State of Academic Affairs Senate Address: March 8, 2018

State of Academic Affairs Senate Address, 2017-18

At the annual State of Academic Affairs address, Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron, PhD, provides an update on the past year's efforts and discuss opportunities for the year ahead.

Thursday, March 8, 2018
3:30 to 5 p.m.
Saxbe Auditorium, Drinko Hall
55 W. 12th Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210



President Drake and Secretary Givens, thanks for the invitation to join you here at the Senate this afternoon to provide my third visit with you on the state of academic affairs. It’s an honor to present on behalf of our Academic Affairs team the highlights of this past year.

Let me just pause before I actually delve into this and say to my female colleagues in the room happy International Women’s Day. I salute your leadership, your passion and your commitment to the university. You make this place what it is.

Well, this is an exciting time in Ohio State’s history as we pursue our mission to create and translate knowledge to serve society. Our innovations are bringing changes to higher education, and our scholarship, research, and creative inquiry are making a difference to people here and around the world.

The past year has seen significant progress for Ohio State on many fronts. We unveiled a new strategic plan, “Time and Change,” which provides direction for the future. To advance that vision, we aligned our campus facilities master plan, Framework 2.0, with this strategic vision. In addition, we held critical conversations around campus on General Education and graduate education.  And through our Digital Flagship initiative with Apple and our energy and sustainability partnership with ENGIE-Axium, we entered into partnerships that will change the way we work.

These are all tremendous successes, and they’re possible only because of the commitment and passion of a university community that few other institutions can match.

Before I actually spend a few minutes on some of those programmatic efforts, let me just pause to introduce you to a few of our faculty who are contributing to leadership in your Office of Academic Affairs.

You see a number of faces up here, many of them quite familiar to you. Beth Hume is our new vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education. She comes to us by way of a linguistics career with a recent sabbatical I’ll say in New Zealand, and we’re glad to have her back here at Ohio State. Her office covers a wide variety of the student academic success portfolio here at the university, and she has recently appointed a couple of colleagues to help out.

Cathy Montalto from the Department of Human Sciences is serving as Director of University Orientation and First Year Experience, and Dr. Susie Whittington of the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership, serving as director of the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program, or STEP.

I’ll just pause here for a second because the president mentioned our being noted around the country for our higher-education efforts. If you look at today’s – actually, this afternoon’s —  email blast from The Chronicle, you will see a headline about the Second Year Transformational Experience at Ohio State as something that is really proving to change the lives and trajectory of our students. Just last week, our efforts in data analytics and the creation of a cross-university major in data analytics was highlighted in the trends section of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

So, the president is absolutely right. People are talking about what The Ohio State University is doing in higher education.

Dr. Larry Krissek is professor emeritus from the School of Earth Sciences, and he is serving as associate vice provost, working closely with Vice Provost Randy Smith.

Dr. Jacquelyn Meshelemiah has joined Vice Provost Kay Wolf to work on faculty recruiting and retention. She comes to us from Social Work. We’re taking her on loan for the year as a faculty fellow, actually the Carole Anderson Faculty Fellow.

James Moore, from Education and Human Ecology, is serving as our interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Sally Rudmann, professor emerita from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was appointed as our University Ombudsman.

And Dr. Ryan Schmiesing, associate professor from FAES, is serving as Vice Provost for Strategic Planning and Implementation and also serves as our office’s liaison to the regional campuses.

Many of you will have seen just on Monday from Beth Hume an announcement that John Wanzer, certainly a familiar face to you, will include assistant dean in his title, reflecting his duties.

And Dr. David Graham will switch from leading SASSO, our efforts to help our student athletes, to a broader portfolio of student success in the office.

In addition, shortly after spring break, I expect to be announcing a new vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School, so stay tuned to an email near you.

We’re really proud of the accomplishments of our faculty, and we recognize faculty for both their external and internal accolades reflecting their outstanding work.  Next month, the President and Office of Research will hold a reception to recognize more than 140 of our colleagues who have received prestigious external honors. Today, I’ll just highlight a few winners of Ohio State’s own awards.

