President Johnson, Secretary Givens, thank you for your invitation to address the University Senate on the state of academic affairs, and thank you to the faculty, students, staff and guests who have joined us this afternoon.
It’s a great privilege to be speaking with you today, just over one year after our university responded to the emerging uncertainty of a global pandemic by pivoting to virtual instruction and learning, and, more broadly, reinventing our full operations.
In a nod to our now universal familiarity — and by that, I mean exhaustion — with Zoom, I’ll make my final report on the state of academic affairs a bit different than in past years. I plan to offer a shorter presentation and then, with the assistance of Susan Cole, endeavor to address questions of particular interest to the Senate.
This is an opportune moment for this conversation. This year’s vernal equinox has brought with it a measure of hope that we could be emerging from the winter of this pandemic. Our university’s leadership transition this year has lifted our aspirations with a series of inspirational new goals for the coming decade — you heard those articulated by President Johnson just a month ago. I hope that you, like me, will agree that Ohio State is particularly well prepared for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
If we look at Ohio State in 2021, you’ll see a university that’s a living, breathing embodiment of our mission — and with so much promise to take the next series of leaps forward.
Consider where we are today:
- Research funding is at an all-time high, and partnerships with state and industry partners will build on this trajectory.
- We have become more intentional in working across disciplines, and our momentum is accelerating. Together, we’re tackling emerging issues and embracing new ways of thinking through a convergent approach to our creative processes.
- We’re focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, building on a commitment that has been informed by the work of our Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning; the partnership between our colleges and campuses with Ohio State Online; and frankly our own new understanding of nontraditional course delivery that has emerged throughout this past year.
- Our reimagining of the General Education curriculum – last addressed more than 30 years ago – will meet the demands of our students to lead in the 21st century.
- We can identify and rally responses to emerging social issues and trends — think, most recently of the work we have done on multiple public health issues — because of the fact that Ohio State is on the ground in every Ohio county and community every day, and because we partner across the nation and around the world.
- And all of these outcomes are occurring as we are admitting ever-more prepared, diverse, and dedicated students and are providing an unprecedented amount of need-based aid.
Charting the course of a complex organization is always an exercise in choice and priority, and hard choices will always be the name of the game. The pandemic drove that point home like nothing in our 150-year history. But true to our DNA, we are developing a strategy and the tactics necessary to respond to the crisis — not just on our campuses, but across the state.
It’s not been an easy year. Through it all, some of us lost loved ones; wrestled with personal illness; found ourselves focused on care of those around us. Many have suffered the effects of separation and isolation. Our mental health and well-being have been severely tested. But, without question, we have evolved as a university by accepting the challenges that confronted us and by embracing the learning opportunities that those challenges presented.
Everything has changed — the way we teach; the way we approach research and creative inquiry; the way we engage with communities; the way we support our students; the very way in which we collectively work. But this change didn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, our response to the pandemic was the tangible outcome of a long series of intentional choices and, most importantly, a culture that prizes collaboration, creative thinking, and collective responsibility. And these are the same strengths upon which we’re building our future.
First and foremost, I would credit and thank our instructional personnel – from our GTAs to our staff to our faculty – who took extraordinary steps to be able to continue our spring semester in 2020. We’re now just a year past the day – March 23 – when we resumed instruction in an entirely new modality that allowed us to complete a semester that none of us could have imagined. This Herculean transition was made possible because of extraordinary commitment and creativity from our instructional and supporting personnel. But our transition wasn’t invented in those weeks — together, we built upon our previous success in elevating the scholarship of teaching and learning, developing nationally recognized online programs, and the launch of our Digital Flagship initiative. And I want to acknowledge the critical role played by our students. Your resilience and commitment to learning in new ways has been a key to the university’s success. We didn’t get everything right from the start, but we continue to learn and adapt, and that’s at the heart of focusing on the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Ohio State’s commitment to the discovery of new knowledge has been evident, too, in the work of our faculty, staff, and students to maintain research and creative inquiry in every way possible. My thanks to the faculty, graduate students, support staff, and undergraduate researchers, and to leaders in the Office of Research and across our colleges and campuses, for enabling our successes.
