Office of the President
Innovating to the Core: Sustaining the University’s Mission
October 4, 2011
Many thanks to Mark Rudolph of our music faculty for enriching our afternoon with his fabulous performance. Thanks, also, to Jim Rathman, Chair of the Faculty Council, for leading off our session today. We are very fortunate to have his engagement and leadership in our faculty governance.
Ladies and gentlemen, four years ago – four years to this very day, in fact – on what was my fourth day back on the job, I had the privilege of addressing this Ohio State faculty.
That October day in 2007, I shared my vast enthusiasm for this place and for our future. Those feelings are not merely as optimistic today as they were then; they have grown in proportion to the institution’s magnificence and its excellence. My enthusiasm for this grand University is, in fact, as boundless as the opportunities before us.
That day, I underscored the need to see ourselves as One University that puts students first, that celebrates and facilitates the achievements of a remarkable faculty, that recasts its research and scholarly agenda with a renewed concern for the profound good of the people. To become One University that is agile, simple, nimble, and responsive, and, finally, to be an institution that serves our community with unrestrained vigor.
Those were my thoughts and hopes on that day four years ago as I returned to Ohio State.
As we all know too well, shortly after we joyfully launched this journey together, the terrain around us became unsteady and unwelcoming, as quick-changing as molten silver, constantly shifting shape and form and color. The landscape became, in many ways, a mercurial thing, utterly unpredictable and impossible to grasp.
Since we spoke that day, the housing market collapsed, forcing so many families from their homes.
Since we spoke that day, the stock market collapsed, eroding retirement security for millions.
Since we spoke, the job market collapsed, creating unprecedented and sustained unemployment for millions of Americans, and contributing to all manner of hardship, including record demand at food banks.
And yet, through all of this pain, through the pervasive gloom that settled upon the land, this great University has remained a symbol of hope, a source of help, optimism, and opportunity. In fact, I would argue that each burden shouldered by our neighbors has served to amplify the value of the transformative work we do as teachers and researchers, as scholars and artists, as physicians and leaders.
This afternoon, this bright October day in 2011, one thing is abundantly clear to me, and that is this: In this time of so much uncertainty and distress, Ohio State’s beam shines brightly enough to light the way for others. Brightly enough to reveal a new way forward that will ensure that our noble land-grant mission – to improve lives and enrich communities – not only endures, but also thrives.
Today, I want to talk with you very frankly about the challenges we face, and about our opportunities. And more, I want to begin a months-long process of discussing with you the fundamental questions regarding who we are, what we are about, and what we stand for as a University.
Let us respect one another enough to be honest about ourselves, our role, and our future. You know me to be an unfailing optimist, and to that I plead guilty. But even an optimist must look squarely at the environment in which we operate and understand that in order for this institution to thrive, we must reinvent everything we do. People are working very hard right now; that I know for certain. And so, it is not about “doing more with less.” It is about acknowledging that we must seek fundamentally new ways to fund our core purposes, and we must re-shape and simplify ourselves to both make it easier to do what we need to do and to save time and resources in the process.
I believe that today, this institution has the capacity to reconfigure itself for a sustainable future – one that can withstand any number of storms, any financial upheaval, and any transitory questioning about the value of higher education.
For far too many people, these have been four years to endure. For Ohio State, these have been four years to excel, evolve, and extend.
Since we spoke four years ago, our students have entered the University with better and better preparedness. And they have persisted and graduated in larger numbers, earning national and international awards – from the Rhodes to the Goldwater to the Marshall and so many other prestigious recognitions.
Already strong four years ago, our entering class this fall is truly exceptional. At the undergraduate level, they are the most engaged, the most diverse, and the most accomplished class in our history. Demand for seats in your classrooms is remarkably high. This year, we received more than 29,000 applications for 6,900 spots in our freshman class on this campus. That represents a 10 percent increase – just over the previous year.
