President's Report to the Board of Trustees

The following remarks were delivered during public session of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees on Thursday, February 22, 2024.

Six months ago today — August 22 of 2023 — I sat with you and stood with you in this very room as you announced my appointment as your 17th president of The Ohio State University.

It’s a day I’ll never forget, and it’s amazing to be here, exactly six months to the day, for my first meeting with you.

So, I join you now, as Chair Fujita said — 53 days into the job — I am proud to say that I’m more excited and humbled than ever to be a Buckeye.

Lynda and I have been moved deeply by the warm welcome we’ve received. Our campuses, greater Columbus, and the state of Ohio already feel like home. The more we experience of Ohio State, the more we’re convinced that this is where we’re supposed to be.

As I told this board on 22 August 2023, I was drawn to Ohio State because its commitment to service parallels my own — because it operates at the highest levels of academics, research and scholarship, patient care, the arts, athletics and more.

This university has a unique potential to bring people together and to solve complex challenges.

The Wolfe family is an amazing example of this.

On Monday, I had the honor of joining Dr. John Warner and many of you to announce a $50 million gift from the Wolfes to support the Wexner Medical Center’s new hospital tower. We’re grateful to Mrs. Ann Wolfe and her entire family for this remarkable investment and for all they continue to do for Ohio State.

During my first eight weeks, I’ve been working to wrap my arms around this place and get a sense of those we serve. I’ve been listening and learning, and I remain committed to earning the trust of the Ohio State community.

To do that, I’ve been engaging with many constituents and stakeholders.

I’ve met with leadership of our students, faculty and staff; our college deans; and the University Senate. I’ve engaged with community partners, industry and elected leaders. And I’ve met some of the people who make the campus run so seamlessly — from the crew in Dining Services to the team in the Buck ID office during my first day on campus.

Along the way, I’m beginning to get a sense of what it’s really like to be a Buckeye.

I feel the passion people have here for this university.

I’m cheering on our student-athletes. I’ve been at a lot of sporting events already. My very first one was to be able to drop the puck for our men’s hockey team against Notre Dame. And they beat Notre Dame that night, so they keep inviting me back.

I had a chance to sing “Carmen Ohio” with many of our students last month at the Ohio Union. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

I’m learning what it’s really like to be a part of the Ohio State community and building relationships with people in every corner of it.

I’m also making sure we have the right team in place to take this community, and the impact we have, to the next level.

To that end, I know you’ll join me in welcoming Ross Bjork to Buckeye Nation as our next senior vice president and athletics director.

I’ve said it many times before: There’s no replacing Gene Smith. Throughout the search, the goal was to find someone who will build on his amazing legacy, support student-athletes and keep our amazing momentum going. Ross is the right person to do just that.

In another important area of the university, I was pleased to name Katie Hall as the senior vice president for talent, culture, and human resources. Katie’s been an outstanding partner to the Ohio State community for 24 years, and she’s led our HR operation on an interim basis since last spring.

I’m excited to work with both her and Ross to make this remarkable university even greater in the future. And I’m thankful to you, the board, as we bring them aboard. 

The search for Ohio State’s next provost also remains a significant area of focus. This is important for the university. And I want to say thank you, right up front, to Dr. Karla Zadnik, who’s acting as our interim and doing an amazing job in that important leadership role as this process unfolds.

Earlier this month, I was pleased to meet with the Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger, out in Santa Clara, California, to reaffirm Ohio State’s partnership with the company. Their investment here in Ohio is a huge opportunity, and we are committed to their success — and the success of the semiconductor industry — right here in our state.

In January, we hosted Governor Mike DeWine on campus to announce the new SOAR Study. Backed by $20 million in state funding, the effort aims to better understand and address the root causes of addiction and mental illness. It’s a statewide study that’s going to be based right here at the Wexner Medical Center.

I want to say thank you to Trustee Brad Kastan and medical center board member Bobby Schottenstein for joining us for that special announcement. I also want to point out that that SOAR Study is the first of its kind in any state in the entire United States.