A hallmark of how we do business at Ohio State is our insistence that some of our best work occurs when individuals become colleagues and bring their unique talents together to address some intractable problem as a team. For well over a decade, university-wide initiatives such as the Targeted Investments in Excellence and the Discovery Themes have enabled our colleges and campuses to hire faculty who bring both disciplinary excellence and who fully expect to work with colleagues across this comprehensive institution. These new faculty have joined a culture of interdisciplinarity that continues to grow and thrive.
A perfect example of this has been our disease modeling enterprise during this time of pandemic. Both the Infectious Diseases Institute and the Translational Data Analytics Institute can trace their origins to our interdisciplinary initiatives. Faculty from those institutes catalyzed the formation of a team that continues to provide expertise within and outside the university to help us collectively navigate the pandemic with decisions based upon science. This is our mission in action. We tackle the unimaginable problems by building upon the collective excellence of our people.
And, before I leave our response to the pandemic, let me recognize the many unsung heroes who have made us successful. Across all of our campuses, we moved thousands of pieces of furniture from classrooms and common spaces; our Student Life staff supported students in residence halls and with meal service; our libraries served patrons; and our facilities staff kept our buildings cleaned and maintained. Many, many of our staff continued to come to campus in their essential roles, and we take that for granted. We shouldn’t. Thank you to all of you who have made our campuses among the safest of environments throughout this difficult year.
Thankfully, we find ourselves at a point where we can look ahead to the reactivation of our campuses. Starting this summer, in-person teaching and student activities will increase. A more complete resumption of activity will continue in the fall, when more students will live in residence halls, more classes will meet in person, and more staff will resume work in offices, labs, clinics and studios.
Like each of you, I’ll carry memories of this past year throughout my life. Some will be memories of personal impacts — difficult days and nights, feelings of uncertainty as we made and implemented decisions in a deficit of knowledge, even the pain of personal loss. But most of all, I’ll remember the resiliency and commitment of people. I saw people at their best. I told this body late last spring that, while we didn’t have a roadmap for navigating the pandemic, we did have a North Star. That North Star represents the mission and values of Ohio State, and it’s best represented by our people – faculty, staff, and students. My thanks to you for the successes we celebrate, and my special thanks to my colleagues from cabinet, the team in Academic Affairs, and leaders of our colleges and campuses who stood shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the past year.
As an institution committed to training the next generation of leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs, we recognize the need to drive change. We know from experience that the combination of shared purpose, bold thinking, and courageous decision-making will trigger a cascade of benefits, some of which might take years to fully materialize.
This is evident, for example, in the thoughtful work being done to revise the General Education curriculum. “Education for Citizenship” is more than our motto; it’s our mandate as a land grant university committed to access, opportunity, and equity. Perhaps there has never been a more important time in our history to remember that we have a responsibility to society not only to prepare students for the deep subject matter of their majors, but also to provide them with the broader context needed to be innovative citizens of the world.
Our faculty members are now developing the courses for the new GE, and we are looking forward to fully implementing the program in fall semester of 2022.
The new GE has a broad foundation in math, science, social science, the humanities, and the arts. And it creates pathways for more in-depth study in a suite of interdisciplinary topics. Additionally, the new GE integrates skills in technology, data analysis, and writing into courses within degree programs. Because this re-invented curriculum reduces the total number of course requirements within the GE program, students will have more freedom to pursue certificates, minors, and second majors and still remain on track for timely graduation.
The full impact of the GE will be realized in educational outcomes. Ohio State students will be challenged to examine a broad mix of knowledge and perspectives that will help shape them as global citizens and prepare them for the careers that they will invent.
Our focus on the future is equally evident in our commitment to the scholarship of teaching and learning, perhaps best exemplified by the work of the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning. Established in 2016, the institute has since built one of the most comprehensive teaching excellence programs in higher education — the Teaching Support Program. Over these past two years, we have had more than 3,500 faculty invest time in learning to be better teachers, and the university reciprocated by investing back into those faculty. Today the institute is building on that interest with programs focused on refining instructional strategies and rigorous assessment to promote student learning.
Approaching teaching and learning as a scholarly subject allows us to address challenges that we’ve long recognized — problems that can be the difference between a student graduating or a student leaving the university without earning a credential. So called “stumbling-block” classes are one example. Certain classes in our curriculum repeatedly slow the progress of our students toward the next course in a curriculum or even entry to a major. This doesn’t have to be the case. By analyzing why these classes are difficult for some of our students, we can identify solutions that help more students succeed. We can turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.
