State of the University

Delivered at the Ohio Union's U.S. Bank Conference Theater on Thursday, April 11, 2024.

Good afternoon, everybody. What an exciting day to be here. I couldn’t be more proud to be your 17th president of The Ohio State University. 

Before I get into some of my remarks, the first thing, and most important thing I’m going to do today, is I want to acknowledge and say thank you to my wife, Lynda, for being here today. We’ve known each other 45 years. Forty-two years married this July. And the success and the future of this university not just depends on me, but us as a team. And we’re really excited to be a part of. 

I also want to say thank you to Dr. Hiroyuki Fujita, the chair of our Board of Trustees. I know we have many of our Board of Trustees here today. And it’s an exciting time. It’s an amazing group of leaders. I would not be here without Dr. Fujita. 

And I want to say thank you to Jim Klingbeil who is stepping down after decades of service to our university. And soon-to-be Dr. Taylor Schwein, who is finishing her [DNP] in our top program, nursing, and she will be stepping down after great service as our student Board of Trustees [member]. Let’s give a round of applause to our Board of Trustees.

Chancellor Mike Duffey is here, our state chancellor. Thank you for being here. And I want to say thank you to our publicly elected leaders and appointed leaders. It means a lot that you’re here today to hear the State of the University address. 

Obviously, we have faculty. We have staff. The whole Cabinet is here. And I know we have quite a bit of students, faculty and staff watching online live. And I know there are quite a few alumni, 608,000 strong across the entire nation, across the entire world, that are watching live or will watch this video recording. So again, welcome to everybody.

So, what are you going to hear today? I mean, I’ve been here a little over 100 days, how much can I know in 100 days? First of all, you know when I came here, I talked about what excited me to come here, to be part of this great university. How excellent we are in programs like academics, research, medical care, medical research, the arts, athletics. None of that has been a disappointment. And as I go through what we’re going to talk about today, I certainly want you to focus on what is going to be most important to our future. But we can’t talk about the future unless we have a respect and understanding of our past.

So, I’m going to spend a few minutes talking to you about our past. And it isn’t to give you a lecture about the past, because most of you know everything I’m going to tell you. It’s to make sure you know that I know that I have a respect for where we’ve been, and I want to understand that. And then we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about where we are. What I have observed over the last 100-plus days. And then we’re going to wrap up and talk about what I see as our vision for the future.

So yesterday, I had the privilege of watching the governor, Mike DeWine, deliver the State of the State address. And I know most of you have been in the Ohio Statehouse. It’s a beautiful, beautiful building. And you can’t go into the rotunda without seeing the statue of former President Abraham Lincoln. And Abraham Lincoln had a lot to do with not only what’s happened here in the state of Ohio, but what happened here with this university. He’d been in the Statehouse twice: once in 1861 and after he was assassinated in 1865. But if you go back to truly our beginnings, the signing of the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, had a lot to do with what was the creation of land-grant universities across the country, to include what would eventually become The Ohio State University.

It was the Canon Act that was signed by the General Assembly on March 22, 1870, after the people of Franklin County voted to bring in $300,000 to start this university, plus two railroad entrepreneurs who donated an additional $28,000, that won the vote for the General Assembly to get us started. Now, $300,000 in 1870 was a lot of money. About $7.5 billion in today’s dollars. We bought the Neil Farm with a couple of structures and after a little bit of churn with a few faculty about what types of things we were going to do, we were born as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. We started our first class, what most people consider to be our Founder’s Day, on September 17, 1873. Twenty-four students were in that first class. Two women. Very, very progressive for 1873.

And, as those students went through, as we eventually argued over what the curriculum should be here, not just agricultural sciences, mechanical sciences, military sciences. There was this idea that we should be an education for not only all Ohioans, but a broader education — liberal arts, in English, and writing, and history, geography. And as that curriculum expanded, that’s what changed our name from Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College to The Ohio State University in 1878. Now, if you start to progress through the end of that century, we brought on master’s degrees, PhD, our first women graduating well before 1900.

In 1902, “Carmen Ohio” was written by a freshman named Fred Cornell. First sung on December 11, 1903, just six days before two bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio, invented flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Then as you fast forward to some of the other big things that happened, a lot happened around 1914 — the Smith-Lever Act that set up the national extension program across the nation as we start to expand our agricultural programs through all 88 counties. We took what was the Starling-Ohio Medical College, all 21 beds, a handful of nurses, the very first medical college in the entire United States, the first teaching college in the country. And all that equipment was transferred to what would eventually become the medical clinic and college that we know today.

