Academic Voices: A Provost's Blog

a Provost's blog

Academic Voices

To build on conversations initiated across the university in fall semester, Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa Gilliam will share her perspectives on Ohio State’s academic mission and vision in this periodic blog.

A Moment of Opportunity

May 11, 2022

In reflecting on my first academic year at Ohio State, I am above all grateful for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who have made me feel at home since I arrived in September. In my conversations across our campuses, you have shared with me your enthusiasm for this university and your compassion for one another. You also have shared your ambitions and frustrations—along with your ideas of what the future of academic life at Ohio State should, and could, look like.

As we close this year and transition to the next, I am energized by your perspective and spirit of innovation. The concurrence of President Johnson’s bold vision for Ohio State, new academic leaders, and increased activity on our campuses affords us a special moment of opportunity where we can work together to accelerate our academic mission and impact.

To take advantage of this momentum, we will work to set out a transformational academic vision for Ohio State by creating and operationalizing an academic plan for the first time in nearly two decades.

First steps have included lots of listening. Conversations with deans and other university leaders, faculty groups, and staff members have shown that, despite interdisciplinary initiatives that have brought people together, like the Discovery Themes, Ohio State is still dotted with too many academic silos. Duplication of programs is another recurrent theme of these conversations. So is a widespread belief that our existing structures can at times make it difficult to achieve progress. These initial broad discussions are highlighting what we can stop doing—and where we can do more, if we bring inspiration and discipline to the table. In other words, we are getting a good sense of how Ohio State can achieve greater academic excellence.

President Johnson has set an ambitious agenda for academic, research, service, talent and culture, and operational excellence. Our Academic Plan will support President Johnson’s bold vision for Ohio State’s future by setting priorities for student academic excellence, faculty eminence, and service to our local, regional, and global communities. Talent, culture, and inclusive excellence will animate all of those priorities, with technological infrastructure and digital innovation underpinning them.

How will we arrive at those priorities? We will be engaging a broad collective of campus constituents and working as a community to identify the priorities and describe the steps that will lead to their implementation. The emphasis will be on inclusivity of voices. Only through such collaboration can we meet all our objectives. I look forward to this planning effort as a community-building event, with all 15 colleges and all four regional campuses participating, and their deans leading and advising us as we proceed.

Some of the efforts that will help define and drive the Academic Plan are already under way. For example, we have a newly revised General Education curriculum that will provide a more unified and intentional undergraduate experience for students beginning this autumn. The RAISE (Race, Inclusion, and Social Equity) initiative, which was launched last year, will allow us to hire and retain faculty from a range of disciplines whose work addresses social equity and racial disparities. Our new Provost’s Early Career Scholars program and our Office of Dual Careers and Faculty Relocation will provide additional support in not only attracting new faculty but also supporting them over the entirety of the faculty lifecycle. This will support President Johnson’s broader strategy to hire a minimum of 350 net new tenured and tenure-track faculty in the next decade. Informed by the Shared Values Initiative, the Academic Plan will also reinforce the values, principles, and behaviors that embody Ohio State’s ethical culture.

Another vital component of our academic planning has been a realigning of the Office of Academic Affairs to better support our academic enterprise, our campus operations, and our organizational impact. This will make OAA more nimble and adept at serving our faculty, students, and communities while better positioning us to facilitate the implementation of the Academic Plan.

Our work is also happening alongside efforts in the Wexner Medical Center and the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge, which are currently developing new strategic plans. These plans, like ours, will support President Johnson’s agenda for excellence. The three plans will reinforce and empower each other because they are focused by design on the same goals. That intentional overlap will speed the accomplishment of those goals threefold.

In the Office of Academic Affairs, we expect to have compiled our initial findings by August and then to develop and launch the Academic Plan in the 2022-2023 academic year. It will be a living document, enriched over time by the impacts of new colleagues, multiplying collaborations, and as-yet unpredicted partnerships.

This is indeed a special moment. It is our opportunity to develop a comprehensive academic vision for The Ohio State University. United by this vision, we can make truly strategic decisions about our shared academic enterprise. And as we do that, Ohio State will be well on its way—as President Johnson has charged—to becoming the model land-grant university for the 21st century.