More evidence of the vigor of this institution can be seen in the support we have gained from our alumni and friends. Last month, we reported two critical facts: During the past year, Ohio State received a record amount of financial support from a record number of individuals. The axiom in fundraising is that people invest in strength, and clearly the University is understood to be an institution worthy of investment.
Since we spoke four years ago, this faculty has grown in size and breadth and quality.
We have competed for and retained so many accomplished Ohio State faculty members, many of whom have been heavily recruited by other elite institutions. We have attracted new stars -- from neurology to materials science to history to English. We also have attracted new deans and senior leaders, who share a passion for our mission and our potential, and we have announced some significant internal appointments. Truly, we have extraordinary talent here at Ohio State.
Since we spoke four years ago, this faculty has won countless honors and grants and elevated the University to the front ranks. We are, as you know, rising in the rankings, including that of US News & World Report. And several days ago, our academic Medical Center was named to the nation’s list of top 10 academic medical centers – the only one in the State of Ohio. Another clear measure of your own excellence can be found in our research capacities.
Four years ago, I was pleased to report the institution’s research expenditures at an all-time high of $720 million. Our newest figure, just released? Research expenditures of $829 million. That figure represents growth of more than 100 million dollars in four years. And, of course, that does not include any measure of your superb scholarship in the humanities, your ground-breaking work in the visual and performing arts, and your leadership of so many national and international professional associations.
Your work to reconfigure just about everything we do to ready us for the conversion to semesters has been nothing short of heroic. I truly do have a sense of that mammoth undertaking, and I know the change will bring enormous benefits to our students and to the institution. You have my deep gratitude for the energy and creativity you have brought to the task.
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. Construction underway – though challenging as it can be from day to day – represents the future embodiment of our dreams for this academic enterprise. The plans are wholly thoughtful, and the new structures are purpose-built. Progress is at hand. Since we spoke four years ago, for example, the Ohio Union and the Thompson Library have opened their doors and claimed a place among the finest such facilities in the land. And we are fully determined to ensure that our campus is the most vibrant home possible for our first- and second-year students in the years ahead. The cones and the cranes abound today, and they are among the surest signs of advancement.
Ladies and gentlemen, 1,460 days have now passed, and I stand before you today firm in the knowledge that this institution -- its faculty, staff, and students -- are stronger today than they were four years ago. We are solid. We are resilient.
When we think of strength and fortitude, we conjure up images of such things as a mighty boulder. Indeed, a grand old rock is strong, immovable, and weathers storms. As we all know, however, a rock is diminished with each passing day. No matter its size, it will eventually erode and crumble into pieces. Enough storms, and that rock will cease to exist.
As tempting as it might sometimes be, we cannot stand as a rock against these times. We cannot be inert. We cannot be passive. We cannot simply allow the storms to wash us away in bits and pieces. We can do better than that. Indeed, we must.
In fact, I would assert to you that this University today is not merely surviving the challenges it faces; we are growing stronger. And we can do that only as a living institution – adapting, anticipating, acting not only to sustain what we do, but also to improve upon it.
Four years ago, I made a commitment to you, that together we would “propel our institution forward, faster, further.”
And, we will.
Today – as I did four years ago – I want to discuss some new ideas to hone our focus as a University. I know that change can be unsettling. I know that it can leave one with the feeling that little is certain or sure or constant.
But please understand, on this point I am unbendable: In these times, in this forever-changing landscape, we can pursue our timeless mission only by adopting new tactics.
Ladies and gentlemen, our partners in state government are truly supportive, and they understand our critical role, but let us be clear: The pie – our resources from both the state and the federal government – will never get any larger than it is at this moment. That from the man born wearing rose-colored glasses….
But, truly, we must face that truth. I have said before that we are not merely in a recession; we are also experiencing a re-setting of the global economy. And I think all signs point to a “new normal” in which we must accept that no amount of pleading or whining or denying will alter what now seems an inexorable reality. We earn what support we get by virtue of our excellence -- and our hustle, our ingenuity, and our creativity.
We teach, we learn, we think, we discover, we write and create in service of our students, our community, our times, and our future. That will never change.