In 1916, we became one of the [earliest] members of the Association of American Universities. A significant milestone because as the first 14 of that prestigious group was formed, only three were public. And today, as you all know, there are 71 universities, private and public, that make up that prestigious group, and we are one of the longest serving in that group.

In 1922, 88 counties in the state of Ohio contributed to build Ohio Stadium. It’s the last time we ever took dollars for anything to deal with sports to keep our university running.

And if you’re going to talk about sports, you can’t help but talk about one of the greatest athletes this university has ever known: James Cleveland Owens, commonly referred to by most Americans as Jesse Owens. Now, we could talk about what he did in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, four gold medals. But what he did in the Big Ten championship in 1935 representing us, as he trained in our Ohio Stadium on the track built around the football field, is arguably the most athletic achievement in the history of mankind. He broke or tied four world records in less than 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes. Eleven minutes between each event. 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 220-yard low hurdle and the long jump. And he had a bad back.

Because he was in college and he was rough housing with his fraternity brothers, he almost didn’t run that day. And to make it all even more complete, he did it at That School Up North.

Now, as we went through the Great Depression, this university suffered like many others. Our enrollment dropped. We didn’t know that World War II was coming around the corner. And as we entered into war, our enrollment dropped to less than 11,000 students after we had built up over the years. Like many other public universities and private universities, we were somewhat saved by the technical and other types of training and education that our Army and Navy needed at the time. We did courses that taught sailors and young officers the difference between enemy and friendly aircraft. We taught about radar principles. We taught military science. We taught medicine. We taught language skills. It certainly helped keep our school afloat.

As we were coming out of World War II, because of the G.I. Bill, a transformative moment in our nation’s educational history, we more than doubled our enrollment. We went from just under 11,000 students to over 22,000 students in the matter of a couple of years.

One of those students, also quite famous, was a young man from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, named Jesse Brown. Now, Jesse Brown was an African American, he was inspired by Jesse Owens, and he came here at the tail end of the war. He graduated in 1947. And then he went off to Pensacola, Florida, a place where I went to learn how to fly for the Navy. And he became the first African American to ever earn his wings of gold in the entire history of the United States Navy. Sadly, his story doesn’t end there. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation in the Korean War in 1950. He’s still honored in the United States Navy today. Fighter Squadron 32, the unit that he was in, a squadron I was very familiar with, a squadron that I actually flew with during my career, still gives the leadership award to the most junior office for their leadership and grit. It was one of the first things I learned about Ohio State as I was learning to fly.

As we went further on, and I looked back just a little bit before when Jesse Brown was here, the year 1938, before we went into the war, is when we first came up with our motto which was “Education for Citizenship,” one that we still consider to be our mission today. 

As we came out of the war, we started to think about the future. And the late 1950s is when we built our regional campuses, from 1957-1972. So, Lima, Newark, Marion, Mansfield and, eventually, Wooster, which is an extension of the agricultural institute of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

So today, we are six campuses to include those.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, many of you may remember we went through a lot of unrest on college campuses all over the country. On May 4, 1970, one of the worst tragedies in higher education history happened at Kent State, just down the road from us, where four students were tragically killed. On May 6, two days after that, we shut down our Columbus campus for two weeks because of the unrest. That unrest went up-and-down significantly for not only that month of May in 1970, but until the end of the war.

Our nation had a lot of healing to do. And we are still learning, even in today’s environment, about what civil discourse means, and many of those lessons come from that era.

As we grew going into the 1980s and 1990s, we were an open-enrollment campus. I’ve had alumni already tell me, “when I went to The Ohio State, I just had to fog a mirror, and I got in.” I won’t name any names.

But we changed. We changed with the times. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we became more selective. And that has served us well. We have some of the highest rankings in the nation because of the selectivity. But because of the way we organize ourselves, even as we look back to the past, we are still very much something for all Ohioans, going back to that 1938 "Education for Citizenship" model.

Through 154 years of history, we have created quite a bit of tradition here. I’ve come to know and love many of them already. Certainly, the Best Damn Band in the Land. You can’t go anywhere talking about traditions, without talking about who they are. The forming of Brutus as our mascot in 1965. Playing “Hang on Sloopy” for the first time in that same year, in 1965. The song that still lives at most every game we play. And Script Ohio, our trademark. Is there anything more exciting than seeing the fourth- or fifth-year sousaphone player come out and dot the I?

