2020 Vision: Investing in Inclusive Excellence

Investiture Address - March 31, 2015

Good afternoon. Thank you so very much for being here today. This is a wonderful afternoon.

Welcome to members of our Board of Trustees and University Governance; students, faculty and staff; colleagues from higher education; political, public service, religious and business leaders from the Columbus community and beyond; and friends and alumni from around the world.

Thank you for all you do for The Ohio State University.

Allow me also to welcome and acknowledge several members of my family who are here today. First, my wife, Brenda, a great many of you have had a chance to meet; Brenda’s mother; our two sons, our granddaughters and one of our daughters–in-law; Uncle Kenny and Aunt Debbie; and from Canada, our grandparents-in-law (if there is such a thing!). It is a tremendous blessing for me to share this day with four generations of my family.

It is a tremendous honor to follow in the footsteps of 14 previous presidents of this great university. I am indebted to those who served before me – some of whom I know personally and have had the great good fortune to work with – and to so many others who have supported and guided this university for more than 145 years. Thank you all.

The story of this university has been written by the hands, hearts and minds of countless individuals. And together you have built an institution for the ages. We are engaged collectively in a noble quest to do good; I hold a position of great privilege, and I reflect on that every day. Thank you for the opportunity to join with you in this grand endeavor.

Contemplating the responsibility of leading The Ohio State University into the future, I begin by acknowledging our past.

Our university arose in the wake of the opportunity created by the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the depth of the Civil War, and founded on the principle that education transforms lives. 

We were established with that purpose, immortalized by the words of early board member Joseph Sullivant describing the university seal: “Above and crowning all, we place the Lamp of Knowledge, by which we intend to signify that the (Ohio State) Agricultural and Mechanical College is a light on a high place; to illuminate all that comes within its sphere.”

The noble American experiment of the land-grant universities was extraordinarily successful, and by the middle of the 20th century the United States had become the world leader in the exalted field of higher education.

Our public universities became tireless research engines for the state and the nation, expanding the boundaries of discovery from the atom to the stars.

Today, the need for higher education is even more critical than ever. We know that a college degree remains a singular factor in upward mobility. As we approach our university’s 150 th birthday – just five years from now – we must re-envision our land-grant role in the modern light of the 21st century.

The university must continue to be a beacon that illuminates the clearest path to the American Dream. And it must continue to do so while maintaining the access, affordability and excellence that have defined our finest public institutions since their inception.

We must become a university that exemplifies inclusive excellence, a concept that builds directly on our founding fathers' land-grant purpose to extend higher education broadly to the sons and daughters of Ohio and beyond.

This principle has defined my career to date, and will continue to guide my vision for the next chapter of this university, which we will write together.

Twenty years ago, I met baseball great Willie Mays, a childhood idol of mine. I asked how he felt after making “The Catch” during the 1954 World Series. He answered matter-of-factly: “It was a good play, and my job was to come out the next day and show the people something a little bit better.”

What that meant to me was: Even if you are the best in the world, your job tomorrow is to come out the next day and be better. In fact, that’s how you get to be the best in the world in the first place.

The Ohio State University is among the most powerful and dynamic universities in the world. There is no doubt. And as Ohio’s flagship university, Ohio State must continue to lead from the front.

As we face the second half of this decade, a series of challenges loom before us. We must use our unique scale and scope to meet these challenges head-on, charting new territory and making lasting contributions as we address the critical issues of our time.

Today, I’ll focus on three areas that underpin Ohio State’s overarching academic mission. I offer these directions in parallel to our daily scholarly work, not as a replacement. If we make measurable progress in these areas, we will set the standard for what it means to be an affordable, excellent, diverse and engaged land-grant university in the 21 st century.

First: We must work to reduce student debt. Education transforms lives, but only if we can deliver on our promise of access to an excellent and affordable education.

Second: We must re-commit our university to its motto of Education for Citizenship, engaging with our community partners to extend our scholarship with the full force and precision of one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

Third: We must lead our colleagues in exemplifying what it means to be an inclusive university in the 21st century, a place where diversity is a defining characteristic and source of strength.