Still, the demands we face present a very practical question that we simply must address. How we can finance a great public research university – in unbridled pursuit of its mission – in an era of limited funding? To be sure, not simply an era of fiscal constraint, but a future of forever-more radically changed funding.
The easiest answer is to tread water until this economic downturn subsides, and await a series of bountiful state budgets. But who here thinks we will ever return to the day when some state institutions were so generously supported that they could afford to charge nominal tuition? We do not need truth serum to determine that answer.
Indeed, my own role as a University president is shifting along with the strong tides. No longer is it sufficient for me to argue the University’s case for financial support with legislators and alumni and friends. Those constituents are fully supportive, and they are stepping forward in the most generous ways possible. Still, in order to sustain ourselves, we must do more. We must look further. We must be more creative in our approaches.
When I was a student at Columbia, a New Yorker could attend a City University school tuition-free. That practice ended not long after I finished graduate school, when an economic crisis nearly sent the city into bankruptcy. My point is this: The bankruptcy crisis ended, but those funding levels -- and that free tuition -- never came back.
Thus, when I say to you that we need to reconceptualize how we finance our core mission, that is not recession thinking; it is future thinking.
You have, no doubt, observed numerous states inflicting painful budget reductions on higher education. Indeed, it is not confined to the United States; it is an international phenomenon.
This summer, I visited Oxford University, pursuing new partnerships for our faculty and students and visiting with some of our students studying at St. Anne’s College there. I saw the effects of government funding for the classroom having been reduced by 40 percent, and a university left to increase tuition by almost 200 percent.
The University of Exeter’s vice chancellor said of the government’s budget: “We are being thrown out of the nest.”
I sincerely sympathize with his plight. At the same time, I recognize that we must all learn to fly on our own. Indeed, longing for the comforts of the nest has never been anyone’s impetus to soar….
Once again: Longing for the nest has never provided the impetus to soar.
Today, more than ever, the momentum we seek as a University must be of our own making. And it begins when we see past the financial problems directly in front of us and look toward new solutions, a new model for sustaining a public University.
Happily, in the last year, we have seen a series of triumphs for the University that hint at the promise of the future.
Our academic Medical Center won a $100 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to further its work in radiation oncology. And the chairman of our Board of Trustees, Les Wexner, and his wife, Abigail, made a transformative investment of $100 million in the University. That support – public and private – represents an extraordinary measure of the confidence and momentum of this University.
And this summer – counter to national and international trends – Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature honored the importance of higher education with a budget that supports our mission and provides a series of policy commitments to give us greater flexibility in our structures and procedures. On that score, we continue to work with members of the both the legislature and the Governor’s team to refine the notion of what exactly it means to be free from so many burdensome restrictions and regulations. And I believe we will reach common ground on that point – all to the lasting advantage of both our students and our State.
We are grateful for this extraordinary support that advances our ability to do our work, and to do it better. It demonstrates the potential for a financing model based on seeking rewards for excellence, and always, always returning support to our core purposes.
In that spirit – and possessing a realistic understanding of the nature of funding streams moving forward – I believe we must, as a faculty, ask ourselves a series of questions that are critical to our existence.
I believe we must ask how we sustain ourselves.
How we fund excellence.
How we invest in new ideas and new partnerships.
How we extend our reach even further to those in need.
And, at the center of those concerns is oftentimes this fundamental question: Does a particular University service or asset contribute to our success and to our progress?
Because if it does not touch the heart, if it does not touch the mind, if it does not touch the soul, if it does not reveal a truth, then it does not define a great University.
And, in that circumstance, we should have an honest discussion about whether that feature should remain a University function. Indeed, we must ask if shedding that particular task would help us to better fulfill our mission.
And so, let me just say this plainly: No one is learning art history or chemistry in a 9-by-18-foot parking space in the Tuttle garage. But what if we could turn that parking space into a teaching position? Or a research grant? Or a study area?