We have so many other traditions. We talked about “Carmen Ohio.” It’s one of the most inspirational songs of any university in the country. And we sing it at the end of every sporting event and people stay and actually sing it. And they actually know the words.

I think about the students walking on the Oval and the history of what that meant. And how the Oval was created in the same image and likeness as the designers of Central Park in New York.

I think about the chimes coming out of Orton Hall, the second-oldest building that we ever put on this campus. And those chimes, and the way the building is built with 40 different rocks dating from the oldest to the youngest makes it a truly unique and very special structure. And, in just a few days, we’re going to have commencement. We are the only university of our size, scale and scope that delivers diplomas to every graduate on graduation day with their actual name on it, the correct diploma. Nobody else of our size does that. We offer about 20,000 diplomas a year. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

And, of course, as I think about all the other traditions we have, there’s none bigger or better than wherever you go in this country, or the world, and somebody stands and shouts O-H! (audience replies “I-O”) you know you are among friends and fellow Buckeyes. 

So that’s a little bit about our past. Now, I want to transition to what that means as we talk about our present. And my version of the present here will not be based on the homework that I did before I came here. This is just going to be on what I have observed and had the opportunity to do with many of you, our faculty and staff, our community partners, our elected officials, our alumni. And it’s quite remarkable.

You know, as a Navy officer, I’m going to tell you that I took a “running fix,” which means it’s a navigational position on where we are. And I go ahead and think back to those 24 students who started class on September 17, 1873. And here we are today.

In a few short months, we are going to accept 8,350 new freshmen. And today, we are 65,000-plus strong students. A faculty and staff that are world-class. We have come an incredibly long way. An incredibly long way.

So, I’m going to talk about a few things that we have in our present.

I’ll talk more about students and who they are as we go forward a little bit. But the first thing I want to talk about is one of our other really big missions here and that is research. Dr. Peter Mohler, who was serving as [acting president] before me, did such a great job, and today he leads that mission of our university. And you’ve got to be really proud of what we’ve already been able to accomplish. We have recently reported our figures for this last year. $1.45 billion that we were able to use from federal research dollars and other resources for development.

The previous year was $1.36 billion. So we went up by about 5-6% from the previous year. And our ranking that we talk about today, No. 11 in the country in terms of research expenditures, which, by the way, is one better than Harvard and better than the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s not where we’re going to land when we’re all done. We’re going to be pushing Stanford and Duke and Wisconsin — anybody else that’s in front of us in the years going forward. And it isn’t just about the number. It’s about what that research is doing. It’s about what that research means to change lives of Ohioans, to save lives of Ohioans, to include people all over our country and all over the world.

You know, as we look at the types of students that we have here today, I talked about 65,000 students. The other thing we should be proud of is over 70% of those students are from Ohio. They represent all 88 counties. They come from all the high schools, the homeschools, from all over the state. We have students representing all 50 of the states. And any given year, we have about a hundred countries represented in our student body.

And we also send somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 of our students to study abroad.

Now one of the things that Governor DeWine challenged us to do in his state of the State address yesterday, for all college and university presidents, was to not be focused on acceptance rates, on retention rates, on graduation rates. Whether we’re talking four years or six years. What he challenged us, is to know where do our graduates go? What do they do with their degrees? What is that return on investment? Well, I know Governor DeWine is watching right now.

I’m happy to report that we are already tracking that. I’m happy to say that as of our last data, over 70% of our undergraduates stay in the state of Ohio and go to work. And over 66% of our graduate and PhD students also go to work and stay in the state. When you consider that roughly 28-30% of our students are from out of state — and that’s the overall numbers — those are exceptionally good. So, we’re talking about 14,000-plus students who get injected into the economy of the state of Ohio coming from Ohio State every single year.

And we’ll talk more about the future and what that can mean and what we should be doing with that.

As I look forward to thinking about what we do just in the world of athletics, Mr. Gene Smith, I have to give you a shout out. I really enjoyed my time with you. I want to thank you for your 19 years of service here to this university. Your name is synonymous with Buckeye athletics. It’s been an honor to work with you. And I said we’ll never be able to replace you, and I do mean that. Although we have hired Ross Bjork. And I’m excited about that. And they’re here together and getting to learn from each other.

