2021 State of the University

The following address was delivered virtually to the Ohio State community on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

Read the Ohio State News article for more information about the address and President Johnson's vision for The Ohio State University.



Good afternoon!

I’d like to thank Senate Secretary Ben Givens and members of the University Senate for bringing us together today.

I also want to thank: Chair Gary Heminger and all of our trustees for offering me the incredible opportunity to lead The Ohio State University — our students, faculty, staff and alumni for welcoming me so warmly to Buckeye Nation — and Governor DeWine, Lt. Governor Husted, Mayor Ginther and our state and national representatives for their wise counsel and encouragement. Lastly, I am so grateful to my wife, Veronica Meinhard, for her unwavering love and support.

Welcome to everyone joining me for my first Ohio State, State of the University Address. I think I speak for all buckeyes, when I say that the last six months have been an interesting six months!

The challenges, of course, have included the pandemic and balancing the risks of reopening our campuses with the risks of not reopening — including derailing crucial research, academic progress, performances and athletic competition. Many of our students consider our campuses home, and home is a tough thing to lose, even temporarily.

We have also been reeling from the tragic loss of life brought about in so many ways, including the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, gun violence and the insurrection at our nation’s capitol, which tested our democracy in unparalleled ways.

No one of my generation or younger has ever seen a time like this in our country.

But I have learned something very important during this time: that Buckeyes have a huge spirit that shines under pressure.

Our health care workers at the Wexner Medical Center have been heroic in treating COVID-19 patients. So, it was thrilling that the Wexner Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the nation to administer the Pfizer vaccine within days of the vaccine’s FDA emergency use authorization.

Researchers across Ohio State immediately leapt into action last winter to understand and fight COVID-19. And a COVID-19 vaccine platform developed by Dr. Jianrong Li and Dr. Stefan Niewiesk in our amazing College of Veterinary Medicine has now been licensed to Biological E. Limited, a leading vaccine manufacturer based in India.

As soon as I arrived in Columbus last summer, it was clear to me that to bring back our students safely — and to reduce the transmission of the virus — we needed to scale up our surveillance testing and contact tracing ten-fold from what was in the existing return-to-campus plan.

With the help of my implementation response team, led by Senior Vice President for Research Dr. Morley Stone, our incredibly dynamic Ohio State leaders were able to ramp up prevention, detection and control on a dime:

  • Within two weeks, Director of Strategic Partnerships Christy Bertolo stood up the Jesse Owens North Recreation Center as a place where we can test up to 4,500 students per day.
  • Dean Amy Fairchild of our College of Public Health, head of our Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Group and Comprehensive Monitoring Team, expanded her contact tracing team commensurately.
  • Dr. Melissa Shivers, our senior vice president for student life, just as quickly set up support services and rented local hotels to safely and comfortably isolate and quarantine our residential students who tested positive or who were in close contact with someone who did.
  • Dr. Peter Mohler, chief research officer and Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer of the WMC, advised on diagnostics, testing and vaccination, and maintained continuous contact with the state efforts to fight COVID-19.
  • And our amazing student organization, the Student Covid Alliance, led by James Gelman and Gaby Del Risco, was right there to alleviate the isolated and quarantined students’ stress and boredom.

To limit the spread of infections, we required masks everywhere on our campuses, indoors and out, capped class and section sizes at 50 students, and limited gatherings of any kind to 10 or fewer.

So, even in returning to campus, our students have made real sacrifices, giving up some of the joys of the transition from youth to adulthood represented by college, including impromptu gatherings and graduation ceremonies.

But to quote George Bernard Shaw, “you have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” I thank our students for their civic-mindedness and goodwill in keeping us all safe, and I know we are all wiser for this experience.

As a result of all these efforts — including the incredible commitment and dedication of all our essential workers — and the agility of our faculty in adopting new teaching methods — last fall, 75% of our students were able to receive some kind of in-person instruction. And 51% of our classes were either in-person or a blend of in person and online. This is quite an achievement.

We also learned from the fall and implemented a number of best practices for the spring semester — such as requiring our students to quarantine and be tested before coming back to campus and then testing a second time upon their return. So, for this semester, our seven-day positivity rate among our students has been consistently below .5%.

Wearing masks, weekly testing, staying physically distant and washing hands — it all works.

Of course, we had great guidance from Governor DeWine, and Director of the Ohio and Columbus departments of health, including Director Stephanie McCloud and Dr. Mysheika Roberts. Governor DeWine’s decisions during this pandemic may not have all been popular, but they all have been wise and courageous.