I’ll begin with what is a critical issue on the higher education landscape: the challenge to provide access to a world-class college education that remains affordable.

So many around Ohio and across the country, including many in this room, are working to solve this elusive equation.

On this issue, I want to speak directly to our students and their families. In terms of cost and quality, Ohio State remains one of the best values in the nation. We are ranked the 15th “best value” among all public universities, up from 36th just two years ago.

This is good news, but it’s not enough. Despite the long-term value of a degree, we must be sensitive to the debt burden associated with a college education, especially for low- and middle-income families.

Students crossing the Oval with book bags filled with knowledge and promise should not be burdened with the weight of worry about how to pay for college.

Governor Kasich announced in February the creation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force on affordability. We will seize this opportunity to advance bold ideas to work harder and smarter to contain costs – strategies such as better utilizing information and educational technology and implementing targeted constructive advising so that more students graduate on time. We look forward to working with our partners to lead this critical effort.

In fact, we’ve already begun.

On a national level, Ohio State is a charter participant in the University Innovation Alliance of 11 universities working collectively on affordability and access.

Specifically, we are looking at ways to use data and predictive analytics to increase graduation rates and decrease time to degree while maintaining or enhancing quality.

I’ve had direct experience with programs like this earlier in my career, and we were rewarded with outstanding results. That was on a more limited scale (of course, everything’s on a limited scale compared to Ohio State!). Now our challenge is to scale up and show others and ourselves that we can do this more broadly.

The first phase of the program is underway, and we will evaluate the findings and implement continually refined solutions in coming years. This will help us with the efficiency of our educational processes, but we must do more. We must refine and modernize the way we do business.

To that end, I have directed my senior leadership team to submit plans to identify $200 million in administrative efficiencies and $200 million more in revenue generation over the next five years. These resources will be reinvested to lower the cost and improve the quality of the university.

Our confidence that we can do this comes in part from preliminary success that we have already achieved, just this year, at our academic medical center. We have, through efficiency and cost avoidance, saved more than $50 million in the past nine months.

We have done this by doing everything from reducing the use of color printing and scrutinizing human resources decisions to negotiating better terms from vendors. At the same time, our quality, safety and patient satisfaction numbers are outstanding, in several cases, to be among the highest anywhere in the country.

Kudos and thanks to the hard work by so many – hospital leadership, doctors, research scientists, nurses, custodians and the whole crew. You are doing work that directly affects and improves the lives of thousands of individuals here and around the world.

Our goal now is to realize similar savings and efficiencies throughout our university.

Additional resources from efficiency savings and revenue generation will enable us to reinvest in three core areas:
(1)financial aid and scholarships to reduce student debt;
(2) support for our faculty and staff and academic programs; and
(3) funds to support the best new ideas and innovations in the future.

The first targeted use of these savings will be an immediate increase to the scholarship pool, particularly for lower- and middle-income students, by a minimum of $15 million in the 2015-16 academic year. We will sustain this level at a minimum each year thereafter for five years, but we’d like it to increase. Our overall goal will be to increase scholarship support by at least $100 million by 2020.

We will begin these measures immediately – not at the expense of the academic experience, but by investing savings achieved by operating the university more efficiently.

We also will continue a robust program of merit-based aid for exceptionally talented students, and we are committed to working with the governor and our legislative leaders to keep our tuition among the most affordable in the nation.

In partnership with our Board of Trustees, we are looking carefully at executive compensation, and our work continues on our overall compensation and classification project. Together, these are intended to create consistency and equity in our human resources policies. We recognize that we must balance competitive salaries needed to attract exceptional faculty and staff with our commitment to be responsible stewards of resources.

Educational excellence is a critical variable of the equation, and it contributes directly to access and affordability. A more efficient educational system leads to higher graduation rates and a shorter time to degree.

To this end, we are convening a faculty summit this May to continue our nascent discussions of ways that we can improve upon our already excellent educational offerings and pedagogy.