We have the largest Division I sports program in the country. It generated more revenue last year than any other program in the entire United States. It runs separate from any taxpayer dollars. It is the front porch of our university.

And before I start talking about how many championships and national championships we’ve won, I think Gene would tell you the thing he’s most proud of is the scholastic achievements that our student-athletes have achieved. Last year, they graduated at a rate of greater than 94%. And 11 of our 36 programs graduated with a 100% graduation rate. Easily in the top 10 in the nation. And that’s not even going into which of the students in the Big Ten and nationally go on to be academic All-Americans, of which we are moving up every single year. And, oh yeah, we win.

These are just the championships that we’ve won since I’ve been here. I got to be in Durham, New Hampshire, to watch our women’s ice hockey program win a national championship, 1-0 over Wisconsin. There’s no more definition of pure joy than being on the ice with those champions who have won two out of the last three years. Our pistol team, four-peat. Four national champions. Our spirit and cheer squad, national champions. We’ve won individual championships in pistol, synchronized swimming, diving and wrestling this year. And we’ve already won an indoor men’s tennis national championship. That’s just in my first hundred days. And you can’t help but look just a few days ahead, the day after tomorrow, we’re going to have our Spring Game. I don’t know what size audience it’s going to be there, but I’m going to tell you, it’s going to be big. And there’s a lot of excitement. To say that we have won the offseason already I don’t think is an over statement.

And the game is going to be televised on Fox Television. That will be the first time ever that a major sports network will televise a spring football game. Now, That Team Up North is going to get the same treatment, but we get to go first.

So, I’m really excited about what we have been able to do in sports and where we will be going. I’m not going to talk much more about the future landscape of sports. We talked about that when we brought Ross on here, but just know that the future of where we are and the programs that we do, we will be leading the nation in how we run our programs and how we compete.

I want to go back and talk a little bit more about our students. You know, our students are really the reason we exist. As I came out of uniform leading the U.S. Naval Academy and went to work in Nebraska and then coming here, I said from the day that I got into higher education, we have to think differently about our students. Our students are not a product, they’re the customers. They get to decide. This is an all-volunteer effort.

And we need to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to attract them, to make them want to be here. And as you read the headlines about where higher education is today, we have schools now that cost over $100,000 to attend — it’s hard to imagine — but not us. Affordability has got to be one of the centerpieces of what we do and how we manage it. It’s important to know that we are still one of the most affordable, best-value educations you can find. Not only in the state of Ohio but anywhere in the country. We are the second most affordable of anybody that has a selective admission process. If you look at the expanded Big Ten today across our peers, 18 schools now, we are the seventh-most affordable. And maybe this is the most important number I can give you: Just over the past five years, about half of our students left this university at the undergraduate level with no debt.

Today it’s 58%. 58% of our students leave here with no debt. And, for the rest, the 42% who do leave with debt, their debt has reduced from $27,000 on average, from five years ago, to less than $25,000 now, when they finish. So, to put that in context, that’s about the cost of a really decent used car in today’s dollars. And to put that on the national scale, our percent of students who leave with no debt is 20% better than the national average. And the average debt is well over $4,000 less than the national average. Again, close to 20%.

And we will continue to do better. Our trajectory is doing better and better. I think those are really critically important.

Now, as I think about what inspires us in terms of some of our faculty and staff and the things that they’re doing, you don’t have to go looking too much farther than Dr. Pierre Agostini. 

Now, before I got here, he celebrated in Stockholm receiving the 2023 Nobel Prize. He is our fifth Nobel Prize laureate in the history of The Ohio State University. Dr. Agostini was born in Tunisia, he lived in France, he was educated in France. He came here in 2005 as a physics professor and left here in 2018 as professor emeritus. Think of all the faculty and the students he inspired while he was here. And he kept his research going. And what he did in terms of measuring pulses of light to determine the speed and the activity of the electron of the atom is beyond almost imagination. If you have read about it, understanding what even an attosecond is, is quite remarkable. Now I was a nuclear engineer and I thought I knew a little bit about physics. But the more I look into what Dr. Agostini did, it’s life-changing for the globe. 

By the way, an attosecond is one-billionth of a billionth of a second. Certainly, I can’t even imagine what a billion is. So, let me try to put it into context. If you were to take those amounts of attoseconds and put them total into the second, and then translate that into the same number of seconds into time that we understand, that’s longer than the entire universe has ever existed. That’s how small an attosecond is. And Dr. Agostini and his team were measuring 12 attoseconds, up to 250 attoseconds, to determine how electrons work with pulses of light. That’s why he won the Nobel Prize. And the application of that will change everything from microelectronics, to how cars operate, to how big machinery operates. It will change the way we think and operate into the future of our world.