We also have been fortunate in having people to help us make sense of the violence of the last year, including the members of our Task Force on Community Safety and Well-being, co-chaired by Mr. Jay Kasey, senior vice president of administration and planning, and by Dr. Shivers. We are already implementing their excellent recommendations.

And I thank our Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities, co-chaired by Dr. James Moore III, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, and Dr. Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work. I will have a major announcement in a moment, based on the work of this task force.

Dr. Moore and our academic leaders—including those at the Glenn College of Public Affairs and the Moritz College of Law’s Divided Community Project—  also deserve recognition for instantly springing into action after the January 6 breach of the Capitol, putting together a series of amazing Thursday-evening “Education for Citizenship” webinars that have allowed us to better understand the divisions in our society and to think about the way forward.

And, as I have been learning about the Buckeye spirit over the last six months — I am so grateful to everyone who gave us something to cheer about in our rather dark time. That includes our Buckeye football team, who thrilled us all the way to the national championship game in the most difficult of seasons.

For me, it has been a half year of inspiration. And everything I have experienced and witnessed here convinces me that The Ohio State University can achieve one very big goal.

We owe it to ourselves and to the state of Ohio to be the very best land-grant university in the nation — and not just top-ranked, but the absolute model of what a land-grant university should look like and be in the 21st century.

To understand what that is, we need to go back to the 1862 Morrill Act that created the land-grant colleges — which made it clear that our “leading object” was to — and I quote — “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.”

In other words, we were created to allow people from ordinary backgrounds to do extraordinary things.

Signed by President Lincoln during some of the grimmest days of the Civil War, the Morrill Act was revolutionary in affirming that higher ed was not just for the elite.

The founding of Ohio State in 1870 represented an important expansion of opportunity. I am proud that there were women and black students here from early in our history. However, we must acknowledge and learn from the fact that they were not made to feel as welcome or cared for as they should have been.

As our nation struggled, haltingly, towards greater justice, the 20th century at Ohio State was one of expanding access and working toward eliminating institutional discrimination. But as we move into the 21st century, it is time to move beyond access to truly reflect the people we serve — to become a place that offers every Ohioan — of any gender, sexual orientation, race, color, religious belief or national origin — their very best opportunity at an amazing life.

The Ohio State University was created to spread opportunity more widely.

And if ever there were a time that required a mission like that — it is our own — where on the one hand, we are struggling to recover from a pandemic that underscored painful and increasing inequalities — and on the other, we are being offered so much that is so promising, by new technologies and all the lessons we have learned about using them during this pandemic.

And if ever there were a university with the power to seize this moment, it is Ohio State. We have the full breadth of colleges and regional campuses to reach every Ohioan, including our rural students, and an excellent online platform to support the education goals of any student or adult learner anywhere on Earth. Our faculty and students expand human knowledge in almost every field. We have nearly 600,000 alumni living across the globe, helping our students find their way in this complex world and serving society by devising solutions to the world’s most perplexing problems.

We have the size, the scale and the scope.

So how we do get to be the greatest land-grant university of the 21st century? By fiercely committing to four kinds of excellence:

Academic excellence and a culture of true inclusiveness — with outstanding faculty who attract great students and staff, all of whom learn from each other;

Excellence in research and creative expression — as we generate brilliant ideas in laboratories, libraries, art studios and fields and pastures; and

Excellence in entrepreneurship and partnership — as we move our discoveries into the communities in which we live and serve.

That may seem like enough excellence. But for a 21st century land-grant university, it isn’t!

The fourth kind of excellence I want us to reach for is excellence in service to the state of Ohio, the nation and the world. We need to be accessible, affordable, innovative and caring.

As Aristotle teaches us, excellence is not something inherent in any of us — but rather something we build over time as we strive to do our best, every day, over and over again.

So, it may very well take us 10 years — but at the end of 10 years, if we stay focused — we will be the leading land-grant university in America.

Let’s start with academic excellence — which means first investing in excellent faculty.

While our undergraduate enrollment has expanded by over 5,800 students since 2008, the net number of tenure-track faculty has declined by 219 over the same period.

It is time for a new, strategic faculty hiring plan for tenure-track faculty — and also one that appropriately values our associated, teaching and clinical faculty, many of whom are leaders in their fields.

