Leading into the new year

Academic Voices: A Provost's Blog

Leading into the new year

As the new year begins, a top priority has been to implement the goals set out in The Ohio State University’s Academic Plan. Launched in November, the plan’s ambitious goals provide strategic direction for academics at our university, specifically focusing on faculty, students, external engagement, inclusive excellence, digital and online learning, and operations. It was developed with the input of the campus community and will be enriched by your ongoing contribution. While developing the plan, we began to create programs, policies, and systems to support our bright future. In this post, I want to describe some of these early steps.

The plan’s success relies on local leadership, ensuring that units across our campuses understand the plan and see their role within it. In November, we convened representatives from each of the academic units that comprise the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) — about 60 colleagues in all. This half-day retreat served as an opportunity for individuals to discuss the interconnectedness of the work of faculty and staff as we build our strategies around the plan’s implementation. Participants were asked to ideate and reflect on where we might need to change our approaches to work, how we can better build connections with other areas, and why we should communicate about our progress.

Following this retreat, OAA units including the Graduate School, the Office of Strategic Enrollment Management, and the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation have hosted or will host similar retreats to discuss the plan and how their offices will contribute to Ohio State achieving academic excellence.

Each year, OAA hosts a meeting of deans, directors, and department chairs from across the university for a daylong Academic Leaders Forum. This year, my first, we focused on the Academic Plan. It was an exciting day, and the optimistic spirit from colleagues was palpable.

Two women and two men sit with Provost Melissa Gilliam during a table exercise. The tables are set at the front of the room in front of a stage with a podium and banners with Ohio State Colleges written on them.
The Office of Academic Affairs hosted the 2023 Academic Leaders Forum in January at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.


A woman in a pink blazer with long dark hair and glasses explains her thoughts to two men listening during a table exercise. In the background, another table performs a table exercise.

A woman, standing, holds a microphone and talks into it while attendees gathered around tables listen eagerly.

Under the guidance of Sarah Gallimore, OAA’s director of design and innovation, we used human-centered practices to focus on the plan’s first two goals: faculty eminence and student academic excellence. Two short videos — one focused on the faculty experience; the other centered around the student experience, helped us keep our faculty and students top of mind. I invite you to watch both videos for a dose of inspiration about this exceptional university and how your efforts in supporting the Academic Plan can make an impact.

Then, Sarah walked us through interactive exercises that challenged deans, directors, and chairs to dream big. The result is that we collected a trove of ideas — some smaller and more immediately achievable; some “moonshots” that we can aim for as we envision the future of academic life on our campuses. These ideas coalesced around some common themes:

  • How can we create more inclusive and supportive environments for our faculty, staff, and students?
  • How can we remove barriers to getting our work done more quickly, effectively, and equitably?
  • How can we build structures to ensure that every student has a chance to find success?

Karen Dennis, who served the university most recently as director of track and field and cross country provided the keynote. Karen retired last summer after 20 years of leadership. It is no wonder that she is one of college athletics’ winningest coaches. At Ohio State, she led both men’s and women’s teams, and her student-athletes captured 12 Big Ten Conference championships. She advised on how to support the whole student as a scholar and athlete.

Designing with humans at the center requires listening closely to people and their experiences and trying to create policies, practices, and programs that will better support their experiences.

Through this process, chairs are beginning to imagine new possibilities for their departments.

Last month, Distinguished University Professor David Weinberg, chair of the Department of Astronomy; and Ayanna Howard, dean of the College of Engineering, led a committee to develop a new funding mechanism in which we will ask departments to imagine how they can go from good to great.

Thus, it was my pleasure to announce the Good-to-Great Grants Program, through which OAA is providing substantial, strategic investment to tenure-initiating units that are committed to ascending to new heights. I hope that departments will engage with the Academic Plan; look to our centers, institutes, communities, and state for partnership; imagine how they can advance academic excellence; and fulfill our service mission.

It is truly an exciting time for Ohio State’s academic enterprise, and I am grateful for so many engaged colleagues on each of our campuses who bring their passion, commitment to excellence, and dedication to their work each day in support of our university’s academic mission.