We are currently discussing whether to lease the management of parking on campus for two reasons. One, parking does not, has not, and will never define greatness in a University. And, two, removing parking from the list of our daily tasks could provide a significant, immediate source of revenue that could be used in pursuit of greatness.
Parking can be turned into new academic facilities and new academics. Parking can be transformed into a foundation of funding that furthers our mission – today, and into the future.
As you likely know, the University is studying this issue and asking what the market might bring. If we decide to accept a private firm’s bid to manage our parking services, you will still park in the same space and follow the same rules. Yes, the price will go up, as does the price of nearly everything, including parking. But the University will retain ownership of the facilities and the land, the right to limit fees for the life of the agreement, and the right to put certain parameters around the management of these assets. This discussion will continue in the coming months, and likely will not be limited to parking.
Let me take a moment here to acknowledge that, on the face of things, a faculty discussion about parking is hardly ennobling. And yet, these are times in which this University has the strength and character and impetus to make lasting changes that will, in fact, ennoble us for generations to come by providing funding directly to our core purposes.
And I will say that the questions will extend well beyond this narrow point. We must examine everything we do. We must think hard about how this University operates each day and ask ourselves whether certain activities – certain “assets,” to speak the parlance – advance our mission.
This will ruffle feathers and raise hackles, but I will tell you, we will be asking questions about many things heretofore considered sacrosanct. Do we need an airport? Do we need a golf course? Do we need so many ancillary properties around the State? And on the last point, I will say, I am certainly not talking about our engaged campuses, which are the open doors to the American Dream for so many Ohioans.
I, alone, do not have the answers to these questions. We must think through these matters together. And as we examine these issues in the coming year, the question must always return to first principles: Are these things essential to our core? It the answer is yes, then we will proceed accordingly. But to not even ask the question is to stand as a rock and await slow decline.
Underway are several other endeavors to address the challenge of funding our core mission.
This month, we hope to get approval from the Ohio Board of Regents to issue a century bond. This would be something no public university has ever done in this country. In essence, we would borrow somewhere between $300 million and $500 million for a period of 100 years. Today’s low interest rates make this a creative and smart way to get an infusion of capital, which would be used for building projects over the coming decades. Now, in answer to the question about paying off the loan at the end of the hundred years, I have joked that I would be dead by then. That is not really the answer. In fact, the answer is that we will take a small percentage of the loan itself and invest it. Assuming a very modest interest rate, we will earn back the loan amount over the course of the pay-back period.
This spring and summer, we began implementing a new approach to commercializing your own technology innovations. Our tech-commercialization effort is just beginning, but we believe it holds great promise – for bringing your innovations to market, for rewarding you for your work, and for helping to sustain the University in the process. I want to make the point here that doing so is not turning Ohio State into a business. Doing so enables us to support our core values, despite volatility in the world around us. Doing so ensures our future -- as well as the financial well-being of our state and beyond.
This year, we will be analyzing and engaging in a variety of additional tactics for the same purpose.
With Jeff Kaplan in the new role of Senior Vice President for Advancement, he will retain responsibility for the University’s fundraising activities -- but he now has the additional responsibility of moving forward our Advancement model, which is part and parcel of the One University concept.
The work will build on the firm foundation laid by dozens and dozens of faculty and staff, who have worked as part of study teams providing recommendations on everything from communications to human resources to events planning to information technology. Senior Vice Presidents Tom Katzenmeyer and Archie Griffin have been full partners in this process, and the redistribution of responsibilities recently announced will provide the path for greater synthesis in our efforts and greater impact in our work.
This Advancement work is a transformative initiative, one that will distinguish the University by enabling us to speak to the world with one voice in a much more powerful way. Our fragmented and fractured approach has not served us well – externally or internally. Faculty on one side of campus have often have little idea of the activities and eminence of their colleagues on the other side. That has real, substantial impacts on our ability to engage in cross-disciplinary work. And it surely means that we are unable to communicate to the larger public the exceptional work of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni in the most effective way possible.