As you know, our Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron — who has given us such a strong academic foundation to build on — will be stepping down, to return to his roots as professor of entomology in our College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For our next provost, we will make developing a plan to hire a minimum of 350 net new tenure-track faculty, the most urgent priority.

First, following one of the initial draft recommendations from our Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities and our academic deans, led by Executive Dean Gretchen Ritter of Arts and Sciences, we will hire 150 new faculty within a new initiative called RAISE — short for race, inclusion and social equity.

At least 50 of our RAISE faculty will be scientists, artists and scholars whose work addresses social equity and racial disparities in fields such as health care, education, justice and public safety, resources and the environment, the arts and creative expression, economic opportunity and leadership — building on what is already world-class scholarship across our colleges.

The RAISE initiative will also include the goal of 100 underrepresented and BIPOC hires in all fields of scholarship. This means a lot to me: As a young woman studying engineering in the 1970s, it took me a long time to realize that I could become a professor, because I never had a woman professor in any of my basic science, math or engineering coursework. And as Children’s Defense Fund founder Marion Wright Edelman said, “it’s hard to be what you can’t see.”

I want every single Ohio State student to be able to look across the lecture hall or seminar table and understand immediately that their dreams are valid and achievable.

And meeting that goal requires more than just recruiting great talent. We must also develop, encourage and retain our faculty. To support these new hires, we will create hiring cohorts within and across our colleges and help underrepresented faculty to network university-wide.

Ultimately, the RAISE initiative will bring to Ohio State researchers who develop new approaches to building an anti-racist society, while changing the composition of our faculty and transforming our own culture, practices and policies so that Ohio State becomes an absolutely inclusive community.

We also want to ensure equity in terms of pay, promotions and career advancement for women and underrepresented minorities — for those wonderful people on our staff who do so much to support students and professors alike — as well as for those in our professoriate. We will work with our deans, administrators and managers to make equity adjustments.

Our faculty hiring plan also includes 150 scholars in high-demand fields where our student-faculty ratios exceed those of our peers, such as in the Fisher College of Business — and where our class sizes and sections exceed 50 students. If we can cap classes at 50 amidst of all the stresses of a pandemic, we can do it post-pandemic to personalize the education we offer.

And we will do even more to support and recognize great teaching at Ohio State. Since it was first approved by the University Senate in 2016, the Michael D. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning has already brought together thousands of Ohio State faculty to share their instructional strategies and to learn evidence-based best practices. Let’s expand this effort.

Finally, we will hire at least 50 faculty in emerging fields of leading-edge research, where Ohio State can and should be world class — and where we should, without question, be educating the next generation of leaders. And we will provide significant startup support to launch their laboratories and careers.

Of course, hiring more tenure-track faculty will help us achieve our second kind of excellence: excellence in research and creative expression. Overall, we will invest at least $750 million over this decade in researchers and research — and that does not include the new facilities I will mention in a moment.

I have two principles here: first, that some of the most exciting discoveries often come out of convergent research — where we choose a great, societal challenge; bring people together across disciplines and industries to address it; and in the process, develop a common language and focus to propel breakthroughs.

My second principle, which does not apply solely to research, is that the most adaptable and resilient organizations in every sector are open organizations where leadership is somewhat distributed, where the breadth of the network is considered a strength and where the great ideas come from the edges, as well as the center.

In academic research, the paradigm-breakers are often those scientists and scholars who follow their own curiosity where it leads, no matter what, and sometimes against great odds.

In the past, The Ohio State University has had research initiatives that supported either one or the other — either faculty-proposed curiosity-driven projects — or research themes identified by senior administrators. I believe that we should have the best of both worlds and funding to support both on a recurring basis.

So, upon the recommendation of the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee, consisting of faculty who hold the position of Ohio Eminent Scholar or university distinguished professor and senior administrators, such as Dr. Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, associate dean for research, we will create the Presidential Research Excellence Fund to support two types of research projects over the next 10 years:

First, the most exciting and innovative proposals by our faculty. We will provide the seed funding for them to explore their ideas and test their readiness for extramural funding.

Some of these explorations may grow into the second type of project — initiatives in fields of emergent and convergent research, aligned with national scientific, medical and engineering priorities.

Clearly, we should prepare to lead in next generation computing and communications — including quantum information sciences, 6G communications, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In artificial intelligence, we will develop killer apps in health care, in education — and in the arts and the humanities, where AI can offer sweeping empirical confirmation for theories of style or attribution. Recently, a group of art historians using unsupervised deep learning was astonished to discover that the system could accurately order 77,000 paintings in terms of chronology, just based on style development.

