University Community — March 7, 2017

2017 State of Academic Affairs Address

The 2017 State of Academic Affairs address was delivered by Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron, PhD, to the University Senate on Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Drinko Hall's Saxbe Auditorium.

A recorded version is available to watch below, and a transcript of the address follows.



Thank you, President Drake.  Good afternoon, faculty, students, staff and other distinguished guests. 

It was just a year ago at this podium that I had the opportunity to address the Senate as your interim executive vice president and provost.  Just a few months after that, the president granted me a sharpie and gave me the authority to shorten the title on my business card.  It’s with great pleasure today, that I have this opportunity today to share perspectives on the past year and to offer insights on the year to come as your provost.  

I’ll start by thanking President Drake, the Board of Trustees, and all of you, our university community, for your confidence in asking me to serve in this role.  I’m as honored by your support as I am thankful for the talented and dedicated faculty, staff and students I work with every day.  I’m especially indebted to my colleagues in the Office of Academic Affairs for their counsel, dedication, and other duties as assigned in mentoring me during this transition year.  Let me ask my central OAA leadership team of faculty and staff to please stand to be recognized.  Thank you.

Over the past year, there have been a number of leadership changes and re-appointments that I’d like to highlight, beginning with our deans.

  • On Monday, I was proud to announce that Dr. Cathann Kress, vice president for extension and outreach at Iowa State University, will serve as the new vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.  Subject to approval by the Board of Trustees, Dr. Kress’s appointment is effective May 1.
  • A heartfelt thanks to Dr. Lonnie King for serving as the interim vice president and dean.
  • Four other deans -- Patrick Lloyd, Dave Williams, Steve Gavazzi, and Bern Melnyk -- have all been reappointed within this past year for an additional term at their respective colleges or campuses.

We made several other important appointments:

  • Dr. Gifty Ako-Adounvo was appointed as the interim senior international officer for the university and head of the Office of International Affairs;
  • Mr. Vern Granger was appointed as interim vice president for strategic enrollment planning;
  • Mr. Jack Miner was appointed as the permanent university registrar;
  • Professor Kay Halasek was appointed to serve as the director of the new University Institute for Teaching and Learning; and
  • And Ms. Jennifer Beard was appointed just a year ago as director of The Women’s Place.
  • In addition, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Andrew Stott of the State University of New York at Buffalo as an American Council on Education Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year.

As many already know, Vice Provost Sharon Davies -- our chief diversity officer and the executive director of the Kirwan Institute -- has accepted the position of provost at Spelman College.  Please join me in thanking Sharon for her dedication and leadership.

Also, please join me in thanking professor of music Tim Gerber for his leadership as he completes his second, three-year term as secretary of this body.  In January, President Drake and I had the pleasure of awarding Tim the 2017 President and Provost’s Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.  You likely already know that Tim has decided to retire at the end of June.  Tim, would you please stand and let us recognize you?

I’d like to take a moment to recognize just a few of the faculty, staff and students who have distinguished themselves this year.

We are proud, at this time of year to honor faculty who are receiving a variety of different university distinctions. 

In addition to our internal faculty awards, one hundred and forty-eight different faculty members have received prestigious national or international recognition during the past year.  I’ll highlight just three: two who won early career awards and one who was recognized for his career achievement.

Ann Cook, assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences, received an Early Career Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences;

Judith Tonhauser, associate professor in the Department of Linguistics, received an Early Career Award from the Linguistic Society of America;

Randy Nelson, The Doctor John D. and E. Olive Brumbaugh Chair in Brain Research and Teaching, Distinguished University Professor, and chair of the Department of Neuroscience, received the Daniel S. Lehrman Lifetime Achievement Award for his life-long contributions in Behavioral Neuroendocrinology.

We have staff awards yet to be announced, but with us today is Thomas Hatch.  Thank you to Tom, who is the chair of the University Staff Advisory Committee, and works tirelessly on behalf of the more than 25,000 staff members at the university.  Our efforts, as faculty and staff, are always directed toward the success of our students.  I could spend the rest of the day talking about the accomplishments of the students, but allow me to tell you three stories.

  1. Brian Kulp is a graduating senior in chemical engineering who earned a perfect 4.00 GPA and has a strong interest in patent law.  This past year, he co-founded and served as the president of the STEM Pre-Law Society.  In fall, he will attend Harvard Law School.
  2. Jasmine Ashby, a graduating senior with a double major in international studies and economics, is a diversity ambassador for the Office of Enrollment Services, and co-founder and moderator of the Council of Black Student Leaders;
  3. Daniel Rodriguez is a graduating senior majoring in communication with a minor in theater.  He received a grant from STEP to self-publish a book of poems, The Peregrine `Muse.  He is president of Sphinx Senior Honorary and head mentor of Ohio State’s Latino Leadership Development Institute.