Driving Vibrant External Engagement and Impact

March 21, 2022

Anchor institutions provide long-term stability and economic impact to their local communities. This description certainly fits The Ohio State University given the history and reach of our six campuses and medical center. One important contemporary validation of the institution’s longstanding community engagement can be seen in the fact that the Carnegie Foundation has classifed Ohio State as an “Engaged University” since 2008, which signals deep and broad outreach and impact across a substantial number of metrics. This achievement is impressive, especially in combination with the university’s Carnegie R1 status as one of the country’s leading research institutions. The power of these two credentials working in tandem is profound.

In response to President Johnson’s emphasis on service excellence as one of the university’s major strategic priorities, I hope we can do even more in this space. The university’s teachers, learners, researchers, practitioners, staff, and professionals should be a force for good for the people of Ohio. I want to inspire us to deepen existing local, regional, and statewide partnerships and develop new ones in ways that help our academic community continue to engage with our state, country, and world in mutually beneficial ways. I believe that community engagement is at its most effective when all partners gain something they value from the experience. The lessons we can learn from authentic collaboration have broad implications for the success of our institution. When we put our talent and expertise into the public sphere, we create enduring societal good. 

Consider just a few of the wide-ranging ways our university connects with residents and communities across Ohio:

So many of our scholars, students, and staff throughout the institution are deeply and passionately engaged in community-based research and service. Statewide, we offer Ohioans among the best interconnected healthcare and family support services in the country and world, where medical discovery, clinical care, and social work come together to cure, to prevent harm, to promote justice, and to help people thrive. We watched this connectedness in action as interdisciplinary teams tackling COVID-19 worked to create evidence-based interventions that have saved lives, kept people working and schools open, and helped manage many consequences of the pandemic.

Across an enormous range of disciplines, our academic community brings expertise to bear on issues that affect our state’s citizens, some of whom are among the most vulnerable. For example, the Divided Community Project in the Moritz College of Law is committed to resolving disputes in local communities, while the work of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at the James Cancer Hospital aims to reduce cancer health disparities. The Wexner Center for the Arts’ Department of Learning & Public Practice supports arts programming and education throughout Central Ohio.

Our students, too, care deeply about community service and involvement. Whether in internships and service-learning opportunities throughout the state, or as part of student organization activities focused on contributing to the public good, our students fulfill Ohio State’s motto of “education for citizenship.”

Close to home, our work in and with the city of Columbus is critically important. A recent report by the Office of Outreach and Engagement shows that we still have much to do in developing the kinds of long-lasting collaborations that benefit all. I am particularly committed to programs like those we’re building with Columbus State and the Columbus Public Schools that will support young people in Ohio. The multifaceted community programming designed by Ohio State’s STEAM Factory can serve as a national model for community partnering.  We want to find opportunities for our hometown neighbors to feel connected to — and included in — the life of the university.

In our aspiration to serve the whole state, four of the most tremendous assets we have are our regional campuses. I am committed to supporting their important work in scholarship, education and service. Each is a jewel of a campus, offering small class sizes, customized learning experiences, and a front door to an affordable, accessible Buckeye education. Recently, we conducted a two-part retreat focused on the distinctive contribution each campus makes to Ohio State and the regions they serve, as we consider how best to advance that work.

Through the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Wooster Campus and Ohio State University Extension, Ohio State knowledge lives in every one of the state’s 88 counties. I am impressed with the way Extension describes its purpose: “We fulfill the land-grant mission of The Ohio State University by interpreting knowledge and research developed by Extension and other faculty and staff at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Ohio State main campus, and other land-grant universities – so Ohioans can use the scientifically based information to better their lives, businesses and communities.” 

That’s really what external engagement is all about: helping our neighbors better their lives and communities. 

President Johnson has laid out an ambitious agenda for this university, focusing on academic, research, service, operational, and talent and culture excellence. I have aligned the work of the Office of Academic Affairs to best support these priorities, and I see a robust agenda of external engagement as a key driver — of academic excellence, research, service, and talent and culture. I have asked Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work, to help us reimagine outreach and engagement that better aligns our aspirations and institutional priorities. In addition, Ryan Schmiesing, Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, will continue to lead our focus on the critical role the regional campuses play as part of the Ohio State system and the state of Ohio. Finally, I have asked Gil Latz, Vice Provost for Global Strategies and International Affairs, to bring his expertise to this conversation. Together with academic leadership and partners across campus and externally, we will focus on deepening and broadening the kinds of external collaborations that generate substantial impact across our state. 

I believe the key to sustaining external engagement with real impact is through authentic, and lasting, partnerships: across our campuses, and with communities, nonprofits, schools, businesses, and local governments and organizations throughout Ohio.