The second area in which we intend to lead is the life sciences. We will build on our existing expertise in infectious diseases and expand our understanding of virus mutations and vaccine development. We will also forward the development of living therapeutics — or engineered microbes able to diagnose diseases and produce drugs within our bodies to fight infections and tumors. These living therapeutics can now be equipped with sensors, regulators, memory circuits and kill switches. They can become active in the body when just the right conditions, such as a fever, are met. And they are likely to lower treatment costs and minimize side effects.

By backing great ideas emanating both from our faculty and from administrative leaders, Ohio State aims to double its sponsored research within this decade. Advanced analytics will help us connect researchers and emerging funding opportunities. And doubling the number of endowed chairs and professorships will help us recruit and retain distinguished faculty in key areas of research, as well as recognize the excellence of those already here.

Finally, thousands of our undergraduates participate in research every year, guided by great research mentors such as Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Ryan Norris of Ohio State Lima, whose student Shivani Bhatt has just expanded our world by discovering two new species of voles. Another undergraduate, Daniel Lesman — our third Rhodes Scholar in as many years — has already published his research in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Let’s support this extraordinary work by doubling the research opportunities we offer the next generation of explorers and discoverers.

The greatest challenge Ohio State faces in research and creative expression is not generating great ideas — our students and faculty do that as naturally as breathing. It is making sure that those great ideas move quickly into the world where they can do the best. That is why we have reorganized our research, technology commercialization, and corporate engagement into a single portfolio headed by Dr. Grace Wang, the inaugural lead in a new position I established this year: the executive vice president for research, innovation and the knowledge enterprise.

With her leadership, we will help our faculty and students find the capital they need for their spin-outs and start-ups. Ohio State already invested $100 million in venture capital funds that have supported local start-ups, including Root Insurance, founded by Mr. Alex Timm — which went public at the end of October with a valuation of nearly $7 billion — the largest IPO in Ohio history. This gives us a sense of the possibilities if Columbus and Ohio at large become a nexus of entrepreneurial activity.

We want many more Ohio State students to be among the leaders in the entrepreneurial economy we foster. We are so proud, for example, of the team of four engineering students who founded Electrion after observing the noisy, carbon-polluting gas-powered generators at pre-pandemic Buckeye football tailgates. An Ohio State Sustainability Fund grant enabled them to launch a proof-of-concept of their mobile battery pack and their sustainable-energy-on-demand service innovations, which led to backing from investors.

Now, we are building a student startup accelerator and creating an annual competition for students to be selected as Buckeye entrepreneurs and awarded $50,000 to work on their new ventures for a year — with a Buckeye Entrepreneur Awards Program at the end that will introduce them to potential investors and partners.

Overall, we will invest on a large scale in the physical infrastructure for creativity, discovery and entrepreneurship.

This includes building out our new 270-acre Ohio State Innovation District as fertile ground for a vibrant startup community arising out of Ohio State research. The district includes a spectacular Energy Advancement and Innovation Center in partnership with Ohio State Energy Partners — where our researchers, industry experts and entrepreneurs will work on smart everything — smart vehicles, devices, appliances, houses, farms and cities — to maximize energy efficiency.

We also are adding a new $1.8 billion Ohio State Wexner Medical Center inpatient hospital to our infrastructure. At 1.9 million square feet, this tower will be the largest single construction project ever undertaken at Ohio State — ensuring that our facilities for clinical care measure up to the incredible health care professionals who work and train the next generation in them. By the way, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Carol Bradford as our new dean of the College of Medicine, which set a new record for research funding in fiscal 2020, with more than $300 million in research awards.

At the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, we have just opened an ultramodern 60,000 square foot, $33.5 million science building in Wooster. This seems an appropriate way to celebrate unifying the Agricultural Technical Institute and Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center into a single college. In a state where food and agriculture is the leading industry, the college is a research powerhouse in these fields — getting the science to those who need it through our OSU Extension. In 2020 alone, Professor Monica Giusti and Professor Judit Puskas were elected to the National Academy of Inventors, and Professor Rattan Lal was awarded the World Food Prize.

Of course, our great explorations and discoveries at Ohio State are not limited to science, medicine, agriculture and engineering. They come in the arts as well — a realm in which our students and faculty excel. I had the opportunity this fall to visit the laboratories and performance facilities of our Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. It was magic!