The first part of these efforts is the creation of a university-wide institute on teaching and learning that will support both tenured and non-tenured faculty. A collaboration between faculty and staff and students across the university, this campus-wide institute will enhance support for excellent teaching, expand teaching and learning scholarship and apply student-centered analytics to improve learning outcomes.

I have spoken earlier about our incredible impact as a university.

We are forging the future of innovation through our Discovery Themes – the university’s bold vision to extend our research on a global scale.

We have built a powerful academic research machine that is pushing discovery in areas from memory and dark matter to hybrid-electric drivetrains and climate history.

And we make significant contributions in law and policy, science and the arts, humanities, the health sciences and agriculture, and across the length and breadth of hundreds of fields of inquiry and more than 175 major courses of study.

We want to provide an environment that supports and inspires our faculty to their most creative and productive accomplishments. This gives me an opportunity to reaffirm our belief in the bedrock principle that the traditional scholarly and artistic intellectual endeavors produced by our faculty belong to our faculty.

Our ability to provide affordable excellence is fundamental to who we are as a land-grant university in the 21 st century. We must ensure that the door to the American Dream is open and leads our students to bright futures.

The second area I’ll address is our founding land-grant mission to create and extend new knowledge throughout the community. This commitment constitutes the DNA of the university’s motto, Education for Citizenship.

The university’s relationship with the Ohio business community has never been stronger, and we are committed to fully supporting our outstanding partnerships to create an even more vibrant statewide economy.

The Wexner Medical Center provides more than $170 million in annual benefits through charity care and outreach efforts such as neighborhood clinics, free health screenings, prenatal education and myriad community partnerships.

OSU Extension shares academic scholarship with citizens in all 88 Ohio counties.

And Ohio State has been recognized nationally as an “engaged university” for its extensive outreach, including more than 1.2 million hours of service each year by our students.

These are just a few of the extraordinary ways that we are making a difference.

But despite these efforts, at this moment, blocks away, children may not know where they’re getting their next meal. Despite a $100 billion agricultural industry, Ohio ranks among the top-10 states with the lowest levels of food security.

This is unacceptable.

Significant work is being done in the community and at Ohio State to address food insecurity, but we can do more.

After substantial planning, the university is making an unprecedented strategic and financial commitment to address food insecurity with an investment of nearly $15 million in new faculty experts as part of the Discovery Themes initiative. Combined with more than 50 faculty at Ohio State who work on food security issues, we will, over the next decade, commit nearly $100 million to this grand challenge. These efforts are already underway.

Beyond the financial support, we must bring to bear the overwhelming energy and talents of our faculty, staff and students to address this issue.

We must work closely with our community and state partners, refining our collective strategies to elevate all members of our society. At the end of the day, all of us share a responsibility in the future of Ohio and the lives of our fellow citizens.

Many of us had a wonderful time in New Orleans and Dallas in January, even before the terrific football victories. We went into local communities and, honoring a tradition begun decades ago at Ohio State, engaged in service projects to reduce food insecurity. In both cities, students, faculty, alumni, staff, parents and friends came together to Pay Forward collective good will.

In the coming months we will again call upon the powerful support of Buckeye Nation – our passionate alumni and friends around the globe – to help in these efforts.

Together, we can make Ohio shine as an exemplar of how to systematically and strategically solve one of the critical issues of our time. Plain and simple: Our collective efforts can and will transform lives in our community and beyond.

The third and final component of this 2020 vision is that, as one of the nation’s leading land-grant universities, Ohio State must be a national model of inclusiveness and diversity. From our student community to the hiring and promotion of faculty and staff, diversity must be recognized and celebrated as a defining core strength.

The nation’s land-grant institutions were founded upon profound public ideals – foremost among them was to extend higher education to everyone, regardless of social standing. As a starting point for an institution, those principles are among the noblest I can imagine.

By many measures, Ohio State is a vibrant and diverse university.

And we have long added our voices to the chorus of others from all corners of the country and walks of life who aspire to a more inclusive and perfect society.