At their June meeting on the OSU Newark campus, the Board of Trustees conferred the title of Distinguished University Professor on two faculty members: Clark Larsen of the Department of Anthropology and David Weinberg of the Department of Astronomy.  This designation is the highest honor that Ohio State bestows on a faculty member, and fewer than 60 of our faculty have ever received this title.

President Drake, Kay Wolf, Jan Weisenberger, Randy Moses, colleagues from the Alumni Association have joined me in what I find is one of my most joyous experiences, breaking into a classroom or faculty meeting to bestow an unexpected recognition on one of our colleagues. You see here the listing of the various awards that are in progress. So you are not seeing pictures of the people; we’re only part way through this.

But let me just tell you about one visit that stands out in my mind from this spring. Now, awards in the Department of Dance are particularly thrilling. And it’s the case because they assemble students in the studio, and when the award is announced, they yell and cheer and then they all kneel down and drum on the floor. And it’s absolutely astonishing to experience, because they’re in this broad circle around you. It is truly, truly memorable.

So, a couple of weeks ago we visited Sullivant Hall and our purpose was to recognize Eddie Taketa, who received the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Lecturer. President Drake accompanied me. The surprise was planned to a “T” by Department Chair Susan Hadley, just absolutely to a “T.” Perfect surprise, nobody expected it. It was great.

After the announcements and accolades, we turned to leave, and at that moment the president pivots, turns right back around with another announcement. Professor Hadley was honored with, and completely gob smacked by, the President and Provost’s Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.

Now, I don’t know if we’ll ever have another two-fer, but I’ve got to tell you that this is a Buckeye experience that I will remember throughout my life.

Our students are flourishing on all fronts as well, and on all campuses. You know we have somewhere in sight of 66,000 students here at any given time, so I hope the 65,996 of you I don’t mention today won’t be offended, but you’re all doing really great work.

But let me just talk about a couple here.

  • Anna Voelker and Kayla Watson were named Brooke Owens Fellows, a designation that is awarded to exceptional undergraduate women seeking careers in aviation or space exploration. Seems a particularly apt call-out today on International Women’s Day. Anna, a senior majoring in science communication and accessibility, will intern at the Aerospace Corporation. And Kayla, a fourth-year aerospace engineering major, will intern at Amazon.
  • Two of our recent graduates were named to the inaugural class of Knight-Hennessey Scholars.  Nima Dahir and Abd Al-Rhaman Traboulsi will receive financial support for the full cost of attendance for their graduate education at Stanford University.

We truly could go on and on with this list of student success. From top to bottom, our students are national leaders.

Now, before I leave recognition, I want to acknowledge just one more individual.  In just the past year, Vice Provost Randy Smith engineered the university’s successful reaffirmation of its accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, facilitated hundreds of faculty and student voices contributing to a new proposal for the first comprehensive rethink of General Education in 30 years, and is serving as the interim head of the Graduate School.  Any one of these accomplishments is worthy of recognition.  It is an exceptional individual who would tackle, let alone master, all of these.  Randy, thank you.  Would you stand to let us recognize you?

We’re all grateful for your leadership. I learned words from him. He taught me to say “convene.” And it’s a very powerful word in a university environment because there are so many voices, you know, it’s really bringing people together. And that’s the way we progress. That’s a lesson learned even late in life from Randy Smith, and I’m grateful for it, Randy.

So, I mentioned this, but during this past year we conducted robust university-wide conversations on two key topics that I raised in this talk a year ago. First, the General Education curriculum, and second, on graduate education. So, let me give you an update on where things stand.

We’ll start with General Education. When the University Level Advisory Committee on the General Education Program — that’s a thing —recommended a university-wide review, it noted that the current General Education curriculum had been in place for nearly 30 years. Clearly, it was high time to review Gen Ed.

Vice Provost Randy Smith, and a coordinating committee co-chaired by Professors Larry Krissek, Cathy Montalto, and Andrew Martin, facilitated a year-long review process that included extensive university-wide participation. A proposal of recommendations was widely disseminated. Feedback to the proposed recommendations was real, impactful, it was heard by the committee; and a revised recommendation was developed and shared. The final report was just distributed earlier this week, on Monday.

