brilliant colleagues with whom to collaborate, outstanding students, state-of-the-art facilities, and a track record of success attracts exceptional faculty members from all over the world.
But let me be candid: One of the most dispiriting things I hear from some of our faculty colleagues is that some of them are more focused on budgets within their departments than they are excited about moving to another level of excellence. That perspective will not move this institution toward eminence.
Departments should be wondering, if you could hire the most talented and brilliant people in your field, who would they be? What would it take to propel your research or scholarship to a breakthrough, tipping point, bold discovery?
I want to congratulate those deans and department chairs who have successfully navigated the tricky waters of siloed budgets and administrative structures. You have my thanks and my admiration.
Ladies and gentlemen, from the fine and performing arts to translational research in medicine to expanded materials science work – your scholarship and research have never been more highly regarded or demanded in the new economy.
Our intense focus on talent has resulted in not only retention of key faculty but also the recruitment of leading individuals from other institutions. A case in point is our new Vice President of Agricultural Administration and Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Bruce McPheron, who will join us November 1. Dr. McPheron was raised in Ohio, earned an Ohio State degree, and is a world-renowned scholar in insect genetics. You can follow Dr. McPheron through his Twitter handle “medflygenes.” By the way, I am not making that up.
There is no way to replace Bobby Moser, but I am confident that we have selected another great leader.
And I want to mention some recent evidence of eminence within the faculty ranks, and I do so in the spirit of allowing this small sample to serve as representative of the whole. I will begin with an example that underscores our strategy of hiring the very best to augment existing strengths.
Over the summer, we hired Christopher Hirata, a rising star in astronomy and physics. He and Scott Gaudi, already an Ohio State luminary, were two of 96 researchers President Obama named last July as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.
Business professor Greg Allenby recently received a major research award from the American Marketing Association. Provost Alutto could more easily summarize Professor Allenby’s contributions to Bayesian statistical methods and consumer behavior. I will just say that Procter and Gamble, Charles Schwab, and General Mills, among others, have all sought his expertise.
Dr. Carlo Croce, chair in the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics, was named a 2012 Distinguished University Professor. His research in the field of cancer genetics has quite literally transformed the manner in which cancers are diagnosed and treated.
Chemical engineering professor Bhavik Bakshi was honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for pioneering a new way to analyze industrial processes with an eye toward sustainability. He is looking at industrial and ecological systems as complex networks of energy flow – where resources are consumed to make goods and services.
And at the end of this Semester, visual artist, Distinguished Professor, and MacArthur Fellow Ann Hamilton will showcase a large-scale installation at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. That an international visual artist of her stature is teaching and mentoring our students exemplifies the caliber of our faculty. She has been called a “dynamic tour de force.” To be sure, she is a phenomenon and an Ohio State treasure, and she is just one among many.
Second Quartet: The Student Experience
The second part of the talent equation – and equally important – is the quality of our students.
I wholly believe that talent begets talent: A long-term investment in our faculty will attract the brightest and finest students in the country – as will a vibrant and dynamic university environment.
Already, we are headed in the right direction. Just think about all that is happening right now during Autumn Semester. We are in the midst of an arts and culture explosion. Annie Leibovitz. Danny Glover. Harry Belafonte. Colin Powell. bell hooks. Bebe Miller. All of these names in just one month. These are really rock stars in their fields.
I will tell you that I met with Annie Leibovitz in my office last February. I will admit, I was a little awestruck. She is, of course, the iconic American photographer of our time. And here she was in Bricker Hall, dressed in black, of course. The sheer range of her subject matter – Richard Nixon, John Lennon, Queen Elizabeth, Muhammed Ali – is as spectacular as her images.
After months of detailed preparations, Annie Leibovitz’s exhibit opened at the end of September at the Wexner Center – a singularly important moment for our campus and for our city. In allowing her Master Set to be displayed for the first time, Annie has given our students, our community, and art lovers everywhere an extraordinary gift – access to a visual history of the last four decades.