Apart from the accomplishments of individuals in our university community, this year was noteworthy for the growing success of initiatives involving teaching and learning, our Second-Year Transformational Experience, and textbook affordability.

In July, with the help of university-wide planning and advisory committees, we launched the University Institute for Teaching and Learning – a direct result of President Drake’s expectation that Ohio State become as well known for its teaching as for its excellence in research and creative expression.

Supported by proceeds from a $10 million Nike endowment, the institute reflects the importance we attach to scholarship of teaching and learning and the significance that this plays as we continue to develop our strategic plan.

Led by Dr. Kay Halasek with the assistance of faculty fellows Drs. Mary Jo Fresh and Maria Pruchnicki, the institute began its work with the Faculty Foundations Impact Transformation (FIT) program at the beginning of fall semester to advise and support teachers new to Ohio State.

As Kay, Mary Jo, and Maria move our efforts forward, we’ll see continued growth as a leader among our peers, and we look forward to the additional programming that will affect more of the faculty across our campus.

Likewise, another initiative -- the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program, more commonly known as STEP – also is flourishing and is attracting national attention.

Started in the 2013-2014 academic year, as a partnership between Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Life, STEP gives second-year students the opportunity to collaborate directly with faculty mentors.  In fact, it’s so successful, the program recently won two prestigious awards from the top higher-education and student-affairs associations in the U.S..

The quality of the STEP mentors is certainly a reason why it is successful. 

Consider Ann Christy, a professor in the Departments of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Engineering Education, who mentors 20 undergraduate students.  Ann happens to be a past winner of the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, she received the US Department of Agriculture’s National Excellence in College and University Teaching Award, and just last month she was awarded the President and Provost’s Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.  The chance to work and learn alongside faculty of such exceptional talent unquestionably sets our STEP students on a very positive trajectory.

STEP will host a reception at the Faculty Club today after the Senate meeting.  We encourage you to stop by and learn how you could be a mentor to second-year students.

We have excellent participation from our associated and clinical faculty, and now I challenge our tenure-line faculty to join Ann and her colleagues to be part of this nationally recognized program.

Our student leadership has made textbook affordability a top priority in this past year.  We applaud their leadership on this issue, and I want to share some things we’re doing to help achieve their goal.

The Affordable Learning Exchange funds and supports instructors who want to replace conventional course materials with open-educational resources or low-cost alternatives. 

Here are a couple of examples…

A-L-X awarded a Textbook Affordability Grant to Dr. Craig Burd and Dr. Christin Burd, both assistant professors in the Department of Molecular Genetics.  With the grant, they replaced the Molecular Genetics 5300 textbook with publicly available scientific articles and online video tutorials, reducing the cost to students from $155 per book to $0.

A-L-X awarded an Exploration Grant to Dr. Melissa Beers, program director in the Department of Psychology.  Dr. Beers and her team implemented an open alternative to a conventional textbook for her Psychology 2367.01 course, reducing the individual cost per student from $80 to $0.

Work that is led by vice-president and CIO Mike Hofherr and his team has saved students $1 million in the first year of operation.

To imagine our trajectory over the next  few decades for the university – our profile both nationally and internationally -- we need deep, thoughtful conversations about who we are, what we see as our collective aspirations, and how to prioritize and achieve them.

Three documents critical to guiding this process have been the focus of considerable work this year.  These are the mission/vision statement; the Framework 2.0 plan for physical space; and the strategic plan that will help establish us as a leading national flagship public research university.

Our mission/vision statement, created with input from across the university, is a requirement for the upcoming 10-year reaccreditation cycle overseen by the Higher Learning Commission. The revised statement brings new focus to three key elements since its last revision: our role as a major urban-serving university, our commitment to society as a Carnegie Foundation community-engaged university, and our commitment to excellence in diversity and inclusion. The mission/vision statement is on the front page of the OAA website, and I urge you all to read this important document.

As an aside, let me say a few words about the reaccreditation process I just mentioned.  Our site visit by the Higher Learning Commission comes later this month, and we expect action on the evaluation later in 2017.  I want to thank Vice Provost Randy Smith and his team of people from across administration and the university for the hard work they’ve put into this over the past three years. Thank you so much, Randy

The second essential document, Framework 2.0, lays out a vision for the university’s campus and buildings. This was unveiled by President Drake just two months ago.

A living, flexible plan for the next decade and beyond, Framework 2.0 supports the academic mission while maintaining and improving green areas. It aligns with the third essential document – the strategic plan -- which will be finished over the next several months.