Among specific recommendations for the Gen Ed of the future, I’m excited to see that our curriculum proposed includes a theme addressing “Citizenship for a Diverse and Just World.” This aligns so closely with our university’s motto of “Education for Citizenship,” and it’s an opportunity to refresh that long-standing motto for the 21st century in which our students live.

With the distribution of the final report this week, we’ve now reached the point where the undergraduate colleges will use the remainder of the semester to discuss the recommendations for this transformational conversation. If approved, an implementation committee will be established. OAA will provide funding to support course re-design and new course design, and we’re committed to working with colleges to stabilize budgets to implement a new program without harm to our academic units.

A second campus conversation this past year was on the future of graduate education at Ohio State.  Graduate education is a core competency of The Ohio State University.  Our research and creative expression depends upon the partnership our graduate students create with their mentors. Our commitment to certificates, to master’s programs, doctoral degrees provides multiple opportunities for our students.  Graduate education and the employment options for our graduates have changed with time, and the campus conversation was an opportunity to define where we might focus our attention to ensure the excellence of our programs and our graduates.

So that campus conversation identified three themes: diversity and inclusion, with a 10-year goal that the Graduate School student population reflects the national population; professional development for graduate students regardless of career path, reflecting the broad opportunities that our degree recipients pursue; and the funding environment for graduate education.

As with the General Education conversation, hundreds of our colleagues committed to the thinking that became the report on the “Campus Conversation on Graduate Education.”  This report will serve as an important starting point for action for our new vice provost and dean, our Graduate School staff, and the faculty and students across the university who make graduate education work here at Ohio State.

I’d like to formally thank Dr. Scott Herness for his commitment, guidance and service as the interim leader of the Graduate School for the past two years.  Prior to taking the position of vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School at Montclair State University, Scott led this conversation and the completion of the report.  I am grateful to him for his leadership at Ohio State and certainly wish him all success in his new position.

You’ve heard me speak frequently about our continued work to create an environment that values diversity and inclusion.  Our university mission statement, crafted as the cornerstone of our reaccreditation process, reinforces the Ohio State commitment to these principles. I look around the university and I see clear signs of progress, but we have lots of work to do before we can be satisfied with our achievement.

Last September, we held our first-ever Academic Leaders Forum with more than 140 attendees.  We spent a major portion of the day talking about diversity and inclusion, sharing success stories and lessons learned, and strategizing about how we can work together to improve the outcomes that we seek. We followed up on the forum with sessions with the Council of Deans, and this has been a topic at our meetings with the unit chairs across the university.

In addition, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has facilitated nearly 100 implicit-bias training workshops for Discovery Themes and other faculty search committees, and the model is being adapted for staff searches. All 15 colleges and all the regional campuses now provide the training themselves or in collaboration with ODI. I image that most of us here today have taken this training as a member of a search committee, and if not, let’s commit to doing so.

We’ve also worked with James’s team in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to create a soon-to-be launched clearinghouse tool, called the Buckeye Portal for Inclusive Excellence. Colleges will input their programs, and faculty and staff throughout the university will be able to access this tool to view the ideas of their peers and adapt and modify programs.

I would submit to you that we are on this journey together, and our destination is for our university to reflect our community and our world. We have miles to go, but we are, in fact, on this journey. (18:23)

Another key element woven through our mission, vision, and values statement is the expectation that we lead globally. Ohio State’s research and creative expression spans the world through our collaboration and leadership. What really excites me, though, is the opportunity for our students to have an international experience. Last year, nearly 2,900 students participated in the Office of International Affairs Education Abroad programs. With programs in more than 50 countries — all seven continents, I would remind us — and courses as diverse as “Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales,” to language immersion, to “Global May Uganda,” education abroad offers an enlightening experience to nurture our students to become global citizens.

