Choosing Our Future

Edward J. Ray
Oregon State University
Faculty Senate
October 12, 2006

 

Introduction

 

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. Let me start by extending my thanks to the President of the Faculty Senate, Bill Boggess, and the members of the Senate for the invitation.

Today I will:

  • Touch on some of last year’s many accomplishments.
  • Describe our current circumstances.
  • And talk about our key activities for the coming year, with particular focus on the student experience.

Before I do so, I would like to make two observations regarding this past year:

  • First, I commend our faculty, staff, and administrators. In spite of significant external challenges, the University community did a tremendous job in educating a record number of students, and in continuing to expand our research, scholarship, and outreach functions.
  • Second, while we are understandably absorbed in our day-to-day activities, we have consistently stayed the course over the last three academic years. Looking back, you will see our committed progress on the three major goals in the University Strategic Plan. This should give us all hope and confidence.

Patience is not my strong suit. There is no lack of appreciation on my part, however, for the tough decisions we have made and the challenges associated with their consequences.

Let me review some of our recent accomplishments.

 

Recent Accomplishments

 

Our progress has been substantial on many fronts.

We managed the challenging and significant task of providing a 6% merit increase in faculty salaries and the associated reallocation of resources.

  • It is inevitably true that not every decision in such a complex and comprehensive effort was the wisest, or that our coordination and transparency was all it could be.
  • Nevertheless, hard choices were made. Deans, directors, chairs, faculty and staff, and student leaders deserve great credit for working together to make the best decisions possible. I want especially to thank Provost Randhawa, Vice President McCambridge, and each of the Deans for the pivotal role they played in this important activity.

We established a schedule for the re-basing of college budgets.

  • Over the next five years the base budget of the College of Sciences will increase $2.5 million.
  • Significant budget increases will also occur in the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Health and Human Sciences, $2 million each, and the College of Business at $1 million.

This is a significant accomplishment for which the Provost, the Deans, and others deserve our sincerest appreciation.

We saw numerous individual and collective accomplishments by the OSU faculty. Let me note a few examples, with apologies to the many others equally deserving of mention:

  • John Wager’s cutting edge research on transparent transistors and integrated circuits was announced in the journal Solid State Electronics and generated enormous interest – and a licensing agreement with HP.
  • Goran Jovanovich’s work developing technology for portable bio-fuel manufacturing devices is clearly timely and promising.
  • Kelly Benoit-Bird received a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, one of 56 such awards nationwide.
  • And Kathy Moore continues to speak for us with an uncommon voice. Her essay, delivered at the June 2006 Commencement, was deeply moving and resonated with all who attended this wonderful occasion. I am pleased to announce that Kathy has agreed to serve as the University Writer Laureate. It is a privilege to recognize and honor someone so special.

It is achievements like these that draw scholars and researchers to contribute to the energy and excitement of the OSU faculty.

One remarkable example is Mas Subramanian, who came to us from DuPont Central Research and Development as the new Milton Harris Professor of Chemistry and the first Signature Faculty Fellow of ONAMI.

With his addition to our distinguished existing faculty, we literally have given Oregon an international leadership position in materials science and he will lead the effort to establish a new center at OSU focused on materials research.

Likewise, each of the six strategic initiatives funded last year has enabled us to recruit outstanding faculty to OSU. For instance, in the first full year of funding the Computation and Genome Biology Initiative leveraged existing resources to recruit five outstanding new scientists to OSU in four different academic units.

Great faculty in turn attract outstanding students, and our students continue to distinguish themselves nationally and internationally. Before the Beavers won the NCAA Baseball World Series the hard way, OSU students won two other competitions last spring.

Our thirty-student team entered a mini-Baja vehicle in a competition in Portland against 84 teams from leading universities across the country and abroad. Then they turned around and took on 141 teams from around the world in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

The OSU team swept both competitions. The original format was to pick the winner after three rounds of competition but the third round was cancelled on account of OSU’s dominance.

Rick Presley is another shining example. Rick grew up on a farm in Sweet Home, attended Linn-Benton Community College, and came to OSU for two undergraduate degrees and a master’s. Working with John Wager’s team, Rick became the lead author on the paper announcing the creation of transparent integrated circuits.

Similar evidence will be found in the post-graduate success of our students. For instance, over 70% of our students from last year's graduating class who applied to medical school – including one of our football players – were admitted. The national average is 45%.

Acceptances include Harvard, OHSU, Mayo Clinic, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, UCLA, University of Michigan, and University of Washington.

Along the same lines, Veterinary Medicine graduates taking the national veterinary examination had a pass percentage of 95% compared to the national rate of 88%. The pass rate for Pharmacy students on the National Board Exam was 100%.