And that’s one man who taught here. And we should be very proud of Dr. Agostini.

Now, as I think forward about some of the other engagements that we’re doing, in terms of research, and the big industry partners that we’re starting to think about working with, already in my short time, I’ve had a chance to meet with the senior executives of Honda, for which we do a lot of research and innovation on car batteries and the future of electric cars. I’ve had a chance to go out to Santa Clara and meet with Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of Intel, and visited their headquarters. I’ve been to the site where they are building the future of microprocessor and semiconductor production here. And their vision is quite extraordinary. $28 billion already being invested. Thousands upon thousands of jobs that will come here. And we are working not by ourselves but in a consortium of 30 other Midwest universities, to include community colleges, to include Columbus State, to build programs to make sure we can fulfill those work needs. 

And then we’re working with many, many other companies, like Amgen, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country — does most of their production in Puerto Rico. They’re bringing their production here to work with us. And we will work to help them in internships and to fill out their workforce. And that’s just a small cross section. There’s so much more to talk about there. 

And when it comes to workforce development and helping with our economy, we have the programs already built in. I talked about our regional campuses from when we started those in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s. And I’ve had the opportunity to go to all four of them. And it’s really exciting what we have there. There’s so much more for us to do. 

I’m very proud of the fact that we have a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology that exists not only here at the Columbus campus, but at all of our regional campuses. And on those campuses, in my observation, were three big take-aways. One, the quality of the students were amazing. Two, the faculty and staff, tenured and non-tenured, were outstanding, the research was meaningful — inspired students to be there. And just like a lot of our facilities that were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it’s very clear that those are too. And we have to think about where we invest in those.

Now before I go forward, I want to talk about our medical center.

We have world-class medical-center facilities here.

The Wexner Medical Center is ranked as one of the top medical centers in the country. And we’ll talk more about where that’s going in the future.  The James cancer center also one of the top in the country. On the slide, it showed 1990 The James was created. That’s the newer version. For the past 50 years, the National Cancer Institute has listed The James as one of a handful of comprehensive cancer centers in the country. I don’t know of another cancer research or medical facility that’s got those type of bragging rights. We should be very, very proud of what all those are.

So, let’s talk a little bit about some more things that I’ve had a chance to observe here. Our facilities. You know, our facilities, as we think about them, are quite extensive. 1,300 buildings. That’s one of the reasons we’re one of the largest campuses in the country. And you think about what Jay Kasey has done for us here. And Jay has been with us also 19 years and done an amazing job in maintaining our portfolio and even thinking about what our future is. And Jay is going to be retiring from us later this summer. Somebody that will be almost impossible to replace. It’s quite remarkable that the dollar value of our facilities today is over $18.5 billion. And yet at this very moment, we have over $3 billion in new construction going on. The most ever at a single point in Ohio State history. 

To include investments in our new facilities, which is, as you can see in the picture, our Wexner Medical tower valued at over $2 billion. And that’s going to be a game-changer. That’s going to bring 824 new world-class state of the art rooms for patients. That’s going to add to the 440 that we already have existing in Rhodes and Doan Hall. And we have other facilities that we’re investing in. Even just during my time here, I had the chance to open the new Theater, Film, and Media Arts facility right here on our campus. [A] $165.3 million facility. 100,000 square feet of new theater, and an intimate small theater called the “black box” where you can put on small performances. That investment in the arts is a statement for where we are and where we want to go in the arts.

And we have invested in other facilities in Wooster and also in our ag schools. So our future is very bright in our facilities. But 40% of our buildings are 50 years or older. Not uncommon across most of the campuses in the nation. And we have to be prepared to think about how we will sustain all of those facilities to make sure that we’re relevant for the future of higher education.

Now, I want to transition here and as I’m talking about the present to probably the most important part of our present. And that’s our people. Woody Hayes, a Navy man, said it right: “You win with people.”

When I think about the people that we have here, from our world-class faculty to our staff, it’s really quite amazing. Dr. Ben Givens is here somewhere, I think. Ben has been leading our University Senate as our secretary. He will be stepping down. We unfortunately have to figure out how to replace him. I want to say thank you to Ben for navigating me through the steps of the University Senate. 