As we increasingly work across disciplines and fields, we’re seeing an evolution on our campuses to promote those experiences. This change is a university priority and one that will be felt directly by our students, faculty and staff. As we come back and think about the future, what will classrooms and offices look like? How will we do our research, our art? Our residential education mission provides extraordinary value, and our focus on creating new knowledge through research and creative inquiry will require facilities that support that work. As a result, we’re investing in capital projects that are specifically designed not only to allow us to accomplish our work, but also to support how we accomplish that work.
The front door to campus – our Arts District – is an appropriate reminder of the power of a comprehensive institution. Balanced on the west with our world-class medical center and the excitement of a new Innovation District, our front door speaks to the essential role of the arts and humanities in who we are as individuals and as a society. The completion of the music building and a new space for theatre and moving image production will weave together the soul of the university and support the interplay of these disciplines. For those who haven’t been on campus recently, you’ll be impressed to see how the new Arts District is taking shape.
I spoke earlier of the wonderful job we have done in building a culture of working across disciplinary boundaries in our discovery mission. Continuing this focus is essential if we’re to achieve President Johnson’s visions for growing our emergent and convergent research. The Interdisciplinary Research Facility rising above our West Campus is the epitome of this thinking. Built to enable scholars and students to come together across disciplines, the IRF is designed to reinforce our culture. It’s notable that this building will be located within the Innovation District, which is intended to bring university and private sector partners more closely together. The IRF is a perfect exclamation point in our drive to create outcomes that create new disciplines, that train our students differently, and that support workforce development in a multitude of ways that advance our university mission.
And, speaking of training students differently, the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Building, which is also underway, will ensure that our health sciences graduates are immediately prepared to work in multifunctional teams when they enter the professional world. This past year should serve as a reminder that it does, in fact, take a village of health-care heroes to build the care that is necessary to lift up our collective and holistic health. This facility will again reinforce our culture – enabling state-of-the-art learning in an interprofessional education environment.
Ohio State’s mission has driven the design of these facilities because they’re being built to enable how we discover new ideas, and how we disseminate those ideas. In the end, the most important elements of the work are the people and the culture we share. Our physical environment needs to be a manifestation of how we wish to work together, and our colleagues have worked over the past five years to ensure that these new buildings are just that – spaces that enable the culture of the university to be expressed. From art to science, from modern materials to next-generation nursing, from Waterman to Wooster, our physical plant enables the success of our people.
Ohio’s flagship institution has never been stronger or sailed a truer course. But we know we must remain focused on the next horizon and redouble our commitment to the mission, vision, and values that serve as our North Star. If you take nothing else away from today, remember this: We must resist complacency and, instead, be intentional in talking about the fact that we should and can be better.
In a nod to our earlier conversations in our Senate sessions, at this pivotal moment in history, we also must look inward and outward to address questions concerning racial and social justice. Our success as a comprehensive university is broader than our academic disciplines — we must be a diverse and inclusive community that celebrates the intersection of ideas from people of all backgrounds and perspectives. Our task is to ensure equity and opportunity here at home and to become a shining example in higher education. Our potential to become a more equitable, healthy, and nurturing university begins with our ability to listen to one another and appreciate the worth that each of us brings. Success is a function of our collective effort.
Our greatest successes, of course, lie ahead of us. The seeds we’ve planted can only hint at the bold fruit they’ll produce. For example, we look forward to the transformation that will result from President Johnson’s commitment to invest $750 million in research over the next decade and to hire 350 new tenure-track faculty, which will include 150 faculty hired as part of a new initiative focused on race, inclusion and social equity.
Likewise, I eagerly anticipate the outcomes that are going to emerge from our new General Education curriculum, our continued emphasis of teaching as a scholarly pursuit, and our commitment to leading the world in our fundamental, translational, and community-engaged research and creative inquiry.
Without question, Ohio State has momentum because of the thoughtful, intentional decisions we have made and will continue to make as we strive to become the nation’s premier land-grant university.
Before I close, allow me to add a personal note. Each year since 2016, shortly after I was named interim provost, I have looked forward to sharing with the Senate the accomplishments and aspirations of our extraordinary university. My successor will have that privilege next year.