Not a lot of places create opportunities and results like this for students.

OSU does. You do.

Another notable accomplishment is our University Diversity Action Plan, now positioned for completion and adoption after appropriate discussion this quarter.

It is particularly significant that every college and many of the support areas of the University – 21 programs in all – have developed their own complementary Diversity Action Plans.

The diverse part of our diverse community needs to increase substantially over the coming years for us to achieve our goal of excellence. This requires us to reach out much more effectively than we have in the past.

We also acted to better support the academic achievements of our student athletes. To help, Kate Halischak joined us from Notre Dame to serve as the Director of Student Athlete Academic Services with a direct reporting line to Vice Provost Becky Johnson.

As part of the student-athlete initiative we reviewed and toughened our admission requirements. With leadership from Vice Provost Larry Roper we also initiated a summer bridge program, BEST, to help student-athletes who are at risk to get off to a good start here, and to help ensure they prosper as students as well as athletes.

We had an extremely successful interim accreditation visit from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. They reaffirmed accreditation through 2011. They complimented us for the quality of the strategic plan, our progress in implementing it, and the fact that leaders throughout the university are using the plan to guide important decisions. They also applauded the efforts of faculty and staff to enhance advising and assessment.

In addition:

  • At the end of the year, OSU graduated 4,300 students, more than in any year in the history of the University.
  • We broke $2 million in tech transfer licensing revenue for the first time. We also brought in a record $500,000 in merchandise licensing.
  • Faculty research as measured by expenditures totaled $194 million last year, the highest figure in the history of the University.

So OSU’s accomplishments – and this has been the briefest of accounts – were very substantial and very important.

Looking ahead, our task remains unchanged. We must continue to address our strategic goals. We must leverage our accomplishments and align our resources so that we can be sustainable as an institution.

At University Day last year, I noted that we are a university that over-achieves. This continues to be demonstrably true. The concern I have is that overachievement, by definition, is not sustainable.

We simply cannot keep doing more with less forever.

 

Our Current Circumstances

 

I do not know whether our current funding circumstances are the most uncertain OSU has ever faced.

I do know I have the responsibility to set out the issues and tell you how I propose we manage them together.

On the legislative side, there is some good news:

Governor Kulongoski and the legislature worked together last year to end the decline in funding for higher education, and the Governor committed to increase funding for higher education by at least 10% in each future biennium.

The Oregon Opportunity Grant program was increased from $45 million to almost $75 million last session, a remarkable accomplishment that will benefit our students for years to come.

The Oregon Innovation Council has proposed continued funding for ONAMI and for two new Oregon Signature Research Centers. The Oregon BEST Center will focus on clean energy and bio-products. The new Drug Discovery SRC will focus on infectious diseases. Funding is also earmarked for an Ocean Wave Energy initiative and a Food Processing Initiative. OSU colleges and centers will have the opportunity to play a major role in all of these initiatives. The total funding request is close to $40 million.

The Board of Higher Education agreed that the Cascades Campus should be supported on the more favorable funding formula used for the smaller OUS universities. Cascades would also receive enrollment growth funding. Those changes would assist us tremendously in our effort to respond to the higher education needs of Central Oregon.

As you know Jay Casbon will be stepping down from his campus CEO position at OSU-Cascades. I appreciate what he and his colleagues have been able to accomplish under difficult circumstances. Jay is committed to helping us finalize a new strategic plan and accomplish a smooth transition in leadership in the coming year.

For the first time since 1999, the Board also strongly endorsed increased funding for OSU’s statewide public service programs. We are hopeful that we can re-establish some of the critical services that have been reduced or eliminated in recent years, because there are many Oregon families and businesses depending on us.

Even with these positive changes, it is a mark of our state’s recent history that the Board of Higher Education describes the financial condition of public higher education as a “burning platform.”

If the platform you are on is on fire, no amount of over-achievement will keep you from getting burned.

You’ve got to put out the fire.

 

Hopeful Indicators, Pending Threats

 

To its credit, the Board is attempting to douse the flames by setting significant funding targets for the next biennium, including $920 million in basic general funding for the universities and $68 million in policy initiatives that increase support for our Statewide Public Services, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Engineering programs. This would be an increase of $188 million in general funding over the current biennium and about $120 million more than the Governor’s proposed spending plan – before you add in the $68 million in strategic initiatives.

Clearly this would be very helpful, not just for OSU but for all Oregonians.

We are not going to compete economically with our neighbors in the state of Washington, much less our trading partners on the Pacific Rim, if our per capita higher education funding remains 46th in the country.