Still, with the 50 th anniversaries of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts as a backdrop, it is deeply troubling to see recent examples of racial and other forms of discord and intolerance across our country, even on some of our college campuses. To be honest, many of us had hoped that these things were behind us; they certainly and distinctly are beneath us as a society.

Our universities – of all places – must welcome and celebrate all individuals, regardless of race, class, culture, orientation or identity.

As a first step toward greater inclusion, I have re-aligned our Office of Diversity and Inclusion with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. We have a number of successful programs and initiatives around diversity at the university – the Bell National Resource Center, our Multicultural Center and LASER program for Latino students – and we will amplify our efforts by the working in greater coordination.

Second, we are re-energizing our faculty-hiring practices by developing university-wide diversity training for search committees.

Third, I have charged a coalition of individuals from across the university to look broadly at diversity issues that affect students, faculty and staff and develop meaningful recommendations for how we can become a model of inclusive excellence. I look forward to their report and recommendations.

The Ohio State University must be a leading light along the long arc toward greater inclusion, justice and understanding for all of our brothers and sisters.

We have many areas in which we aspire to be world class. Let diversity and inclusion, writ broadly, be an area of great success and achievement for us. There is nothing between us and being the best in the world in this endeavor but our own thoughts and actions.

Finally, as we embark on our mission, we must remain true to values-driven decision-making. Over the course of my life I have developed a set of core values, tested daily in my personal and professional lives.

These values are: respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation for others and fun.

Respect: Respect for yourself and others.

Intellectual curiosity: Excitement at teaching, learning and discovering.

Integrity: Meaning what you say, and saying what you mean; speaking and seeking the truth.

Commitment: Doing your best as often as you can, in whatever you do.

Empathy: Compassion for others.

Appreciation for others: Understanding that life circumstances allow others to have points of view that are different from ours, but valid nonetheless.

And fun: This is it! We should do all we can to enjoy everyday!

I have found that if you stay true to your values, then the path forward will be clear, if not always easy. And in the end, you’ll be in the right place.

I assure you that as I lead this university, I am guided by these values.

Since Brenda and I arrived in Columbus last summer, we have had innumerable opportunities to see firsthand what it means to be a Buckeye.

It’s our students who danced through the night at BuckeyeThon to raise $1.2 million to treat childhood diseases.

It’s the 23,000 staff who contribute their talents to support our faculty and students every day across six campuses.

It’s our faculty who develop and share knowledge to enrich and elevate society.

It’s the thousands of Pelotonia riders and supporters who believe that we will end cancer in our lifetimes.

It’s the people we have met all over the world who are enriching their communities after their lives were enriched by an education at The Ohio State University.

And it’s our 2014 National Championship football team that pressed through adversity to exemplify that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And I couldn’t be prouder to share that this month alone our pistol, wrestling and synchronized swimming teams all became national champions. It was our wrestling team’s first national title, and for synchronized swimming, it was their 29th title!

When we speak to what we do at the university, we say that we create and share knowledge to benefit our communities and humankind.

When asked how, we describe our active research, modern teaching and broad community service.

When asked why, I have two answers: first is our unwavering commitment to elevate society and the human condition, the founding principle of the land-grant university.

The second, for me personally, is joy. The joy I have, and I know this is true for Brenda, and all of you as well, the joy of working with the incredible young men and women we have as students. I am impressed with their brilliance, focus, achievements and overall goodness. They give me confidence that the future will be in good hands, and inspire me daily to do whatever I can to enhance their path forward.

I was asked last week by a student what I would like to see our university be as the years roll on. Her question recalled for me a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Written more than a century ago, the poem was in many ways a hopeful prayer, longing for an idyllic future.

He wrote, in part:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.

Where knowledge is free;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the mind is led forward…into ever-widening thought and action.

Into that heaven of freedom…let me awake.”

Much of what Tagore wished for exists, here, now, at our great university.

Our current aspiration is to widen the sphere of our impact, to be inclusive and expansive, as we move forward toward a bright and more perfect horizon.

Together, let us continue to shine the light of knowledge in all directions.

Let us sing Ohio’s praise.

And let us affirm our friendship to The Ohio State University.

Thank you.