As I prepare to return to teaching and research, I want to thank you for the opportunity I’ve been given. As provost — and prior to that, as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — I watched the university continue to grow as a national flagship that touches the lives of virtually all Ohioans and contributes essential knowledge to solve the world’s biggest challenges. It’s been a unique vantage point, made all the more remarkable given that my inextricable connection to Ohio State began over 55 years ago as a member of a Union County, Ohio, 4-H club. Even then, it was clear to me that the power of Ohio State is its ability to transform the lives of people.
It’s been my great fortune as provost to be surrounded by brilliance, excellence, and commitment. That’s the secret sauce. Anything that works, it’s because of you, the people who are the Ohio State University community. It has been an opportunity never imagined to be part of this extraordinary family. I’m a blessed Buckeye for Life. Thank you.
President Johnson, Secretary Givens, this concludes my report on the state of academic affairs. If you’ll permit me, I’d now like to provide an opportunity for follow-up questions with the help of Susan Cole as our moderator.
Susan Cole: Thank you so much Provost McPheron for joining us today and for your inspirational speech, and for setting aside time for us to engage in this discussion.
As many of you in the audience know, we solicited questions from the standing senators, and right now, I'm going to be guided by those questions. If other questions have come up for people during the address, you’re welcome to chat me directly and we might be able to address some of those questions, time permitting. So, the first question is a somewhat broad one and encompasses many questions that we got from several constituencies, which is: Can you tell us a little bit more about what fall might look like on our Columbus and regional campuses?
Provost McPheron: I used the word “reactivation” intentionally, Susan, because we’ve never stopped working. We haven’t stopped teaching and learning, and all the support work that’s required to run an institution like this has continued unabated for a year. And so I think reactivation has been an apt way of describing this.
I mentioned in my presentation that the summer will look very different from summer a year ago when we made the decision to be entirely online.
So this summer, in many ways, we will look much like we have through the spring semester. And in the fall, we are working very hard with the goal that as many of our courses as possible can be offered face to face. So, the goal is for departments to offer at least 75% of their course sections in person through autumn semester.
We have been in constant conversation with the folks on the Comprehensive Monitoring Team, that team of scientists that has helped to guide us by interpreting the science as we move along. They have analyzed a number of models. Like me, they have found the crystal ball a little difficult to read. I have often remarked that I turned frequently to my Magic 8-Ball because it has a more constrained set of answers. But it seems to be stuck on "Reply hazy. Ask again."
We have actually asked the team to model and to continue to model throughout the spring and summer a variety of scenarios about the variants of concern, the positivity rates that we are experiencing in society and on campus, quarantine and isolation capacity, and most important, vaccination status.
As they have looked at that, they have been supportive of the plans that we’re putting together to use our smaller classes as close to full capacity as possible, and then be a little bit more careful with the spacing as we move out to some of the larger classes. And we’re working with several colleges right now because we really want to ensure that if there’s a possibility for having students safely face-to-face and faculty and graduate teaching assistants working safely in that environment, to have them be able to experience that. So, it is truly a work in progress.
The course scheduling window was scheduled to open today — I didn’t go online to verify that — but students and their advisors can begin looking at course offerings today to be able to, and this is for our continuing students obviously, to be able to move forward with scheduling prior to finals week.
We do hope that as many of our community as possible will take advantage of being vaccinated. I think you are all aware that the state of Ohio has indicated that all ages above 16 are eligible for vaccines beginning on Monday. And our operations at the Schottenstein Center will be no exception to that. We encourage you to take advantage of this. The science suggests that the right answer to Which vaccine should I choose? is the one that they are going to give me today. It’s more important to become part of the group that has experienced the vaccination than not.
We will continue to expect that we have some sort of testing regimen in the fall. It may be adjusted based upon the science as we move forward through the summer. It’s likely that we will continue to see mask-wearing as part of our regular operations. But just as we have done for the past year, our plans will be agile and driven by science. I think that is probably the best specificity that I can give people today, that we are paying attention to what is happening around us and are prepared to make adjustments — even as we have the aspiration to be active at a level much more like what we would consider to be normal.
Susan Cole: Just as a follow-up question, you’re right that fall is hazy. Do we envision a future beyond fall where covid vaccinations might be required for our university community?