To date, the strategic plan has involved more than 600 people in focused conversations, including Faculty Council, the University Staff Advisory Council, student government, department chairs, deans, focus groups, and more.  In addition, more than 1,000 faculty, staff and students from across the university have responded to online questions to inform the process.

The 2020 Vision plan continues to be our north star as we expand our influence and elevate our position among leading national flagship public research universities.  Our pathways on that journey, congruent with the plan, are access and affordability, community engagement, and diversity and inclusion.  In addition, excellence in our teaching and learning mission has been a priority for the President and the university, as I described just moments ago.

We have identified other essentials that will be central to our strategic plan.  We must recommit to the excellence of our research and creative expression mission.  We cannot cement our national position without this commitment, which is also a commitment to the excellence of our faculty.  As an aside, when we reference being a national leader, implicit in this is international prominence.  Our programs have global reach, and our community is enriched by scholars and students from across the world.  A national powerhouse changes the world.

We are fortunate to have an excellent academic health care system, and this asset will be integral to our plan.

Finally, our planning efforts recognize that a continued focus on operational excellence and resource stewardship underpin all our other aspirations for excellence.

The parallel planning process at the Wexner Medical Center is closely aligned with our broader university work and underscores the same principles. Likewise, the strategic visioning that our regional campuses have been conducting is another critical perspective to this thinking.  As we weave these elements together over the next few months, we will continue to test our thoughts with key audiences inside and outside the university.

Many of you will recall that a year ago, I proposed initiating a variety of university-wide conversations including the subjects of the General Education curriculum and graduate education.  Thanks to the support of our vice provosts and colleagues across the university, these conversations are well under way.

It’s been 30 years since we have significantly overhauled the General Education curriculum. Since then, our students, their preparation for college, and the world we all live in have changed radically. It’s imperative that we re-evaluate this fundamental building block of higher education through a 21st century lens.

Led by faculty fellows Catherine Montalto and Lawrence Krissek, a 20-member committee (with 3 students, by the way) has begun a formal review that involves benchmarking peer institutions and conducting listening sessions on all six campuses. 

The committee will make recommendations to the Council on Academic at the end of 2017, bringing the concepts back into the Senate for consideration.  College curriculum committees will then take over to discuss how a new model could be implemented.  It is important that our budget model follow, rather than dictate, the outcomes of this conversation.

Equally important is our conversation about graduate education, which is being led by Interim Vice Provost and Graduate School Dean Scott Herness.

With a view to the next 10 years, faculty working groups are currently leading conversations with graduate faculty on three issues that the Ohio State community has identified as the most pressing: diversity and inclusion, the funding environment, and professional development of our graduate students.

Facilitators are leading six workshops, and a variety of other small-group meetings this spring to discuss these important issues.  Key findings will be brought back to the university before summer.

Now, let us look forward.  Building on the progress we’ve seen in the past year, I’d like to turn our attention to two foci that I believe will define the fabric of Ohio State in years to come.  First is our ability to collaborate and connect across disciplines; and second is our firm commitment to create an environment of inclusive excellence.  Let me address first the importance of interdisciplinarity.

As the faculty and administrators in the audience know, we conduct regular external reviews of our departments and schools.  Eminent external reviewers identify the strengths of our programs, and we, in turn, ask them what sets Ohio State apart from our peers.

Repeatedly, the answer comes back, “It’s your ability to collaborate across disciplines.”

We surprise our peers -- they don’t expect us to be doing this to the extent that we are --  but it’s not new here.  Our commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration gained traction with the Targeted Investments in Excellence a decade ago, and picked up momentum with the Discovery Themes initiative, which has reinforced the notion that we hire outstanding colleagues who are just as interested in what’s happening across campus as they are in what’s happening in the studio or laboratory next door.

What sets us apart, as a university, is our steady commitment to hiring excellent faculty who bring eminence to their departments, schools and colleges through their research and creative expression and their teaching, but who can also connect the dots across one of the world’s most comprehensive universities.

“Big” can be complex, distributed and confusing … or “big” can be rich, diverse, and filled with opportunity.

Ohio State’s commitment to interdisciplinarity underscores the unique power we have to create new knowledge, solve societal problems, and educate students for a changing future.

Associate Professor Elisabeth Root, a health geographer who was recruited away from the University of Colorado, made exactly this point at the Board of Trustees meeting at their January meeting. Her research involves areas as diverse as big data, medicine, epidemiology, spatial statistical analysis, geographic information systems and remote sensing. 

She holds a joint appointment in the Geography Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Division of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health. Additionally, she holds affiliations with the Translational Data Analytics program and the Institute for Population Research – collaborations that all serve to advance her research into geographic patterns of health and disease.