Another major arts event that begins at the end of this month is a direct result of our ongoing collaboration with the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company. The world-renowned theater group will be presenting “King Lear” at the Drake Performance and Event Center – and it will be a performance crafted especially for schools, families, and younger audiences. This clearly underscores the power of our University to attract the most sublime arts in the world to our campus and community.
But this is just one aspect of creating the most vibrant, intellectual campus in the country, of building a knowledge city that will set a national bar.
For some time, we have been discussing and developing ways to re-imagine and redefine the entire student experience. The semester conversion is just one element in this endeavor.
The first Autumn Semester since 1923 is off to an exhilarating start, and it appears to be working well. The Provost and his team and our faculty and staff have used this occasion to transform the process of teaching and learning.
The most important gain, though, comes from the reinvigoration of the curriculum. Your work – over months and months – to rethink and reshape your courses, all of that very much enlivens the academic experience for our students.
From Caravaggio and quarks to dietetics and Descartes’ doctrines, I know the transformation of your courses and calendar has been formidable. I am truly grateful for your perseverance, ingenuity, and patience.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that during the earliest days of our new Semester, we had a series of traffic accidents involving students on and around our campus.
I want you to know that we are working diligently to address this issue through a combination of recommendations to increase awareness, education, and enforcement.
Of late, we have achieved some significant milestones in our plan to re-invigorate the student experience. The Board of Trustees recently affirmed a program for a two-year residential experience, including a vision for a wholly new and modern North Residential District at the corner of Lane Avenue and High Street.
The focus of the plan is on student success, plain and simple. We want our students to have more contact with our faculty and with their classmates, and to take advantage of the hundreds of activities and opportunities on our campus – lectures and exhibits and performances and study sessions and student life events.
One exciting element of the plan will be a pilot program offering a $2,000 per student stipend for experiential learning – from a Shakespeare study abroad in London or a logistics internship at a manufacturing company to a service-learning project at a public elementary school – all of them, invaluable experiences and avenues to success.
The overall point is this: We want our students to live here, and study here, and take advantage of all of the resources and facilities and mentoring on this magnificent campus.
Let me be clear: Redefining the student experience is not just about where our students live. It is, more specifically, about enriching the student experience in myriad ways beyond the classroom.
That said, I do believe living on campus is a critical component of student success. I believed that when I returned to Ohio State five years ago, and I believe it even more strongly today.
The evidence is clear: Students succeed at higher rates when they reside on campus. They are more engaged, attend more events, and develop more leadership and career skills. Students who reside on campus interact significantly more often with faculty and classmates. And, most importantly, they graduate in greater numbers.
I wholly believe that this transformation is one of the most important investments we will ever make. And we are doing so because it is, quite plainly, the right thing to do – for our students, for this University, for the future.
Third Quartet: Building the Infrastructure
And as we transform and enrich the intellectual landscape for our students and community, we must also create a corresponding physical environment of great vibrancy.
It is the intersection of the intellectual and the physical landscapes that will transform the student experience and this institution for the years ahead.
To be sure, we are not in the business of building buildings. But, we cannot create a vast and dynamic platform for research and discovery and arts and culture without the analogous infrastructure – facilities, programs, and physical environment – that supports them.
That is one reason why we are working to establish an arts district at the gateway to our campus, around the intersection of 15th Avenue and High Street. We want to create an environment where musicians, designers, actors, dancers, and visual artists gather, perform, and learn together. We are on the way to making this happen, starting with renovations and reconfigurations of our arts buildings – Hughes, Hopkins, Hayes, and Sullivant Halls.
Our physical facilities are taking shape in a way that both respects and reflects the institution’s current distinction and our future aspirations for it. The construction under way – though challenging as it can be from day to day – embodies our dreams for this academic enterprise. The Ohio Union and the Thompson Library, for example, already have claimed a place among the finest such facilities in the land.
Indeed, we recently have been recognized for the brilliant renovation and re-visioning of our historic library. In June, Thompson Library was named a 2012 Landmark Library by the Library Journal for overall design, sustainability, and innovation. In addition, just last month, our library was named among the top five public university systems in the country.