Provost McPheron: Some of you may have seen that Rutgers made an announcement today that they are going to require the COVID vaccination. This is an active discussion point for us. We do, for students, require certain immunizations as part of their matriculation here. The Wexner Medical Center has a requirement for influenza vaccines on an annual basis. It is an important question that’s not yet resolved; we continue to think about it. At the present time, everything that is available for vaccination is under an emergency use authorization. We’re going to have to think carefully about how we approach this element. I think the best advice today is, take advantage of this. I will share with all of you that there are certain advantages to being older and that tomorrow will be two weeks post my second Moderna vaccination. So, I’m going to celebrate by doing things the same way I did them the day before.
Susan Cole: Congratulations. You speak frequently and you spoke today about the arts and humanities being the soul of the university. But you also praise the importance of the health sciences and professional disciplines that make up the rest of the university. Could you talk to us a little more about the comprehensiveness of Ohio State University?
Provost McPheron: This is something that means a lot to me. Ohio State is arguably one of the most disciplinarily comprehensive institutions in the world: 15 academic colleges that support six campus locations and our presence across the state, hundreds of choices of majors for undergraduate and graduate professional students.
I think the power of Ohio State is in what we’ve been doing intentionally for quite a long time now. We really have put the pedal to the metal, if you will, in the past decade or so, and that is building the connections.
I think most of the audience know that I am an entomologist. I have frequently introduced myself as a Buckeye and a bug guy, but most of my entomological work was actually using genetic tools. So, I tend to think of the university as a genetic metaphor. The colleges and departments – that’s the genotype of the university; that’s where the real building blocks lie. But what is really exciting about the university is the phenotype, how all of that potential is actually expressed to make the university what it is. The wonderful thing is that those individuals, with all of their different expertise, can engage over and over with different partners. So, when I say “connecting the dots,” I really don't end up with a single picture. Over and over again, you get to reinvent. It’s sort of the Magic Slate. (The undergraduate students can Google that to see what I'm talking about later.) It’s sort of the Magic Slate way of creating a picture, and you can use that potential over and over again.
There are examples after examples of really incredible connections that emerge out of disciplines that you wouldn’t think were related to each other at all, that have come together to do some amazing things. We have highlighted many of those as university: for example, our dancers working with our cancer hospitals to work on novel ways of rehabilitation, and the work we do with our social sciences — which, in and of themselves, are among our most highly ranked programs nationally — coming across to interact with the life sciences and build bridges that really provide a deeper insight into some of these problems.
When I talk about the front door to the campus — where you come into The Oval — the arts are expressed there, but they are not limited to there. The Wexner Center for the Arts is a perfect example of how we reach out to all corners of the campus. And the partnerships that the library has with many of those disciplines to unite are just truly exciting possibilities for what comes next for the university.
As we think about the Innovation District, we have put a lot of intentional discussion around STEM disciplines. Some of our partners are very interested in that. And we’re in the process, honestly, of helping educate them that it requires that and more. These are “ands.” They’re not “ors.” And so, it’s our job to hold on to the truth that we understand, that we need all of these disciplines to create holistic graduates who are going to go out and change world.
Susan Cole: Thank you. So, I know that developing academic leaders is an area that you are very passionate about, that’s led you to create, for example, an annual academic leadership forum. Could you talk about the progress you’ve seen in that area over the last several years?
Provost McPheron: This has been an area of terrific interest to me. Believe it or not, it was wonky enough for someone to say in elementary school that they wanted to be an entomologist. Imagine the reception I would've had if I had said I want to be a provost? It’s actually the same reaction I get now when I say I am a provost; nobody knows what one does.
I trained to be a bug doctor. People trained to be medical doctors. They trained to be engineers. They trained to be food scientists. Very few trained to be leaders. Four years ago — and this is really a tip of the hat to Senior Vice Provost Kay Wolf and our colleagues in HR who helped us so much to make this a reality — we decided that we were going to lift up the scholarship of leadership.
And so, we have started this annual program of actually getting together as leaders, despite all of our different disciplinary backgrounds, and talking about the common thread of leadership. I can't ask a colleague to be a good leader if we do not talk about the value of leadership, and how to become a better leader, and how to address some of the really hairy problems that we face as leaders in leading that comprehensive university we just talked about.
