The following remarks were delivered during the public session of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, August 27, 2020.
Good afternoon, everyone. It is wonderful to be back on campus. I want to welcome all of you — board members, students, faculty, staff and other guests.
I also want to give a special welcome to our newest board members, Elizabeth Harsh and Reginald Wilkinson. We are so grateful to have you both join the board. I look forward to working with you and the Buckeye community to move our university forward.
I also want to recognize our Distinguished University Professors who spoke earlier: Dr. Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Dr. Susan Olesik and Dr. Roger Ratcliff. They clearly represent the excellence of our faculty, and it is wonderful to hear about their research and scholarship.
As you know, our return to campus this fall has been unlike any other. These are uncertain times, and we will continue to make adjustments and enhancements based on newly emerging information and data. Through it all, however, our objective remains the same: to support a safe and healthy environment in which everyone can learn, teach, live and work together.
The university began by setting up a COVID-19 Transition Task Force in April led by Ms. Gail Marsh. The Task Force engaged in an inclusive and comprehensive planning process from April until the end of July to develop guidelines and recommendations for a safe return to on-campus operations. In August, we stood up the COVID-19 Response Implementation Team, chaired by Dr. Morley Stone and Mr. Mike Hofherr, to implement the plan.
We created and continue to update our Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website, which includes information on topics such as safety measures, campus readiness, classrooms, and health and wellness resources.
We implemented guidelines and requirements related to personal hygiene, face masks, physical distancing, surveillance testing, daily health checks and more.
We established a requirement that every student, faculty member and employee complete online training on health and safety and then sign the “Together As Buckeyes Pledge,” promising to follow university guidelines to protect ourselves and others. And as new data and discoveries about COVID-19 became available, we identified opportunities to further enhance the safety of our students, faculty and staff. For example, we further reduced the maximum class size from 100 to 50 students or fewer, to reduce the probability of transmission in our classroom settings.
We significantly increased the number of contact tracers to help reduce the spread of the virus to more than 50 and growing. We expanded our testing program to include weekly testing of all students who are living on campus, and we are going to be testing off-campus students as well. We limited the number of people for in-person gatherings to 10 or fewer to align with Governor DeWine’s guidance.
This week, the university launched a dashboard of aggregate test results from our comprehensive COVID-19 testing program, as well as metrics on pandemic preparedness. Information is a powerful tool in stopping the spread of the virus, and we want our community to have as much information as possible.
We also launched a Together As Buckeyes public health campaign to ask, why do you want to follow the guidelines to stay safe and healthy on campus. “What’s your why?” My why is that I want to have students, faculty and staff back on campus. I want to give our students that special Ohio State experience, keep Oval Beach open, allow walks around Mirror Lake, and offer the joy of watching our students perform, and the excitement of cheering on our incredible athletic teams.
I want to personally thank every one of you from across the university — and throughout the community — who has worked so hard to support our return to campus. I want to thank our students, faculty and staff for their collaboration, resilience and engagement. I want to thank the members of the Board of Trustees for your leadership and guidance. And, finally, I want to thank Governor DeWine and Mayor Ginther and all of our government partners for their support and cooperation.
While the start of this academic year looks different and lacks some of the traditional fanfare and events, it is still a time of great celebration and excitement.
Our newest Buckeyes have just embarked on their academic journey with us, and we are thrilled to have them. Veronica and I volunteered for student move-in last Sunday, and it was fantastic to meet the students and families, see the excitement in our students and their desire to be back on campus. We received positive feedback about the move-in process from our students and parents. As one family shared, “Please know that these ‘first timer’ parents…were thankful for the ease, mystified at the efficiency, and grateful” that their daughter was so happy.
I am thankful for the hard work and flexibility of our Student Life staff and volunteers from across campus for pulling off this new, phased-in approach to move-in this year. In typical Buckeye style, it was a true tour de force. But the only way we can stay open is to keep down the infection rates by wearing a mask, physical distancing and not hosting large gatherings.
Great institutions — especially in the midst of daunting challenges — must continue to adapt and plan for the future.
This week, we announced that we are moving forward with our plans to build an inpatient hospital tower. We are planning for a future where the Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University will continue to lead the way on researching and developing the breakthrough treatments and cures that will support the public health of central Ohio and beyond. At $1.79 billion and 1.9 million-square-feet, the hospital will be the largest construction project in our history. This facility will provide health care for a rapidly growing community and will create 1,800 careers and will support thousands more construction jobs over the five-year building process. Those 1,800 new jobs, in turn, will create internships and new research opportunities for our students.
This project is vitally important because we want to put The Ohio State University on the map as the place to come to do cross-disciplinary research. This facility will be a driver for convergent research, in which you bring many different disciplines together to converge on a problem.
Of course, one of the big problems we’re trying to address right now is COVID-19 — how to develop better rapid testing, new vaccines and antivirals. A great public land-grant research university brings together disciplines such as computer science, physics and quantum computing to confront these big challenges from a variety of angles. In times of uncertainty, if you have clarity and vision, you have to move forward. Times like this require leadership, and that’s what we’re exhibiting with this project that will better serve our community, create jobs and support leading-edge, life-changing innovation.
Another critical area of focus will be 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 fear, intimidation and discrimination.
We were all horrified and disgusted by the brutal killing of George Floyd, and we witnessed and joined in the mobilization of a movement to finally, at long last, see an end to the evil of racism. And now again this week, the nation witnessed another black man killed by police. In the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Maurice Gordon, and so many others, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
In June, the university established a Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities to lead conversations, explore solutions and develop principles to guide the university toward a more inclusive and anti-racist future. I conferred with former President Drake in establishing this Task Force and offered my full support. The Task Force is led by Dr. James Moore, the university’s chief diversity officer; and Dr. Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work, and includes students, faculty and staff from across the university. I have met with the Task Force leaders and members to talk about the Task Force charge and its importance. This will be one of my top priorities — and I want the university to do something bold in this area.
Finally, Veronica and I would like to share again with the board and with Buckeye Nation just how happy we are to be here and to be part of this tremendous community. We are going to work very hard to continue to build on the excellence that is “Thee” Ohio State University. Know that we want to meet each and every one of you just as soon as we can — even if that means meeting you virtually or in many, many groups of 10 or fewer. I know there are a lot of you in Buckeye Nation, but as I’ve said before, I am a stubborn optimist!
If you visit my office, you’ll see that the centerpiece on the wall behind my desk is my grandfather’s diploma from 1896, signed by the 4th president of The Ohio State University, James Canfield. I am proud of my family history and connection to the university. I’ve had a love for Ohio State for many years, and we are so excited to work with all of you to make the seasons and years brighter and more inclusive for everyone.