I referred earlier to our adoption of the new strategic plan, “Time and Change,” developed under President Drake’s leadership. It builds on the progress we’ve achieved over the last several decades and embodies our aspirations for the future. For our purposes today, it also provides a framework to talk about the year ahead. Significant opportunities for growth exist across all five pillars of the plan.

Let me start with Research and Creative Expression, which is the bedrock of all great universities.

Preeminent scientists, extraordinary artists, renowned scholars all shape a liberal education, solve critical societal problems, and prepare students to be engaged citizens of the world. With the pending appointment of a new senior vice president for research, we have an opportunity to build upon our established excellence.

Many of you may have heard just two days ago Randy Moses, our interim senior vice president, reinforce our excellence when he reported on the state of research at Ohio State.

Ohio State has been on an upward course for the past several years, and we’re continuing to build upon that trajectory.

This year — in fact, just over a month ago — we completed a long-planned external review of our Discovery Themes initiatives. The review team has just delivered a nearly complete report — turns out we’re waiting on one section — earlier this week, and we look forward to learning from their expertise. But I can say from conversation with the reviewers as they were finishing their visit here, that there is one completely consistent observation, and it aligns with our strategic plan. That is, that Ohio State has developed a reputation across the nation for collaborative work that brings our disciplines together.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished to date in research and creative expression, but our sights must be higher. Our disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary culture are the springboard to get us there. And by continuing to build on our expertise and expand our collaborations across the arts, the humanities, the sciences, we create an environment where higher-order problem-solving takes place. And just as important, we are better able to serve the people of Ohio and the world. Thousands of collaborations, large and small, fuel our academic progress every day. I can only highlight a few here, but I’d like to begin with one that actually was initiated and completed by the Department of Theatre.

Now you may know, Ohio State has a national reputation for serving our active duty military and our veterans. To help military veterans transition from soldier to civilian, the theatre department created a 10-week workshop led by graduate student-actors who helped participants connect in a safe, playful atmosphere while performing the works of Shakespeare. The end result was a production at the Drake Theater titled Beyond All Recognition. Based on the students’ experiences with veterans and their families, the performance offered the audience a unique perspective on the experiences of our returning service members.

Our interdisciplinary centers and institutes are a particular point of pride. In the past year, the Translational Data Analytics Institute and the Infectious Diseases Institute were launched from our Discovery Themes. These institutes promise to be powerful magnets for the innovation and collaboration that have already distinguished our most successful university-level centers. An example of a successful established center, the Center for Emergent Materials, just last month was successful in initiating and winning a DARPA — Defense Advanced Research Project Agency — grant to the tune of $6 million to help us with understanding next-generation data-storage solutions. This work across boundaries, bringing people together, is extraordinarily powerful. Kay Wolf and I meet with new faculty to OSU throughout spring semester for lunch at the Faculty Club. And every single meeting, new faculty to Ohio State are telling the two of us that one of the factors they considered in their choice, and a deciding factor, was the way in which we bridge the gap across disciplines. This is something that is attracting faculty to Ohio State.

We have two new collaborative efforts that are coming through in the next year that will be really impactful, I believe, not only to the university but also to society. The first of these is in energy and sustainability, and the second is the opioid crisis.

A key deliverable from our energy management partnership with Ohio State Energy Partners — that’s the nexus of ENGIE and Axium on our campus — is the academic collaboration component that they are delivering.  A faculty team is working right now to define how we will deploy a set of newly endowed faculty positions — a piece of resource that actually speaks to one of our strategic plan guiding principles — and several teams are actually working toward the implementation of a unique innovation center that will bring together faculty, staff, students, and industry experts to work on next-generation solutions in sustainability and energy. In the next academic year, coming from this collaboration, students will benefit from scholarships, and students will experience real-world opportunities through internships with Engie and Axium across the country and around the world.