Just to illustrate it, two years ago we were down at COSI and using their space, and just for fun at the start of the session I asked the 125 people or so in the room to stand up if they had done an advanced degree in leadership, and two people in the room stood up, one of whom was a speaker that we had invited because she had done an advanced degree in leadership.
It just illustrates the point that we all are in the roles we find ourselves in because we have excelled in the disciplines that we studied. But we didn’t study leadership, and it is an area just as deserving of active study as anything that brought us to that point. I think we have seen a real growth in the connections across colleges, across departments and schools, as a result of bringing people together. To me, it has paid dividends, Susan.
Susan Cole: I definitely agree with that. In your address you talked some about the difficulties of mental health and well-being that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about the progress Ohio State has made in that area and perhaps about concrete ways that we could offer support to students, graduate students and faculty who have lost time and funding — in some cases, irrevocably — because of this pandemic?
Provost McPheron: I did highlight this because it is a critical issue. We’re experiencing the same thing that people in all walks of life are experiencing. It would be disingenuous to pretend that, somehow, our community is immune to this. It is hard to be in your home office, being in your home bedroom. We’ve all found ourselves in different sorts of places. Two dimensions has really been a blessing. ZOOM — I made fun of it the start — but, golly, where would we be without ZOOM and Teams and all the other things that confuse us about where the buttons are to unmute ourselves. But I think every one of us misses three dimensions. There is something about community; there is something about the ability to interact. That, plus all of the stresses of "Can I do my work? Can I care for my child? Can I care for my parents? What about my neighbors? Am I ill? Should I go test?”
All of these things have been an unspeakable burden on each of us and on all of us. But we have continued to lift up. I think most people in our Senate audience would recall the task force on mental health and wellness that we impaneled a few years ago around concern about suicide. A lot of the staffing up of our Counseling and Consultation Service and other sorts of elements have flowed from that.
I just noticed — I was of course paying close attention to the Senate agenda, Ben — but I did see a note come through from Bern Melnyk saying that our CARES Phase II funding application, which is entirely directed at mental health and wellness for our students, has been approved for funding. So, keep an eye on the website of the chief wellness officer for more information on that. Melissa Shivers and her team will be close collaborators in that.
Just today, Helen Malone distributed an e-mail from our office reminding our pre-tenure faculty that they have pathways to requesting a delay in the tenure clock if they are concerned about their ability to progress. We were one of the first universities last spring to make that a tangible offer and state it out loud. Our policies are very robust, and we continue to move that forward.
Our graduate student community has been justifiably concerned. We do have appeal processes for extending time to graduation. And with our new grads ombudsperson, if in fact there are any concerns about that not being processed correctly, there is a pathway for lifting that to our attention so we can make sure we have the policies in place that let our graduate students thrive unimpeded.
The Graduate School had made money available for students whose funding was going to be disrupted by the extended period of time. And every college still has money available through the Graduate School to support stipends for our graduate assistants.
So, there are a variety of things that we continue to work on, and we’re always trying to listen to additional suggestions, Susan, for things that are gaps that we haven't actually recognized.
Susan Cole: Thank you. You spoke during your address about the importance of OSU being a diverse, equitable and inclusive university. What do you perceive as the biggest immediate challenges for us in achieving that goal?
Provost McPheron: One could approach this from a lot of different perspectives. I am thrilled with the notion and have been working with the president and several of our deans, with our Chief Diversity Officer James Moore, with other partners, on the RAISE initiative that is designed to affirmatively lift our presence with faculty, which is a place where we really need to continue to make progress. That’s a tangible element and the kind of program we must continue to progress on.
But for me, I think it’s continuing to work on the culture. I think the conversation we had earlier in the Senate meeting is a perfectly focused example of the kind of conversations we need to have. The task force that James Moore and Tom Gregoire have been leading has a subgroup that was working on exactly this issue and on the mechanisms by which we might actually conduct the reviews that are called for in that second resolution that we passed today. That’s a piece of the culture. Another piece of the culture is our Education for Citizenship series that we held earlier. We have to speak out loud about the issues that face us. We have to realize that we are going to influence society, but we are also influenced by society. We’re not an island. We need to continue to work to be a model, for the future, for the present.