She told the board that she uprooted her career and her personal life to join a university that has both disciplinary excellence in her research field and a commitment to building connections across disciplines.

Our inclination toward collaboration extends well beyond our six campuses, of course. As a land-grant university who has been committed to serving the people of Ohio and the world, it’s always had this commitment – but now these connections are developing in unexpected ways and are emerging as levers for momentous change. Two recent examples come to mind:

  • In January, Bill Martin, dean of Public Health; Lonnie King, the interim dean of CFAES; and Roger Rennekamp, our new director of OSU Extension, organized a summit on Opioid abuse in response to the alarming issue of addiction and unintentional deaths across Ohio.  More than 200 faculty, statewide experts, and Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General James Lando participated in the all-day program.  The summit’s goal was to envision how best to align Ohio State’s many strengths with those of other partner organizations to alleviate this tragic problem plaguing the state. We bring both the evidence based research excellence, and a unparalleled engagement expertise by virtue of Ohio State’s presence in every Ohio community.
  • A second example that underscores our interdisciplinarity and outreach potential is Smart Columbus. This is a terrific example of a partnership that, just a few years ago, was inconceivable—a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the city, state, business and community

leaders, global corporations, and Ohio State’s faculty, staff and students around autonomous mobility for the future. It’s a partnership in vision, research and innovation that has potential to go well beyond transportation to positively impact issues such as social justice, food insecurity, access to the Internet, and health-care disparities.  Being smart about transportation is merely the first step; as a smart university, we dream bigger. The fact that we are predisposed to work across boundaries means this is something we can do.  A smart university can lead a smart Columbus.

These examples, are just that, examples. There are many more. The true measure of our impact is what we achieve when we bring to bear the full capacity of our excellence in research and creative expression on the significant problems of society.

Likewise, we have the means and the will to build a culture of true inclusive excellence at Ohio State – and this is something we simply we must do.

Chief diversity officer Sharon Davies and her team have done a thorough job of analyzing the demographics of Ohio and the nation over the next 40 years. Our world in 40 years will be completely different and we can’t wait 40 years to change—change starts today.

An important step is to acknowledge that our university community is not where we need to be. We must diversify our faculty and our student body, and we have to leverage the power that comes when diverse perspectives, diverse backgrounds, and diverse cultures connect in one inclusive community.

We have to think about recruitment, but retention as well, and we have to think about building support through our community for the goals we want to accomplish.

This has to be an intentional conversation about the best practices that will transform Ohio State into a paragon of inclusive excellence.

Our university is already taking concrete measures to move toward that goal, and I’ll mention a couple that are beginning to bear fruit.

  • Many of us here today—including the university’s central leadership team-- have participated in implicit bias training and workshops to understand the science and research concerning unconscious biases that impact behavior.  If you have not already participated in a program like this, I encourage you to do so. We have disseminated this knowledge broadly through training of our search committees across colleges.
  • In the College of Arts and Sciences, the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences has developed a cluster-hire approach that’s actually focusing on the research scholarship of diversity – a concept that could be easily be translated to other parts of the university.

Individual Buckeyes and the programs they lead are also making a difference …whether it’s:

  • Jennifer Beard, director of The Women’s Place, who is leading Ohio State’s Advocates and Allies, an NSF-funded program;
  • Mary Juhas, associate VP in the Office of Research, who is leading “Ohio State ADVANCE” to recruit women in academic STEMM careers.
  • Quinn Capers, cardiologist and College of Medicine’s associate dean, who is leading implicit bias workshops;
  • or Wendy Smooth, of the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, who is leading efforts for the Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research, a national research partnership.

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is resolute and our approaches are reinforced by evidence-based research. I thank every university community member for the dedication and perseverance achieving this shared vision of inclusive excellence.

As we map the future of Ohio State, we must remind ourselves that we start from a very strong position. We are, after all, one of the top-ranked public universities in the nation and the world. And even as we strive to be more influential among our peers, we have faith that our process of planning and implementation of that plan will get us there.

Important conversations are under way that will direct our course, and we’ve identified new opportunities and challenges that will continue to push us in the direction we’ve identified as our trajectory.

Each of us is part of academia because we’ve chosen to be part of a learning community – we have made that conscious decision. Seen in that light, our job every day is to discover something new – something that makes a connection that we’ve never thought of before.  Our job every day is to pass that new idea along to somebody else through our education mission and commitment.  If we work together, if we challenge ourselves to excel, the outcome will be truly transformational.

Thank you for your continued support.

President Drake, Secretary Gerber, this concludes my report on the State of Academic Affairs.