We’re also grateful to the State of Ohio for $2.5 million in funding to expand mental health support for our students. This university is already doing great work in this space, and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be able to do more of it with the support of Governor DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly.

Also in January, Trustee Elizabeth Harsh, Dean Cathann Kress and I helped break ground on the Multispecies Animal Learning Center, located at Waterman Labs. This new facility will be a hub for industry and workforce development — providing hands-on training to prepare our students for careers in animal agriculture.

That event was a milestone in terms of what we’re going to be able to do for this industry. But it was also remarkable to see who came to campus to be a part of that day: elected leaders, the entire agriculture community, our faculty and students. They came because they’re committed to the work we do together — and because they believe in the impact this university has in every corner of the state.

And just as I knew in Nebraska, agriculture is a top and important industry here in the state of Ohio, and I got to see all the leaders of the different aspects of the ag community at this very event. I also got to be reminded that we have representation in all 88 counties here in the great state of Ohio. It’s our commitment to the entire state.

To sustain that impact, and to expand it, there are two fundamental things we have to get right on our campuses — and I’ve talked about this since the day I got here: We have to have a safe environment. We have to have an environment that welcomes all people to do their best work.

In terms of safety, I’ve been impressed to learn what we have been doing. And maybe we haven’t talked enough about that: investments in lighting and surveillance, uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, and new transportation options.

I visited our command center at Blankenship Hall just recently and had the chance to see how we monitor things in real time.

In addition to the significant focus on physical safety, the university meets continually with students — to hear their perspectives and concerns, and connect them with support.

We want our campuses to be places where everybody is welcome, feels like they belong, and where everyone’s voices can be heard. Free speech is an important part of that — but so is safety, civility, respect and compassion.

College campuses should be places where students, faculty and staff can engage in learning from one another and consider many different perspectives. And there are many times that we may not all agree.

Across the nation, some of our disagreements have turned volatile.

For the most part, things at Ohio State have not reached the level they have on some other campuses.  That says a lot about our students, our faculty and staff. But there are still members of our community who feel vulnerable — particularly as it relates to the war in the Middle East. And I heard that from our students. And I reminded our staff as we continue to work on this problem: We can work very hard on safety, we understand what it means to be a secure campus. But it is very difficult to tell faculty, staff and, particularly, our students how to feel.

Moving forward from here does not require us to change one another’s positions. But it does require us to center our dialogue on what we have in common — to keep compassion and respect at the forefront.

If we do that, we can have real discourse. We can openly exchange perspectives. And we can learn something from each other, even if we don’t see eye to eye.

This is challenging work, but I am convinced we can do it at Ohio State. That’s because no matter how great our differences seem, there is one thing that we do all have in common: We are all Buckeyes. It’s the one thing that brings us together. We have chosen to be part of this large and complex community.

That identity is powerful enough and valuable enough for us to build on, and I look forward to doing that in the future.

This is work that we’re continuing to do. Dr. Melissa Shivers has done an amazing job bringing our students together and helping them understand how to work with each other, how to have meaningful dialogue — and that work will continue.

As I’ve said before, this is a unique moment in the world, our country and in the higher education landscape. In addition to the tone of our discourse, colleges and universities are being questioned by people across the spectrum. But I believe that Ohio State is one of the few institutions that can change this narrative, and I’m excited to do that with this university community.

We have some of the best students in the country. In fact, Ohio State was named a top producer of Fulbright scholars just last week. That’s the fifth year in a row.

Our faculty are world-class educators and researchers. We’re celebrating a new record in terms of research expenditures: almost $1.45 billion just this last fiscal year.

And our staff are talented and dedicated to the mission of this institution.

Throughout its history, this university has changed the lives of our students, our patients and people throughout the state and across our country. It’s work we’re going to keep on doing, and doing more of.

The bottom line here is simple: Ohio State is one of the best public universities there is — not just in the United States, but across the world. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that it’s going to continue to rise.

I am grateful for your support and partnership in these early months, and for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing university. It’s one of the greatest honors of my career, and I’m really proud to be here with you.

So, I will say thank you, for now, as we continue the dialogue. And, as always, Go Bucks!