I think the work that we are doing with the General Education curriculum is critically important. I mentioned the fact that in the new GE approach there are opportunities for students to dive a little deeper into specific areas. For our undergraduate community, the one thing that every Ohio State student will graduate with, shared in common, is time spent talking about citizenship for a diverse and just world.
I think that is a powerful statement. Our faculty designed that concept. Our faculty said this is absolutely critical; this is part of the culture of who we are. We need to study it, but we need to actually also reflect on it and talk to one another about it. It’s not enough to read a book or go to a website. We need to understand how to engage each other in conversations and make sure that we have shared expectations that we are holding one another accountable.
Susan Cole: Thank you. So, we are coming to the end of our time, and most of what’s coming through the chat led off by Dean Ritter are expressions of thanks to you for your service and for your wonderful leadership during this very trying year. So, as my final question, I was hoping you could reflect a little bit on how we can make something good out of this year. Are there lessons that we can carry forward to make this a stronger university in the future?
Provost McPheron: Susan, the greatest waste of what we’ve done in the past year, which I’ve characterized as the longest decade of my life, would be to fail to learn from what we have done.
I referenced that against all odds we had to learn to teach and learn online. I think it would be fair to put words in the mouths of my faculty colleagues and say that if 14 months ago we had done a survey about your ability to teach your course online, there would have been resounding skepticism. And yet, 11 months ago we were doing it. And we’ve done it over, and over again.
For some, it is not the way that you would choose to do it. I mentioned that there is value in the residential experience, and I fully believe that. It’s finding the balance; it’s actually determining what we mix from the past with what we have learned in this last year. How do we deal with large classes and make them more personable? I would submit that it’s not legitimate to say, "OK, I had you in Independence Hall; now, I'm going to do it online and it is going to be just like you were in Independence Hall except you're going to be sitting alone in your activewear.
We have to take advantage of the tools that we have available to ensure that we actually lift up the success of the learning outcomes for our students. In our research and creative inquiries, some fields have really thrived by the ability to connect, and others have really suffered by an inability to connect. People who require access to other places, to special equipment, to special archives, have found themselves really compromised by this.
What did we learn that worked well, and how can we bring that up? For many people, very begrudgingly, they learned that some of their professional societies actually worked really well in a virtual forum. What is that going to tell us about how we network and connect in the future?
We need to learn how to deal with the world from this experience. Our international students have suffered. Many of them could not be here with us. Some of them who are here could not go to see their families. Let's think about how we become an even stronger global citizen out of all of this.
And I think we have made huge strides, frankly, in our engagement mission. Engagement at a university like Ohio State is both engaged research — that is, working with the community not as a subject of an experiment but rather as a partner in creating new ideas. But it’s also an expression of teaching and learning. I think that on both fronts we have learned a lot about ourselves this past year.
The other thing, the final thing I would say — just to ensure that you all know that I see the humor even in the difficulty — you all come to faculty meetings. You must be bored as heck. Faculty meetings, all kinds of sessions, have had record attendance in the age of ZOOM. How are we going to connect for our shared governance in the future? I would love to be back in Drinko Auditorium with all of you. But the fact is, we get a lot of work done and have very effective conversations in ways we never dreamed possible. So, my hope is that ‘”normal” never is what “normal” was, that in fact we identify all the many things that we have learned, the good lessons and the bad lessons, and we incorporate those into what we are trying to accomplish going forward.
Susan Cole: Thank you so much. Speaking of one of the powers of ZOOM, I would like to encourage the audience to send me by chat any comments they have for Provost McPherson because we can actually harvest those and share those with him to make up for the fact that we can't really applaud in a way that he can hear us. So please feel free to share things in the chat. And I would like to just personally say — I think I speak for many of us — it’s been an honor to work with you and I really respect your leadership, and I thank you for your time and care that you gave to the university. So, thank you so much.
Provost McPheron: You’re welcome, Susan, and as Monty Python said in the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.” So, still around and I’ll just be across the river in a few months. But there’s a lot of work to be done. This is a tremendous place with just an extraordinary trajectory. We are world leaders, and we need to embrace that. I’ve said many, many times that our goal is modest: world domination.
Susan Cole: And you cannot escape because we know where you’ll be and we can seek you out for your advice regardless of your position.