Colleagues, I want also to talk about the gains we are making in simplifying and streamlining what we do – and to charge all of us to make this the year in which we finally slay our behemoth bureaucracy.
Geoff Chatas, our Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, has worked for the past year to claim some early and impressive gains. For example, through efforts to streamline procurement, financial, travel, and other processes in the non-academic units, the University saved $5 million last year. We are projected to save $20 million this year. And we are likely to save $50 million annually thereafter. Those are funds that are and will be funneled directly back to support your work and to support our students.
Those gains come through seemingly simple things. Reducing the number of people who process transactions. Making routine products centrally available for purchase online. Thinking twice before sending a courier instead of using UPS.
These are institutionally driven changes that do not impinge upon individual freedom. They do not change the quality of services we provide. And they do not impact the quality of your teaching or your research. But clearly the savings are enormous. And now that they have successfully gone through the proof-of-concept stage in our support units, they will be made available to our academic departments. Additional plans for simplification are in the works, and they will be discussed in the next few months.
Importantly, we will hold ourselves to account on our progress, and our work will be fully transparent and public. That is part of our duty as a public institution. By the end of the calendar year, the University will publish a monthly scorecard on our website – evaluating what we have done, whether we have met our mark, and laying out the strategy for the coming months.
That is a novel approach – for us and for any institution, particularly of our breadth and depth. What we must always be mindful of is that these changes are being undertaken for the sole purpose of sustaining the University’s mission – your work – and ensuring that we can withstand any tides.
As educators, we must embrace the future and show that we can fight the darker angels that have gained purchase on our national psyche. In lieu of retreat, I believe we should do more of what is most important.
We must think together about funding changes. At the same time, we must think together both about strategic reinvestment of new funds and about how we are using current funds given our institutional objectives. To be plain: We must reconsider how our budget helps us reach our goals.
Some of these funds will go directly to support the efforts identified through our strategic planning process. As you likely know, for the last two years, teams of faculty, deans, department chairs, and University leaders have been engaged in a focused conversation on strategic planning. Such a conversation is not new to our institution. Ohio State has always had a strategic vision and a defined path for achieving it. The planning process is a long-valued component of our institutional culture. It has provided us with guideposts in our journey toward eminence and given us the opportunity to assess our steps along the way.
Today, all 14 of Ohio State’s colleges and all of our campuses have plans that are aligned with these principles and with the University’s goals of teaching and learning, research and innovation, outreach and engagement, and resources stewardship. The plans identify how the colleges and campuses will contribute to these institutional cornerstones.
This means providing unsurpassed learning experiences for our students. It means recruiting the best new faculty and relentlessly re-recruiting our superb existing faculty members. It means ensuring that facilities and opportunities exist that allow faculty to make internationally recognized contributions to the advancement of knowledge. It means engaging our external partners and our communities in the work of the university. It means connecting all that we do as an institution to solve problems of local, national, and global significance.
I call on you to work with your colleagues, your department chairs, and your deans to ensure that your unit’s strategic vision is realized. In our collective march forward, with your help, Ohio State will make profound and definitive contributions to the betterment of Ohio and the world. We will, quite simply, demonstrate a new and effective model for success.
Funneling new revenue toward those priorities is absolutely essential. That is the end game of our new approach to financing. At the same time, I want us to look beyond the usual. To think about areas of distinction that not only define this University – but also areas that define who we are as members of this grand academic community, who we are as Ohioans, and who we are as people.
As you know, I am a fervent supporter of the arts and humanities. They elevate us, they enliven our hearts and minds and spirits, and they make us whole. There is no way to adequately describe, for example, the feeling of lightness, power, truth, and understanding that comes from experiencing a live performance of a Rachmaninoff symphony. There are no words. Likewise, there is no beauty comparable to well-crafted prose describing the contours of a hillside in spring, a weathered face, or the reunion of a loved one.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is no coincidence that in the past few weeks, we have hosted the leaders of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities on our campus. It is no coincidence because the arts and humanities are the nucleus of an educated person and a civil society. As academics, that is who we are, and that is what we do.
