The following remarks were delivered during the public session of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
We closed a remarkable year by celebrating our 427th commencement in Ohio Stadium, which was our first in-person commencement since 2019. Despite the biggest single day of rainfall in Columbus in more than 100 years, we awarded over 12,000 diplomas and certificates. I was thrilled to celebrate our spring graduates, including Anand, and several of the children of our trustees along with their loved ones, our honorary degree recipients, our distinguished service awardees and, of course, our commencement speaker, Jamie Dimon.
I just want to note that we were able to gather in person for commencement because of the persistence of our Buckeye community, including the incredible efforts of our faculty and staff to keep this university running and our academic mission on track.
At the end of my first academic year as president of this university, I have greatly enjoyed working with our administrative leaders, faculty, students, staff, alumni, elected officials — including our governor and mayor — and our many partners — including the Columbus Partnership and JobsOhio.
Most importantly, I’m grateful for the leadership and support of this board and, in particular, our Board Chair Gary Heminger. While it wasn’t the year that any of us expected, your judgment, advice and help were fundamental to our success. And a big Buckeye welcome to our newest trustee, Tom Mitevski, who was just appointed to the board by Governor DeWine. I, too, look forward to working with you.
I also would like to recognize Dr. Bruce McPheron for his exceptional service as executive vice president and provost since 2016. Beyond raising the level of excellence in supporting our academic mission, he has played a vital role as part of the leadership team planning for a safe and effective reactivation of our campuses. In the new academic year, Dr. McPheron will return to his roots as a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. His legacy as provost includes launching the Digital Flagship initiative with Apple and the Teaching Support Program, a centerpiece of the Michael V. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning. To date, more than 3,500 faculty members have taken part in this evidence-based professional development, which is one of the largest teaching excellence programs in higher education.
Bruce, we thank you for your exceptional service as an alumnus, a scholar, teacher, former dean and provost as you are a true Buckeye at heart. Thank you.
I’d just like to say a few words about this past year. During my first year as a Buckeye, I focused on the five priorities I received from the board to establish a firm foundation for our collective future.
- First, learning about this storied institution and meeting as many Buckeyes as possible in a time of Covid.
- Second, leading the university through Covid with an extraordinary team to help keep our Buckeye community safe and healthy.
- Third, using our power as a modern land-grant university to address racial inequities.
- Fourth, to build a senior and executive leadership team.
- And fifth, to develop strategic initiatives for investing in our academic, research and engagement excellence as part of our land-grant mission.
With regard to COVID-19, our ability to remain open this year was a team effort. In particular, I’d like to thank the health care professionals at the Wexner Medical Center, Student Health Services, the College of Public Health as well as our offices of Student Life, Academic Affairs, Research, Athletics, Legal, Government Affairs, and facilities and management who altogether carried out over 600,000 Covid tests, amped up our tracing program by an order of magnitude and cared for nearly 7,000 students who tested positive over this last year and thousands more who were exposed and had to be quarantined.
Because of this phenomenal work, we were able to reduce infection rates by an order of magnitude from 6% when we started the year to less than 0.5% when we ended the year — which is a credit to our students, faculty and staff who followed non-pharmaceutical interventions until a vaccine became available.
Now that we have a vaccine, everyone who can get vaccinated, please do.
It’s also worth noting, too, that the first time that U.S. President Joe Biden visited the state of Ohio, he came to The Ohio State University. He chose to visit Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and their radiation oncology LINAC to celebrate the anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has paid multiple visits to our Schottenstein vaccination distribution center, along with his wonderful spouse, Fran DeWine, who also brought her patented Buckeye Brownies. They also toured our Spine Research Institute as well as the Assistive Technology of Ohio, part of our engineering college and the state’s officially designated Tech Act program.
I am grateful to Governor DeWine, his administration and the Ohio Legislature for their ongoing work in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and their strong support of higher education over the past academic year and beyond.
Our plans are on track for a more normal, in-person fall semester, including expanded gatherings and events as well as a return to the traditional academic semester, holiday and break calendars and a return to the ‘Shoe.
Through all of these accomplishments, we have remained steadfastly committed to advancing a culture of inclusive excellence.
We presented an Education for Citizenship series organized in the spring by Ohio State deans, our Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and our university leaders to foster discussion and provide opportunities for all voices on our campuses to be heard.
We will continue this work with consideration for a range of perspectives to make our communities safer. In the past year, we made significant progress on 13 of the 15 recommendations from our Task Force on Community Safety and Well-being. These include introducing our Community Crime Patrols, improving 350 lights on and off campus and expanding ridesharing hours as part of Lyft Ride Smart at Ohio State.