I will do all I can to support the recommendations the Board of Higher Education has constructed for the Governor and the legislature.

At the same time, two initiatives on the November ballot would, if passed, significantly reduce state revenues.

Measure 41, would reduce the general fund by an estimated 5%, or $650 million dollars.

Measure 48, would cap all public spending to the rate of inflation plus the rate of population growth in the state. Sometimes referred to as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, this measure would require reductions of $2.2 billion from state funding next biennium – and some believe it could require reductions in the current biennium.

Colorado is the only state that has ever adopted such a measure. Twelve years after its passage the citizens of Colorado, with the support of their Republican governor, voted a five-year moratorium on its application.

In Oregon, the State Treasurer’s concern about Measure 48’s potential impact on the state’s ability to repay bonds caused us to delay the start on the large animal hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

In summary:

  • There are promising signs, but there is no guarantee that funding will reflect the Board of Higher Education’s targets.
  • The outcome of the two ballot initiatives is uncertain.
  • If funding lags substantially below the figures recommended by the Board, there would almost certainly be significant changes in the structure and operating policies of all the universities in the Oregon University System.

 

Our Agenda for the Coming Year

 

Our challenge is to set a course for collective action this year despite these uncertainties. Fortunately, we have the Strategic Plan to remind us what we are trying to accomplish and what we need to do to be successful in the long run.

Fundamentally, we must continue to collaborate across disciplines.

And we must create new programs from current resources in the five thematic areas of our strategic plan, areas where we have world-class capability already, or the potential to rank among the best universities in America.

Therefore, we will remain focused on our three goals:

  • Increasing the excellence of our academic programs,
  • Enhancing the quality of the student experience inside and outside of the classroom, and
  • Doing all that we can to manage our costs and expand our resources.

Let me briefly describe the initiatives for the coming year that support these aspirations.

Academic Excellence

We will distribute a 4% merit raise package at the beginning of the new calendar year. We must maintain our ability to compete internationally for the best faculty – and support faculty progress through the ranks. The 6% raise package we implemented last year was a step in the right direction. The Provost and the Deans believe we must do more this year. I concur. Therefore, the Provost and the Vice President for Finance and Administration have distributed guidelines to implement the raise package.

We will continue to address faculty diversity.

  • All faculty search committees should include at least one member who is designated as an affirmative action representative for the committee, and these individuals will be trained to serve in this capacity. Angelo Gomez, our Director of the Office of Affirmative Action, will take the lead here.
  • We will support the Tenured Faculty Diversity Initiative, under the direction of Vice Provost Becky Johnson, to assist programs in adding senior faculty from diverse backgrounds.
  • We will add a Director for Women’s Advancement and Gender Equity to help assess issues of gender parity, campus climate and culture, and professional development, and to advance best practices for creating a diverse environment.
  • We will soon launch a Life-Balance OSU Initiative to make our community a healthier and more family-friendly work environment for all of us.

And we will convene a President's Commission on Ocean, Coastal, and Earth System Futures to help identify a far-reaching vision, one that integrates biological, physical, and social sciences in studies of ocean and coastal systems and communities, and defines new ways of engaging with society. This Commission will help immeasurably in developing a blueprint for action for one of our five key thematic areas, the origin, dynamics, and sustainability of the Earth and its resources.

Student Experience

Let me now turn to a new initiative focused on the critical issue of the student experience. Enhancing student engagement and experience at OSU is essential.

  • It is key to preparing our graduates to compete with anyone, anywhere and to contribute to society.
  • It underlies academic excellence.
  • And it is central to meeting our important retention and graduation targets.

To be among the leading land grant universities, our first year retention rate should be close to 90% not 80% and our six year graduation rate should be close to 80% not 60%.

The Provost’s Council and the Faculty Senate leadership concur on the importance of this activity. Therefore, during 2006-2007 we will initiate a determined effort to improve student engagement and experience here.

We will initially focus on the first two years of student experience.

  • We will seek to establish learning models that engage students from their first term at OSU.
  • We will generate more opportunities for undergraduates to become part of the research and scholarship enterprise.
  • We will seek to increase opportunities for undergraduates to study abroad, pursue internships, and engage in for-credit service learning experiences.

In support of this initiative we have formed the University Council for Student Engagement and Experience. The Council will refine and implement recommendations from the Student Experience Research Task Force co-chaired last year by Larry Roper, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, and Dan McCarthy, then-President of ASOSU. This task force looked at all aspects of the student experience here and provided an agenda for improvement. Their report, along with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for OSU, will help us immeasurably.

