The following remarks were delivered during the public session of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, November 19, 2020.
Good afternoon, everyone. I am grateful to have this time together.
I want to give a special welcome to our new graduate student trustee, Ms. Carly Sobol.
Carly, your academic accomplishments are impressive, and your interest in mental health and well-being is particularly important as we navigate these challenging times.
I look forward to hearing your perspectives and learning from you in the years ahead.
I would also like to welcome a new member of my leadership team, Mr. Paul Patton, who joined us just last week as a senior advisor.
Paul most recently served as senior vice chancellor and chief human resources officer at the State University of New York (SUNY), so we’ve had the pleasure of working together.
Paul is a native Ohioan, and we’re so pleased to welcome him back home.
I also look forward to soon welcoming another new member to my leadership team, Dr. Grace Wang, whose first official day is December 1.
Grace has most recently held dual roles as senior vice chancellor for research and economic development at SUNY and as interim president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
She will fill the newly created post of executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge enterprise where she’ll play a lead role in expanding the university’s cutting-edge research, creative expression and scholarship, building strategic partnerships, and planning for the West Campus Innovation District.
As you know, we have worked so hard to remain on campus this semester to learn, teach, advance research and scholarship, and be Together As Buckeyes.
We implemented a comprehensive strategy that includes:
- testing all students on campus and expanded off-campus testing;
- wearing masks inside and outside;
- isolation and quarantine;
- physical distancing;
and limits on class and gathering size, undertaken against the backdrop of less density on campus overall.
I am grateful for the way our university community has come together to face these challenges with resiliency, grit and dedication. I am particularly grateful to our COVID-19 task force for their hard work and leadership.
Still, we have more work to do.
As we have shared, we are concerned with the recent uptick of positivity rates in our students on and off campus, and in the communities where our campuses are located.
The current seven-day student positivity rate is 2.97% while the on-campus and off-campus rates are 2.80% and 3.05%, respectively (as of 11/18/2020 with data available through 11/16/2020).
For this reason, we have updated our campus departure plans for winter break to help prevent our students from spreading the virus to their home communities, families and friends.
Our approach is based in part on the knowledge we have gained in our testing and monitoring program where the data tell us household transmission is the main driver of the spread of the virus in addition to large gatherings.
As students prepare to return home for the winter break, we are urging them to be tested before they leave the residence halls or their off-campus housing.
Once students receive a negative test result and if their classes are available by virtual instruction, we are strongly advising them to leave campus for winter break.
If students are taking in-person laboratories, studio courses, or cannot their change their plans to return home, we are asking that they get re-tested next week and self-quarantine until they get a second negative test.
We are also reminding everyone to maintain the safety protocols that helped us return to campus this fall and that will be vital during the break between semesters.
As people gather with family and spend more time together indoors, these protocols are especially important to protect the most vulnerable among us, including family and friends with chronic health conditions and older adults.
What we do now will impact our local communities, our friends and families, and our ability to come back to our campuses for spring semester.
We have also determined that we will offer the first two weeks of spring semester classes (January 11-15 and 18-22) via virtual delivery.
Depending on how COVID-19 cases are trending in December and early January, and with the guidance of Governor DeWine and state and local health experts, we will evaluate and act upon any need to extend the virtual start to the semester.
I have said that great institutions — especially in the midst of daunting challenges — must continue to adapt, plan and innovate for the future. And that is exactly what our iconic institution continues to do.
Our important work around racial justice, diversity and inclusion continues.
I am meeting regularly with members of our Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities and other members of our community to discuss approaches that we can take to advance Ohio State’s anti-racism efforts.
Co-chairs Dr. James L. Moore III and Dr. Tom Gregoire issued a call to students, faculty and staff to assist the group in identifying Big Ideas and Grand Challenges that will be included in an initial report.
We look forward to the task force’s findings that will help us to ensure that our students, faculty and staff can learn, teach and work in a world in which they are safe and healthy, and free from all forms of discrimination.
Our University Taskforce on Community Safety and Well-Being also has continued to meet regularly.
We established the task force last month to conduct a comprehensive review focused on tactics that can help minimize crime and high-risk activities and behaviors while also cultivating community wellness.
Composed of 27 members, the task force represents:
- faculty and staff;
- public health and law enforcement professionals;
- Ohio State Student Legal Services;
- and representatives of neighborhoods in the University District, Columbus City Council and the Office of the Mayor.
Chaired by Dr. Melissa Shivers and Mr. Jay Kasey, the task force worked quickly to develop tangible recommendations that will promote safety both on and off campus.
Yesterday, the task force released 15 recommendations, which include a multi-layered approach that focuses on:
- safety awareness and education;
- enhanced security measures;
- and outreach and engagement effort.
I am truly grateful to the members of our community who came together to address these important issues, and I look forward to further enhancing our community safety as we move into implementation.
While we face many challenges together, I am reminded every day of the many opportunities before us — and the tremendous impact of our university. I’ll share a few examples.
We announced a new partnership with the U.S. Air Force to increase opportunities for minority STEM students and graduates.
Ohio State will co-lead the $40 million, six-year effort with Wright State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Through partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority institutions, the program will provide summer internships, access to research equipment and laboratory space, project support and more.
An exciting collaboration between the Wexner Medical Center and Battelle will advance NeuroLife interface technology. The technology will allow people with spinal cord injuries to regain hand movements and connect to the “internet of things” in their homes.
We were pleased that Dr. Rattan Lal, a Distinguished University Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, continues to be recognized for his work to increase food security around the world.
Last month, he received the Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for improving soil health and helping to increase food production. He was also named the 2020 recipient of the World Food Prize and, last year, became the first Ohio State scientist to receive the Japan Prize.
I am also proud that our colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Optometry and Veterinary Medicine were recognized for their outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each received the INSIGHT into Diversity magazine 2020 Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. Ohio State is the only academic institution in the country to have four colleges receive this recognition.
And, on Saturday, members of BuckeyeThon, the university’s largest student-run philanthropy, will hold a virtual dance marathon to create awareness and raise funds for children with cancer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
I had the pleasure of meeting some of the student leaders of this organization, and their passion and commitment made me so proud to be a Buckeye.
One such leader of that organization is trustee Mr. Anand Shah. Thank you, Anand, for your commitment to fighting pediatric cancer and uplifting so many children and families.
I continue my goal of meeting with as many students, faculty and staff as I possibly can.
I have visited more than half of our 15 colleges so far, and I look forward to visiting the rest during spring semester.
I was delighted to visit Ohio State Lima last month and learn how our regional campuses place an Ohio State education within the reach of students across the state.
Visit after visit, what I see are exciting examples of collaboration around research and scholarship — from our world-class dance department and brain imaging studies within our College of Arts and Sciences to our College of Engineering’s work to enhance manufacturing through research on electric motor design, fuel economy, and higher-precision, higher-strength engine components.
Finally, as you know, our recent national election saw a record number of citizens turn out to exercise their right to vote.
It is encouraging to see so many people participate and make their voices heard.
Like the rest of the country, our campus communities are working to unify and move forward together.
One way we’ve begun that effort is through a series of dialogues hosted by our nationally recognized Divided Community Project at our Moritz College of Law focused on encouraging engagement and fueling progress and positive change.
We look forward to other conversations in the days ahead to talk about what divides us in a productive way.
For now, as we enter this season of gratitude, I want to recognize the hard work of our Buckeye community. I also want to thank each of you for everything you do to advance this storied university.
I wish you and your loved ones a healthy and happy Thanksgiving. Together as Buckeyes, we have much to be grateful for.