Our Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities is developing actionable recommendations to ensure that all members of our communities can live and flourish in a world that welcomes them. Our thanks go to Dr. James Moore, vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and Dr. Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work, for leading this task force with collaboration from faculty, staff and students. We expect a full report with recommendations in the near future. At the same time, our Wexner Medical Center and health sciences colleges are working to address racism as a social determinant of health through their Anti-Racism Action Plan. It is powerful work. And our College of Medicine was recently ranked No. 7 in the nation among the most diverse medical schools in the 2022 U.S. News and World Report rankings.
With regard to the priority of building a senior leadership team, we welcomed Dr. Carol Bradford, who joined us in October as the new dean of the College of Medicine, and Dr. Ayana Howard, who has been with us since March as the dean of the College of Engineering. Both bring incredible expertise and innovative approaches to their colleges and fields. We’re excited to have them as part of the Buckeye family.
I also had the privilege of welcoming new members of my executive leadership team including Dr. Grace Wang, executive vice president, leading the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge. We are on track to achieve over $970 million in research expenditures this year, a new record, which speaks to the excellence and ingenuity of our university — particularly in the time of Covid.
We also announced a new $100 million strategic partnership with JobsOhio and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to spur innovation and economic growth in our region and state.
Ms. Elizabeth Parkinson also joined the president’s cabinet from “That School Up North” to serve as our senior vice president for marketing and communications, consolidating Ohio State’s marketing, previously under Advancement, and communications efforts into one unit responsible for overall brand, marketing and communications strategy and implementation.
And speaking of advancement, I’m delighted to share that we have just passed the $500 million mark in donations and pledges with about five weeks to go in the fiscal year. As always, we are grateful to our alumni and friends who support our excellence with their generous gifts and pledges.
That support will be evidenced once again this summer as Pelotonia will raise funds for cancer research. Like so many others in our community, this effort is personal for me. Pelotonia will take place August 6-8, and I’m excited to be serving as this year’s honorary captain for Team Buckeye.
You know, August 8 is another day — that’s going to be our in-person commencement. So, that will be interesting. I’ll have to ride quickly! So, I’m looking forward to seeing many of you there as we ride to fight cancer right into Ohio Stadium.
Also this year, we welcomed several other key executives: Mr. Paul Patton joined Ohio State as senior advisor to the president and now is also serving as interim senior vice president for talent, culture and human resources. Mr. JR Blackburn, chief of staff in the Office of the President, a proud alumnus, former member of the band — Row X — helps to develop and implement the strategic goals of the university. And Mr. Skip Hidlay joined us as chief marketing officer for the Wexner Medical Center. I look forward to working with our new Buckeyes and all of Buckeye Nation to advance the ways we educate, discover and serve.
I’d like to finish by highlighting Buckeyes who have been recognized nationally this past year.
This starts out with Daniel Lesman, one of the members of our class of 2021, who was named a Rhodes Scholar — the ninth Buckeye in our history and the third such in the last three years.
Ose Arheghan, a third-year political science and Chinese major, was awarded a 2021 Harry S. Truman Scholarship.
Eleven Ohio State scientists in the College of Arts and Sciences, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, were named to the 2020 class of Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
And Dr. Anita Hopper, professor of molecular genetics in the College of Arts and Sciences, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Two more Buckeyes were elected by their peers to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Dr. Fritz Graff, distinguished university professor in the Department of Classics; and Dr. Stewart Shapiro, the Steve and Sara O’Donnell Professor of Philosophy.
We were ranked No. 1 as the top-producing Fulbright U.S. Scholar university for 2021 and, once again, recognized as among the best in our online education.
Our student-athletes, despite the many restrictions and challenges, had another incredibly successful year. They competed in over 400 events, won 10 team championships, two double national championships in dance and pistol, and an individual national championship in the shotput.
Our continuing partnerships with our elected officials, business leaders and community organizations are also vital elements in fulfilling our land-grant mission.
One of those exciting partnerships is on our consent agenda today. I’m thrilled to share that Ohio State is extending its formal partnership with Honda, a true model of industry-university collaboration. Over the past two decades, they have provided research and internships for hundreds of Ohio State University students.
Also on our consent agenda is the awarding of the Joseph Sullivant Medal: a prestigious recognition bestowed only every five years by the university. Our recipient, our next recipient, will be Dr. N. Geoffrey Parker, distinguished university professor and Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History. As one of his colleagues shared, Dr. Parker is one of the most widely-read, respected and admired early-modern European historians at work today. We look forward to presenting the Sullivan Medal to Dr. Parker in the near future.
While these highlights just skim the surface of what we’ve accomplished this year, they exemplify a university that is using its size, scale and scope to elevate the people we serve. It is the dream of a lifetime to lead this institution — a storied university with a trajectory to become the absolute model of a land-grant university for the 21st century.
Thank you, again, to the Board of Trustees for giving me this opportunity, and thank you to the entire Buckeye community for your talents and contributions. The first nine months have been challenging and inspiring, and I look forward to my second first year with great excitement and optimism.