As we invest in the future of our campus landscape, there are some critics who say we are doing too much at one time. But I want to make the point that this is a 140-year-old campus with 900 buildings. If we renovated and made repairs on just one or two buildings a year, it would take five centuries to come full circle.
The cones and the cranes abound today, and they are among the surest signs of our vitality. They are indicators of our forward progress, symbolizing the blueprint of what is to come.
What drives our capital-project decisions is – entirely and completely – the University's strategic goals for programs, recruitment and enrollment targets, and cooperative initiatives. We intend for those physical facilities to reach out to the edges of our campus, to build on the urban vitality that surrounds us.
The ties with a great university community are natural, and we must take advantage of them. As I said earlier, what we are building is a dynamic knowledge city, a university campus that inspires and enables innovation and creativity.
Fourth Quartet: Advancement and Funding
Ladies and gentlemen, five years ago, on October 4, 2007, I addressed all of you for the first time in my new tenure. That day, I underscored the need to see ourselves as One University that is agile, nimble, and responsive. I acknowledged the difficulty of unifying a wonderfully complex and sprawling institution.
At that time, I described the University as 18 colleges connected by a heating plant. To be frank, we had 18 deans with distinct visions, agendas, and personalities. Our fragmented and fractured approach was not serving us well – externally or internally.
At that time, I likened the University to an elephant – powerful, unwieldy, lumbering. And I wanted it to perform more like a ballerina – impressive, coordinated, fluid.
As you know, I am, at times, given to hyperbole. And metaphor. And sweeping aspirations. But, in this, I stand firm: We must transform ourselves into one University, working to our full capacity, speaking in one united voice, leveraging the full power of the sum of our parts.
I believe we are making real progress in this area. One of our most significant and
transformative initiatives in this regard has been our Advancement plan. The University first introduced the concept of Advancement a few years ago. This integration of our communications, alumni relations, and fundraising
is a massive undertaking, and we are being very deliberate in our work.
The Advancement Framework Planning team was formed last fall to develop a blueprint for integration, and they delivered their report at our last Board meeting. I am grateful for these efforts – especially for the leadership of Dr. Gil Cloyd and Linda Kass of our Board of Trustees. The Advancement model our planning team developed is a roadmap to achieving our shared aspirations. And it will distinguish the University by enabling us to speak to the world with one voice, share our profound purposes, and engage more fully with our global network of alumni and friends.
Just imagine if our more than 500,000 alumni learn about Ohio State’s research on deep brain stimulation and what it could mean for people with Parkinson’s disease and other disorders …
…or they learn that Ohio State hosted four major national environmental conferences in the last year alone.
Imagine the impact if these half million alumni begin to share these stories about how Ohio State is changing lives and making a difference.
Then, imagine the impact if we think beyond our alumni – to our friends, supporters, donors, patients, business and research partners, 11 million Ohioans, and the American citizenry.
This is the power of Advancement.
As I noted earlier, these are tenuous times for universities and colleges, both public and private. Some universities are hovering around the edges, hoping for a return to more flush budgets.
I am not a betting man. If I were, I would bet my share of Diet Dr. Pepper that those days are long gone.
I have subscribed to an alternative perspective that fully acknowledges the vexing times in which we are living. I believe it is Ohio State’s obligation to lead, to create a blueprint for the 21st century public university.
Indeed, as the most important land-grant university in the nation, Ohio State must lead the way. It is within our DNA to lead, to keep the door to the American dream wide open, to ensure the highest-quality education at the most affordable price. That is a critically important notion – one, I admit, that has kept me awake at night and is foremost in my mind every day of the week.
We are working diligently, doing everything imaginable – including implementing innovative financial strategies – to position ourselves for the future. And our funding strategies already are showing remarkable progress. The University’s agreement to lease its campus parking operations – though contentious, for a time – brought $483 million into our coffers, boosting our endowment by 20 percent overnight, just last month. Those funds are earmarked for faculty and student support, and the arts and humanities.