The second new collaborative that we’re undertaking is our Opioid Innovation Fund. Addiction is changing the face of communities around us – someone dies in the US every 16 minutes from opioid overdose, and this addiction problem is leaving families and communities in shambles. Ohio State is especially qualified to help solve this crisis because of the expertise we can bring from such a broad array of disciplines, from our Wexner Medical Center, from OSU Extension in every community in Ohio, and from programs in nearly all of our academic colleges. Our expectation is that the Opioid Innovation Fund, which will eventually provide nearly $1.5 million of seed funding into the Ohio State community — will enable novel collaborations to develop new ideas, test those ideas, and begin to deliver solutions to the problems. The review panel was meeting just over the weekend to consider the first set of applications. We had 90 pre-proposals representing the entire breadth of the university, and we expect to make our announcements within a matter of days on the first cycle of funding for these important new grant opportunities.

Our progress in teaching and learning is closely related to our success in research and creative expression. Each area informs the other. And here, too, we build on a strong base. I think the president reported on this, but it bears reminding. US News & World Report counts Ohio State among universities with an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching. They ranked us as 8th among public universities and 17th overall for that commitment.

That same publication ranks our online bachelor’s programs as the best in the nation. This, from a point where six years ago we had no programs to deliver; we’re now ranked as the best.

And our online graduate nursing program stands at number 2 as a single program in the nation. It’s worth noting that since just last spring — so just a year — online enrollment is up more than 40 percent. And this spring, this semester, nearly a third of Ohio State students are taking at least one online course.

The extraordinary breadth of our expertise means that Ohio State can—and should— lead the way in preparing students to negotiate a world that will bombard them with unparalleled amounts of information, that information making at the same time a world that is both more knowable and more difficult to navigate. As never before, our students, turning into our graduates, will have to be savvy consumers and thoughtful disseminators of information.

To promote our students’ learning outcomes and to prepare them to succeed in just such an environment, we created the University Institute for Teaching and Learning in 2016.  Serving as the heartbeat of our commitment to teaching and learning, the institute coordinates university-wide efforts from multiple experts to share evidence-based teaching strategies with our 7,000 faculty. In the coming year, we will continue this commitment to helping each other become better teachers to ensure that our students can be more effective learners.

The Digital Flagship University is another big step forward for teaching and learning at Ohio State.  Incoming freshmen this fall will receive iPads, and we’re working with Apple in an unprecedented partnership to create Ohio State-specific apps that will add value to the student experience both inside and outside the classroom.  Our initial cohort of 250 Digital Flagship Educators will offer technology-enabled sections of 1000- and 2000-level classes in the coming academic year.  Students will have the opportunity to sit alongside staff and faculty to learn the Swift coding language and learn to develop apps in a unique Apple design laboratory on our Columbus campus. And, oh, by the way, we have plans to take it on the road to our regional locations.  We expect that our graduates are able to describe the knowledge they have gained in their coursework toward their major, but at some point, they might just add, “And there’s an app for that — and I wrote it.”

Hearkening back to my focus on research and creative expression, there is a healthy debate in the literature of the impact of technology on learning.  So, given that technology isn’t going away anytime soon, our Digital Flagship initiative actually is an opportunity for Ohio State faculty to design experiments to look at this and generate evidence that will help educators everywhere anchor to best practices with regard to technology in the classroom.

My last point about teaching and learning is this: Ultimately, the importance of education is how it is used. As an engaged university, we have responsibilities beyond the classroom. Our faculty, staff, and students all play a vital role by using their knowledge and skills to serve the community. This is where education meets application; it’s why our outreach efforts are such an essential part of the Ohio State academic experience. Back in January, the university hosted its inaugural Community Engagement Conference to identify and develop meaningful partnerships beyond the campus. It was a huge success, and one that we hope to repeat annually.

Well, this brings me to the pillar on access, affordability and excellence. Just two months ago at the State of the University address, President Drake re-emphasized Ohio State’s commitment to continuing our important work in this area.

President Drake, allow me to thank you on behalf of the university community, our students, their families. Thanks to your leadership, Ohio State has implemented a program guaranteeing the four-year cost of base tuition, general fees, housing and dining for incoming freshmen. And we’ve pledged to provide thousands of Ohio students whose families are at or below the median income level of our state with a grant package that covers the full cost of basic tuition and fees on our Columbus campus.  And, by the way, we are a national leader in this effort. I think this actually deserves recognition.