Some of you may or may not know that Ohio State has one of the most unique University Senate and shared-governance models of any major university in the country. And that’s because of who it is comprised with. It’s not just faculty. It’s our staff. It’s our student government, at every level from the undergraduate level, to the graduate PhD level, to the professional level. They work collectively to solve the most complex problems that we can bring forward. So, I’m really thankful for learning that. I’ve gone through my third cycle of that. And we’re going to be going through our fourth one starting tomorrow.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about campus safety because that involves our people. There’s a lot that’s been talked about that recently. And when I came into this job, I said it was one of my top priorities, and it is. And I want to be very clear about why it is so important. If we’re going to maintain and build the trust of the families who allow us to bring their sons and daughters here, we have a responsibility to make sure we take care of them. By the way, this is also Mr. Kasey’s portfolio. And he’s done a fantastic job, along with Dr. Melissa Shivers in student life, and many others that are here in the Cabinet that have really helped us do this very difficult job. We’ve added and we have invested in safety here on this campus. I have visited Blankenship Hall, where we have a command center. 5,000 high-definition cameras see, 24/7, every aspect of our campus. We’re hiring more campus police, which takes some time to get them into their jobs. We’ve increased our foot patrols. We’re working more closely with the City of Columbus police, state police, and we are even working closely with the three-letter organizations like the FBI and others. And I’ve met with those leaders.

And that’s important for leadership sharing. Because it’s important that we have some anticipation of what might happen. And when somebody does cross the line, no matter how minor the infraction, we will hold those people responsible. Now, of course, I can’t tell students or faculty how to feel. But all I can do is make sure we’re going to continue to do everything we can to keep our campus secure and safe.

And that includes elements of free speech. You know, I’m very proud that I wore the cloth of the nation for 38 years. I took a voluntary oath, that started even when I was a midshipman in 1977 and when I was commissioned in 1981, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And embedded in that is the First Amendment — freedom of speech. 

So, I am passionate about freedom of speech. But that doesn’t mean freedom of speech gives you the right to create violence, incite violence or harass others. And once again, we have made it clear to everyone that we will not tolerate those types of behaviors. And we will continue to do that. But freedom of speech is very important because everybody should not just have a voice, their voices have to be heard. And we will continue to do that.

The last piece I want to talk about when it comes to people is something a little more strategic. Our nation has probably never been in a more divisive period than maybe in the history of our nation. We have an election year. I know it’s worrying a lot of people. And if you look at what we’ve gone through coming out of COVID, and where our nation views our larger institutions, let’s face it, they have lost trust. They have lost trust in the government. They have lost trust in the medical community. They have lost trust in the pharmacy community. They have lost trust in religious communities. They have lost trust in even the military, which has historically been one of the most trusted organizations that we’ve had since the Vietnam War.

And guess who is not immune from that? Higher education. The last Gallup Poll that was just released, 36% of Americans have either high trust or medium trust in higher education. More than 50% of Americans today question whether there’s value in a higher-education degree.

You know, one of the reasons I wanted to come to The Ohio State University, is I wanted to be in a position to lead that conversation. I’m part of a small consortium of university presidents, and I’m the only Big Ten president right now, writing a strategy for the nation on higher education as a strategic asset. We are trying to answer this question. But I will submit to you, in the present, that only a few public land-grant universities of our stature can turn this conversation around. We have the people. We have the ambassadors. We have the backing of the Buckeye community that understands how important this part of our mission is.

So how will we change that conversation? It’s really pretty simple.

We’re going to stay true to two things. One is our values, and our values of doing the right things for the right reasons. And sticking to our mission that was stated for us in 1938: “Education for Citizenship.”

And if we have the right vision, when we do get to a crisis, centered around this idea of what the purpose and what we are doing in higher education, we’ll already know the answers. Because we’ll know what right looks like.

So, these are some of the challenges and some of the great things that are happening in our present.

So, as I start to think about where we’re going, what is in our future? And this is really the centerpiece of where I want to go. Now, I’m going to tell you up front, I’m not introducing or announcing any new policies today. But I am going to talk a little bit about where I think we have to be going. And over the course of the next number of months, as we go through commencement, as I go through a testimony in front of the General Assembly on May 8, as we eventually get to my investiture sometime this November, we will articulate a strategy that will be written. It will be done collaboratively with many of the faculty, staff and key stakeholders, so that we write this together.