That is the power of bold thinking.
And, our unparalleled move to sell $500 million in century bonds a year ago is being hailed as the financial transaction of the year by Business First. Geoff Chatas, our senior vice president and chief financial officer who led that charge, was named nonprofit CFO of the year for his part in stewarding the biggest, most complex public university in the country through the economic storm of the century.
I will also add that the momentum of our technology commercialization efforts is increasing at an exponential rate. Indeed, there has been a 340% increase in new revenue university-wide over the past year. This is the result of the creative work of both our faculty and students.
And two weeks ago today, the University launched a $2.5 billion fundraising campaign – the biggest in the University’s history. Our public launch event at the Ohio Union was, truly, a stunning demonstration of our University’s impact in the world –from Dr. Rattan Lal’s research to reduce hunger on the other side of the globe, to Chuck Csuri’s pioneering work in computer graphics, and to Maddie Spielman’s deeply personal and poignant story about what Ohio State and The James Cancer Hospital mean to her and her family.
It was an extraordinary moment for us all.
Quite frankly, in this new era of diminishing public funding, private giving has never been so important. It provides us with the margin of excellence to support your teaching and research, to provide more student scholarships, and to foster new discoveries in all academic disciplines.
Our per-student endowment figure is far below that of our peers. We can and we must improve it.
On that score, we have attracted one of the nation’s most accomplished leaders in higher education fundraising to lead our efforts. Michael Eicher has previously led $3 billion fundraising efforts at both Johns Hopkins and UCLA. He is widely considered one of the best in the business, and I am confident that he will help to move us into the front ranks of American universities.
This moment – this transformative point in the life of the University and in this state – cannot slip through our fingers. I am determined to make the most of Ohio State's extraordinary promise and potential.
We have the capacity, the leadership, the talent, the intellect, the will, and the commitment to reveal ideas and solutions that will have enormous impact for hundreds of millions of people. Our campaign will enable us to garner the resources necessary to address issues of the greatest magnitude, of worldwide importance.
It is about sustaining this vast and magnificent University for generations to come.
And it is about remaining the front door to the American dream.
I believe that moments of greatest challenge are often moments of greatest opportunity. In this, I think of Abraham Lincoln, who guided our country out of its darkest hours with perseverance and courage and boundless imagination for what is possible.
Amid the timeline and turmoil of a civil war, he crafted a proclamation that would lead to human equality…
He founded a National Academy of Sciences to promote technology and the sciences…
He espoused “a new birth of freedom,” in a 270-word address in Gettysburg…
And he signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, which has transformed the promise of higher education in this country.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which, to my mind, is the most important legislation in the history of our country. Our land-grant colleges and universities continue to extend access to education to those whose parents have never considered the possibility of a college education, to those of great ability, regardless of means.
Even in this modern age, that purpose remains sacrosanct.
This year, for example, marks the 25th anniversary of our Young Scholars Program, which prepares thousands of Ohio’s vulnerable youth for college – all of them first-generation college students. As a land-grant University with an obligation and dedication to the public good, Ohio State can and must fulfill its purpose and promise to serve our local community and our global society with unrestrained vigor. That is our heritage. That is our calling. That is our social compact.
I truly believe that the best days of this University lie ahead, that we can and will become the country’s most vibrant, most engaged, most forward-thinking public institution.
I believe we must move boldly forward, holding fast to the enduring principles of the past, the art of the possible, the promise of the future. As Lincoln surely knew when he signed the Morrill Act, knowledge is a beacon that helps guide us toward our better angels…it is the key to realizing our ideals of human liberty, equality, and progress.
If Lincoln could accomplish so much in a chapter of such dissension and despair in our country’s history, imagine what we can accomplish today, together, in this moment of time at this magnificent University. Not the darkest hour, by any means, but one that calls for clarity and commitment and vision.
“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” So concluded Abraham Lincoln. I could not agree more.