Now, we are creating a new Arts District at the front door to the Columbus campus at 15th and High, with a new building for the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Arts. And, thanks to a $17 million gift to our magnificent College of Arts and Sciences by Ratmir Timashev, of the class of 1996, and Angela Timasheva, the district will include one of the most acoustically and technologically advanced music buildings in the world.

As you can see, Ohio State is very lucky in its champions. At the top of the list are companies like Honda, which began collaborative research at Ohio State in 1988; JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest employers in the city; Battelle; and organizations like One Columbus, the Columbus Partnership, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Columbus Foundation.

Now, I’d like to see many new partnerships on the road to excellence that allow us to leverage our resources and amplify our ideas. We are a public university, and if we are going to be among the greatest public universities, we need everybody to pitch in.

So, we’re delighted that just yesterday, Governor DeWine announced a new $100 million strategic partnership with  JobsOhio, Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to spur innovation and economic growth in our region and state. As part of this initiative, Ohio State commits to increasing our sponsored research in biomedical sciences and engineering by 50% and educating a total 22,500 STEM graduates within 15 years. I thank everyone who helped forge this partnership including JP Nauseef and the JobsOhio team, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, One Columbus, the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio.

I also thank our outgoing dean of the College of Engineering Dave Williams for his outstanding service over the past 10 years. Now, our incoming dean of engineering, Dr. Ayanna Howard, will take the lead in vastly expanding the number of students pursuing stem degrees as part of the JobsOhio partnership.

My fourth theme is excellence in service to the state of Ohio, the nation and the world. At this moment of turmoil for our nation, we need a fierce recommitment to our land-grant mission — and to our role in opening up opportunities for anyone seeking them.

It is time for this brilliant community to drive shot-on-goal toward the most significant problems in the society around us.

Over the next decade, I would like us to become a truly anti-racist community — and, beyond that, to become a national leader in recruiting, retaining and graduating students from underrepresented groups.

It all starts with the undergraduates: a pipeline of talent to diversify the ranks of our graduate and professional students, our researchers and post-docs, and our faculty, staff and administrators. Ohio State has made progress: The number of underrepresented minority students awarded bachelor’s degrees rose 70% from 2013 to 2020.

But it’s time for us to head straight at one of the great barriers to equity in higher ed and in our nation at large: the cost of college.

We see an achievement gap for our low-income students of all races, whose four-year graduation rate is 11% lower than our average. Even when low-income students manage to put together the funds to graduate, the debt they incur on the way can be a real burden — $27,000 on average for Buckeyes graduating with debt. Almost half of our recent alumni with loans tell us they find it difficult to make their payments. And those payments can keep them from taking the jobs they want, going to graduate school and buying homes.

Over the next decade, we are going to make sure our undergraduates leave Ohio State debt-free. This is well within our reach, and we will lead the nation as the first university to offer a zero-debt bachelor’s degree at scale.

I don’t want to leave out our graduate and professional students — affordability is an issue for them, too. We already have increased the minimum graduate student stipend by $4,000 per year, beginning in august of 2021 — and we will be looking for ways to help our graduate and professional students going forward.

We also need to do more to address post-secondary educational attainment in Ohio. Only 43% of the state’s young adults between 25 and 34 have an associate’s degree or higher, and only 34% percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Well, compare that to job creation: In the 10 years from January 2010 until January 2020, the United States added 18.7 million new net jobs for people with at least a high school diploma. Here is the relevant part: 96% of those new jobs went to people with at least some college, and 82% went to people with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

As an engineer, I am all about the numbers this afternoon. Last week, Chancellor Gardner shared research with the Ohio state legislature that estimates that just a 5% increase in higher education degree attainment statewide would boost state tax revenues and decrease public assistance spending by $500 million a year.

And because businesses are attracted to states with educated workforces, more degrees mean more economic growth for everyone.

By improving and growing our online offerings, Ohio State can help many more students — both traditional and adult learners — earn degrees at their own pace. Of course, U.S. News and World Report already ranks our online bachelor’s degree programs fourth in the nation, so where is the room for improvement?

Our ranking is thanks in large measure to our College of Nursing’s fantastic online RN to BSN Program. But we owe it to our neighbors and to potential students everywhere to expand beyond nursing and beyond the 1,900 degree-seeking online students. We have learned a lot during this pandemic about what works in remote learning — it is time to apply that at a much larger scale.