And it will be an articulation of this vision. And the vision is really quite simple. For as good as we’ve been for 154 years, as much as we can look at all the wonderful things we’ve done, from our national rankings and some of our academic offerings — today, we offer over 200 academic disciplines to undergraduate students. 250 academic disciplines to masters and PhDs. We are one of the top producers of PhDs in the nation. One of the top producers of medical professionals in the nation. We offer over 700 courses online, many of which are nationally ranked. We could just be happy to maintain what we have. But I don’t believe the founders who created us 154 years ago ever envisioned that we would ever rest on our laurels.

Whatever we think we can be, whatever we can imagine ourselves to be, I know we can be that. And what it took 10 years ago to be bigger, better, stronger is not what it’s going to take to be bigger, better, stronger in the next 10 years. That I know.

So we will not rest on our laurels. And the second part of the vision is we have to create and maintain a culture of excellence. A culture of excellence in everything that we do. We have many pockets of it all over our campuses. You can see it. You know it. Do we have it everywhere? No.

Can we get it everywhere? If we can imagine it, we can do it.

To that end, I’m going to talk about one new thing I’m going introduce. The Wexner Medical Center, through [Dr.] John Warner and his great team, they do a survey of faculty and staff and their teachers and clinicians every year. We are going to do that here very soon. Katie Hall, head of HR, is going to be doing that questionnaire going out to everyone. I want to hear what people think about what our culture is. And I’m not afraid to hear what the answers are. Because it’s going to baseline us. And then we are going to work on it from there.

And then we’re going to work on what I call one of the most important things in running a major, complex institution — it’s called alignment. Alignment is so important. Because if we don’t all share the same vision of where we want to go, we could end up working against each other. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but we need some alignment.

As I’ve talked about the listen-and-learn period for me here over the last 100 days, the one thing I have not been able to stop is the hiring of really talented, key positions. I talked about Ross Bjork coming here. A lot of you know that [Dr.] Melissa Gilliam, our provost, left to be the president of Boston University. Dr. Karla Zadnik, who is right there, has been doing an amazing job as our interim provost. She’s holding about 20 hats right now, by the way. But of all the hires that I’m about to make, and we are weeks away — weeks away, not months away — from naming that critical position, I’m really excited, because we do have a lot of big positions to fill. That being arguably one of the most important as our chief academic officer — one that will instill the culture of excellence in all of our academic offerings, 15 colleges, four regional campuses. 

And those four regional campus deans are also all in the hiring process right now. We are weeks away from naming four new regional deans. And we are in the process of starting the search for the Fisher College of Business dean and the Moritz College of Law dean. Those may be further down the road, but those are two of our biggest and most important colleges that need leadership. And there will be others. The point of sharing that with you is, one, I wanted you to know that work is going on. It involves many across the continuum of this institution. But that’s where we will be able to build for the future, is through those key, key leadership positions.

And then finally, I want to talk about what I think it means to be a Buckeye. I’ve listened to so many people. I’ve gotten to learn and feel a little bit about the culture here. And the thing that has really stuck with me since the day I got here is embedded in our lyrics and song “Carmen Ohio.”

608,000 living alumni. All of them know the words.

“Summer’s heat or winter’s cold
“The seasons pass, the years will roll
“Time and change will surely show
“How firm thy friendship O-HI-O.”

I don’t know that there’s a more poignant set of words in any school’s alma mater than that. But I’ve got to tell you something, as I learned about the song that was written, and the lyrics that were written in 1902, and Fred Cornell, as a freshman, who by the way was a four-sport letterman and was in the men’s glee club, I talked about the song being sung on December 11, 1903. A lot may not know that there are actually three verses. 

And of course, I have done a little test here, some may know the second verse. But for a lifelong sailor like myself, I was more than welcomed from the day Lynda and I got here. But when I saw the words to the same two final lines of “Carmen Ohio,” it made me think, somehow this school always intended to have a lifelong sailor come to be its captain.

“If on the seas of care we roll
“‘Neath blackened sky or barren shoal
“Thoughts of thee bid darkness go
“Dear alma mater O-HI-O.”

I could not be more proud to be your 17th president. Together, we will navigate the seas of care. And wherever we go, whatever we do, when you hear O-H! (audience replies “I-O”) you know that you are with friends. How firm thy friendship. 

I want to say thank you to each and every one of you for everything that you do for this great university.

And as always, Go Bucks!

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