And so, as we consider areas in which to invest funds raised through the new and innovative means we have talked about today, I believe we simply must make enhancing the University’s extraordinary arts programs a signal priority. These are the kinds of investments that matter to this University, to our community, and to our future, and I will share additional details in the coming weeks and months.
As a final note this afternoon, I want to say that there are many things on campus which we will put a dollar figure on because their existence is entirely a matter of dollars and cents. But as we talk about simplicity and efficiency and centrality, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: No one with a calculator and a spread sheet is going to quantify teaching and learning and discovery – because that is who we are, that is why we are here.
Indeed, let us never become mere bean counters in assessing our work. And let us never, never pit the study of classics versus the study of commerce in an equation filled with numerators and devoid of nuance.
I will tell you candidly that this is a subject very much on the minds of the leaders and the faculty at Texas A&M, where I spoke as part of their Convocation three weeks ago.
As you may have heard, some in the State of Texas spent the summer devising a profit-and-loss calculation on different kinds of faculty members, counting up who taught profit-generating introductory courses and who offered profit-draining seminars.
We have all dedicated our lives to the noble purposes of public higher education. And we will never permit ill-conceived calls for artificially quantifying the per-student, per-hour value of what we teach. For what is the value of truth. And beauty. And depth. And purpose. And hope. And meaning. And connection. And sustenance. And possibility.
I would submit to you that their value – indeed, your value – is incalculable.
I will say here again today, as I have said to you on many such occasions over the past four years, that we must continue to press forward with new determinations for appropriately recognizing your own work. I am committed to ensuring that Ohio State is a place that values the unique human dynamics each and every one of you brings to this campus. In the classroom. In the laboratory. In the operating room. And in the community. Several of our departments and colleges are making headway in devising new ways to think about reward and recognition – ways that align properly with the provost’s plans. I want us to build on that momentum. This is yet another transformative issue that can, should, and will distinguish this institution.
Throughout the coming year, I will be visiting colleges and departments across campus to discuss all of this with you. I will call upon other University leaders to be accessible to you to hear your thoughts, answer your questions, and chart our future together.
There are two things I know for certain. One: I do not have all of the answers. And two: We absolutely have to ask tough questions of ourselves. On that point, I am insistent. At this moment of power and promise, we must not allow stability to serve as a proxy for exceptional.
As we consider new directions together, let me again caution against the very natural impulse to see challenges and changes ahead and seek comfort by sounding the retreat.
Having led universities for nearly half of my life, I subscribe to the alternate impulse. Every challenge we face is also an opportunity to charge ahead, to think differently, to collaborate more fully, to reconfigure ourselves for the long-term benefit of our students and our nation.
I can assure you that our watches are not going to start clicking backward. The old world is not coming back. Even tomorrow will bear little resemblance to today. We would be well-served to keep moving forward.
Ladies and gentlemen, fourteen hundred and sixty days later, it remains my great honor to lead this University and to call you my colleagues. Fourteen hundred and sixty days later, I remain in awe of the work you do.
Thanks to your impeccable teaching and research, anywhere you might go you will see the transformative effects of this essential, exceptional University.
My friends, as we look at the horizon ahead of us, as we see the shifting landscape, we must know that this institution has the capacity to lead. We have the ability to demonstrate new ways of configuring ourselves, new ways of funding our work and that of our students. Together, we must have the courage to choose a new course, an untried path. We must not allow ourselves to fall into the easy habit of thinking parochially – of relying on the comforts of yesterday.
Focusing only on our individual, narrow self interests may be easy and familiar, but it will not enable this institution to chart a new course. To become what it is fully capable of being. Truly, we have at this moment the potential to become the most vibrant, engaged, and forward-thinking public institution in this country. Truly, we are nearly there.
And so I thank you for devoting your considerable talents to this institution, and for your partnership in thinking through these critical issues together with me – today and in the year ahead.
With that, I would like to have your comments and take your questions….