We also need to listen very attentively to Ohio businesses in order to create the workforce they need and to get our students ready for emerging opportunities. It was the advice of Ohio manufacturers, for example, that led us to create a new engineering technology degree program with an emphasis on advanced manufacturing at three regional campuses and expanding to a fourth campus soon.

Given Ohio State’s national leadership in the Manufacturing USA institutes, our Ohio Manufacturing Institute, the Center for Design & Manufacturing Excellence, and the investments we’ve made in materials and manufacturing for sustainability, we have it within our power to spur a renaissance in manufacturing.

But the jobs will go where the best educated workforces are. So, our Office of Academic Affairs is defining new forms of academic programming that will allow us to respond quickly to the labor market — including certificate and other programs that can deliver just-in-time learning for leading-edge skills at scale — and ways for working learners to progress toward a first degree.

Just last week, we announced that we will be making our popular online Swift coding and app development certificate program, where the Ohio State community learns to develop apps for the Apple Store, available to the public.

We also want our Buckeye alumni to be able to bring the latest advances to their jobs, long after they graduate. We already have our Digital Flagship initiative that prepares our undergraduates to thrive in a world where technology is as essential as oxygen. Now, I’d like to expand that initiative with an education cloud all alumni have access to — a cloud that automatically updates the knowledge they gained as students, so they can instantly access the latest thinking in their fields.

As part of our land-grant mission, we also must find ways to influence those we serve — a complicated mission, in that we serve neighbors in both rural and urban places, and everywhere in between.

Nonetheless, our top-ranked College of Education and Human Ecology does a superb job in its Educator Preparation Program of readying amazing classroom teachers for both urban and rural settings — including in economically disadvantaged schools, racially diverse schools and schools with high numbers of English learners — all with the goals of broadening educational opportunities and closing educational gaps — and inspiring more children to aim for higher ed.

We also need to recognize that the state of Ohio, which ranks 7th in the country in GDP, nonetheless ranks very low among the 50 states on many public health measures, including smoking, infant mortality and obesity. Governor DeWine and Mayor Ginther are both working hard on this problem.

The Ohio State University has everything needed to connect the dots here and point the way towards solutions. We have seven health sciences colleges and a great academic medical center; and a food, agricultural and environmental sciences college, where enhancing the quality of food to promote human health is a signature area of research; in our innovation district, we are building an Interdisciplinary Research Facility that will use artificial intelligence, data analytics and genomics to accelerate advances in our understanding of chronic diseases and cancer, and the ways that food, nutrition and agriculture can promote healthy living and healthy aging.

There are so many ways we can make a difference: the Microfarm Project at Ohio State Mansfield, for example, is expanding a new model of sustainable urban agriculture, encouraging entrepreneurial farmers in the community and turning food deserts into places where healthy produce is readily available.

If we focus on the problems around us and try to be a good partner, we can be instrumental in helping our neighbors live healthier, happier lives — and in helping Ohio become a state whose social fabric is as strong as its economic prospects.

For me, this is personal. My grandfather Charles Johnson was a member of the Ohio State Class of 1896. Many of you know that he played right guard on the football team.

But what you may not know is that as an engineer at Westinghouse, he spent his evenings after work teaching colleagues who had been shut out of an engineering education, mainly African Americans and women. By launching something he called the Casino Technical Night School, named for the restaurant where his classes met, he helped his students get onto the technical tracks at Westinghouse and into jobs that would change their lives.

When he died — from double pneumonia at the tail-end of the last pandemic, April 20, 1920 — the African American employees of Westinghouse wrote a resolution honoring him, pointing out that he was a strong friend to them, because he believed that, and I quote, “the safety and happiness of any community depend[s] on the development of the whole.”

I believe that, too. And I know that Ohio State can be what those Black leaders called my grandfather: “heat transformed into light and motion.”

It’s time for The Ohio State University to fully recognize its powers — and be that model of the 21st century land-grant university.

We have the size, scale and scope to truly lead.

We can take on the great challenges in our society — the great challenges in science — the great challenges in engineering, the arts, the humanities, the law and in every other field we encompass — and make a real difference.

We can converge across disciplines, colleges and industries around the most pressing and most interesting problems; become a force for equity, justice and the American Dream; educate young leaders more than ready to take over for us in building a better world; and redefine what it means to be a great land-grant university in the 21st century, in service to the common good.

We can reach for excellence.

And — we are well on our way there. Thank you.