Listening, Learning, Reflecting, Engaging

January 20, 2022

It has been almost six months since I joined the Ohio State community and had the honor of becoming part of President Johnson’s leadership team. Whatever one imagines beginning a new role as Provost to be, it surely would not be leading through the urgencies and uncertainties of a pandemic! While I know the past few months have been a challenge for everyone, there has been a silver lining: I’ve gotten to see this amazing community at its best under pressure. I want to share my deep sense of gratitude for all that you do for this institution, and my pride in how you have rallied together to carry out our mission while also giving back to our surrounding communities in myriad ways.

Part of my responsibility as Provost is to communicate a vision for academic life at Ohio State and celebrate the many examples of academic excellence across the University. With the new year, I have opted to carve out this corner of digital space where I can connect with members of our campus community to regularly share thoughts and ideas about our academic life and to encourage your ideas and feedback.

I have spent time listening carefully and learning about this special community. As many of you know, I have been steadily meeting with people, departments and teams across campus, inviting your perspectives and stories. Our day-to-day lives are deeply challenging right now, and yet the spirit, hopes, and aspirations of this community remain apparent. These conversations have been informative and inspiring and I look forward to connecting with many of you in the coming months.

Here are a few things that I have observed so far: this academic community is talented, creative, generous and collaborative. “Generous” might not be a term commonly thought of in this context, but I see and feel Ohio State’s generosity of spirit all around me. This community cares about and for one another, lifts one another up, wants to include rather than exclude, and seeks to work together to achieve shared goals. Generosity is evident in the collaborative nature of the research enterprise; the tendency to seek out interdisciplinary approaches; the consideration and seriousness of purpose with which faculty, staff, and students approach their work; and the level of staff engagement and student leadership dedicated to building a more excellent and supportive Ohio State.

I have also been deeply impressed with the way our institution views its land-grant mission not only as a complex, historic foundation but as a central force that must continuously be reanimated and reinterpreted to fuel our actions and address current issues. We aspire to be in partnership with Columbus and with all corners of our state: addressing the complex urban and rural issues of our time, sharing what we discover and create, healing and helping one another, and learning from our neighbors statewide. And on all of our campuses, we strive to be a partner to and a resource for our communities and Ohio. This commitment to service is a lens through which we view the state, the nation, and the world.

With such deep commitment, scholarly excellence, and culture, there is much to look forward to in our future. As we spend more time together, you will see that I aim to help us set and sustain an ambitious academic vision—one that works in concert with the new leader of the Wexner Medical Center and Executive Vice President Grace Wang as together we and our many campus partners support President Johnson’s priorities.  Further, this academic vision must offer this vibrant community of scholars the opportunity to do its most impactful work.

I am collaborating with individuals across the university to lay the foundation for developing an academic strategic plan and will have much more to share with you in the weeks ahead. Along the way, I know we will engage deeply and occasionally challenge one another constructively as we identify our most important priorities and future opportunities.

In my early assessment of the academic community’s support and operational needs, I see three major areas where we will focus much time and attention.

The first is supporting what I call the “academic life cycle,” which means providing the academic and personal resources necessary to support Ohio State scholars, educators, and practitioners through all phases of their careers. Not only will this approach help us enhance the academic community and experience for our current members, but it will help us successfully recruit and retain a talented and diverse academic community that will view Ohio State as the place where they can come to do their best work.

Also important is continuing to improve upon the strong student structures and support systems that are in place. We must make certain the student academic experience is responsive to individual backgrounds and needs so that all students have an opportunity to fully participate in the life of the campus and achieve their academic and professional goals.

The third area is furthering the inclusion of staff at Ohio State. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with staff in the Office of Academic Affairs, on the university senate, and committees and other forums. I have been deeply impressed by the creativity, commitment, and talent of our staff. As we move forward, ensuring a sense of belonging and inclusion of staff must be one of our highest priorities.

Yet, the most important and foundational work we must do for everyone on our campus to thrive—faculty, students, and staff—is to uphold our shared commitment to fostering a broadly diverse, equitable and fully inclusive campus. This aspiration requires laser focus with our recruitment efforts, and equal attention to developing and refining the programs, tools, policies and actions that foster a true sense of belonging for all members of our community.

There is much to be done. I look to our future shared efforts with optimism and excitement, and with a sense of real and urgent purpose. Now, is an important time for the mission-driven education, discovery and service that define our university.