If you didn’t recycle them yesterday, check the Wall Street Journal and you’ll see some remarks from the president on this very issue just from last week.

Leaders from Ohio and across the nation have really been robustly discussing the need for options for students as they pursue their education. Our regional campuses actually provide us with significant options. We’re fortunate to have a network that complements our Columbus campus. Lima, Marion, Mansfield, Newark — even Wooster with its unique academic offerings — are gateways for thousands of our students each year, and they are essential in making an Ohio State education accessible to Ohioans.

An advisory committee worked for most of the past year to develop a vision for the regional campuses to achieve by 2030, and the report recognizes the need to serve an ever-wider range of Ohioans, including high school students, retirees, single parents attending part-time, workers returning to school as they pivot between jobs and careers.

The recommendations that they put in place for the regional campuses will guide us as we develop specific plans to expand their reach and impact. But we’ll begin this next academic year with a focus on programs that have been proven to have success in student success. So, we know things that are working well, and we’re looking at ways that we can scale them. We hope to influence positively students wherever their path to a degree takes them, whether it is earning that degree on one of those regional campuses or making the transition here to Columbus to complete their studies.

The fourth pillar of our strategic plan is academic health care.  This is a huge opportunity for Ohio State’s future.  It’s the first time that Ohio State has included in its university strategic plan this incredibly important part of our university environment.

What we do in health care is extraordinarily important and it is completely aligned with the university’s mission. People arrive ill, and they leave well. That is an outcome from the research that we do and the research that we implement. While we’re curing people, we train the next generation of professionals, and we do that more and more in an interprofessional setting that brings students from different disciplines together to learn. Our academic health care successes are truly the epitome of an engaged university. Every day, we are turning our scholarship into action for the benefit of society.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fifth pillar of our strategic plan – operational excellence and resource stewardship. It is an essential pillar if we are to achieve success in the other four pillars.

I think of financial resources here at Ohio State as money on loan to us. It is not our money. It’s money that is entrusted to us from students paying tuition, patients seeking a cure, taxpayers funding state appropriations. The return on their investment is knowledge for our graduates and solutions for problems in society. It’s our job to ensure that the resources are used wisely and invested to their best and highest purpose to achieve those goals.

One critical element to achieve our operational excellence goals is the Enterprise Project – a transformational effort to streamline and modernize business processes and systems. Staff and faculty from across the university — all areas, including the Wexner Medical Center — have been coming together to examine how we can improve our operations to better support academic research and patient-care endeavors. I am proud of the work they’ve done and I look forward to continuing to share progress with the university community over the coming months.

So, having spoken — at what turns out to be some length —about the importance of the strategic plan for our future, let me just add a footnote. The strategic plan is not, per se, a road map. I look at it as a compass to provide direction, a tool to set our course. The work of getting us to where we need to go as a university rests squarely on our shoulders — the shoulders of our faculty, our staff, our students, and administrators. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a great challenge to have.

As I close today, I’m reminded of just how privileged we are to be at one of the most remarkable universities in the world. The progress that has come has come from our hard work, and it has put us in the vanguard and sets us apart as one of the most disruptive universities of the last decade. And I use “disruptive” with all love. I think that’s a great thing.

Our innovations have enhanced our academic programs and fueled our faculty creativity; they have helped to build the physical resources on our campuses; and they have expanded our ability to provide financial aid to our students.

We are expanding far-sighted curricular opportunities. We’re building our research enterprise. We’re identifying and sharing best practices in teaching and learning.  We’re streamlining and standardizing a vast array of business processes.

Our responsibility is to prepare the change-agents of tomorrow by being a change-agent for higher education today. The strategic plan defines our direction. Focus and persistence guarantee our progress. By working together, we can continue to increase Ohio State’s impact on the world through the students we train, the discoveries we make, the lives we improve, and the communities we strengthen.

President Drake, Secretary Givens, this concludes my report on the state of academic affairs.