To help expand international opportunities for our students, I recently signed partnership agreements between OSU and 10 Asian institutions, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences. We now have nearly 150 international partners. I met OSU students studying abroad and saw the life-changing impact these programs can have.

The Provost, in collaboration with the Faculty Senate and the Provost’s Council, will lead the student experience initiative.

On the facilities side, we have initiated a multi-year university classroom renovation plan to upgrade instructional space and technology and improve adjacent areas. We are proceeding with this on a floor-by-floor basis, and over the summer we completed renovation of the first floor of Gilkey Hall. Our goal is to include every classroom.

These are essential activities for the entire university.

Managing Costs, Increasing Resources

Last, but hardly least, we must continue managing our costs and increasing our resources.

We are challenged, but hardly helpless. There is much we can do – and are doing.

As I suggested last year, we must narrow the menu of programs we offer to our students. Unfortunately – and perhaps it took me a while to realize this – I now thoroughly appreciate that there are no more easy choices available.

We are forced to down-size or even eliminate very good programs.

Our deans, chairs, directors, and colleagues have made, and must continue to make, difficult decisions to help us live within our budgets. We all need to be respectful of the wrenching difficulty of these decisions.

This year we will also explore right-sizing University enrollment to better correspond to our financial capabilities, a topic I mentioned to the Senate last May. Accordingly, I have asked the Office of Enrollment Management to take the lead in developing a long-term enrollment management plan. Obviously, there are uncertainties and complexities in such modeling. But we must begin this difficult process this year.

We will steadily enhance budget transparency and create appropriately defined incentives to increase our ability to raise resources and apply them effectively. The Provost, Deans, Senate leaders, and others will be discussing how incremental resources should be allocated. They will be analyzing the reporting lines and funding criteria for centers and institutes within the University this year. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations that come from this discussion.

One piece of good news is our recently completed negotiations with the federal government on our indirect cost recovery rate for federal research grants and contracts. The outcome is a significant increase in the on-campus rate, from 41.5% to 46.2%, and in the other sponsored activities rate from 29.1% to 33.8%. Vice President McCambridge and his team deserve a lot of credit for their hard work on this.

At current funding levels, this new higher rate will increase our revenue by about $2.8 million.

We will continue pursuing partnerships with government, industry, and educational institutions. We now have degree partnership agreements with 13 of Oregon’s 17 community colleges and we hope to complete the remaining four agreements in the next few months. The program is a great source of students, and it meets real needs in Oregon.

And we recently signed degree partnership agreements with two of Hawaii’s seven community colleges.

We will continue to increase our ability to tell our story more effectively in support of all our efforts. We are averaging at least one national story in the media each week. Our faculty research has become headline news and we value the time and energy our faculty have provided to help others understand their accomplishments.

  • The new research magazine Terra has been a great success, drawing favorable comments from friends and alumni and colleagues around the country.
  • And Kevin Miller, the new editor of the Oregon Stater, has many good ideas for reaching friends and alumni as we move toward the public phase of our university-wide fundraising campaign. The latest issue of the Oregon Stater was a great example of what he and his team – including the OSU graphic design students who completely redesigned the magazine – can do.
  • Incidentally, it is a sign of the essential new collaborations on campus that the OSU Foundation and OSU Alumni Association are jointly financing the distribution of the alumni magazine to all OSU alumni.

And we will maintain our progress in fundraising in order to secure the philanthropic support this terrific university merits.

This is my opportunity to leave you with some really good news.

  • The OSU Foundation had its third straight record year last year – and it came without the benefit of the $21 million dollar bequest we received the year before!
  • We received 20 gifts last year of a million dollars or more.
  • As of today, we have raised $237 million towards our campaign goal, and campaign planning continues to move forward.
  • A campaign steering committee is in place consisting of extraordinarily talented friends and alumni of the University, each of whom has already made substantial commitments of time, talent, and financial resources to the campaign.

This reflects a lot of hard work by the OSU Foundation staff and volunteers.

It testifies to the hard work of the Deans, a number of whom are really setting the pace.

Most of all, it reflects the widespread admiration among our alumni and friends for OSU’s faculty and students, and a deep appreciation for the quality and impact of our programs.

This is why I firmly believe that if we collectively maintain our sense of common cause and vision for what this wonderful University can be, then we will succeed in becoming one of the top ten land-grant universities in America.

 

Choosing Our Future

 

I am not naïve. It may take us 20 or 30 years to achieve this goal.

But, as the OSU baseball team demonstrated, we should never say it cannot be done.

Whatever your attitude toward athletics, you must admit athletic competition is pretty stark when it comes to outcomes.

When our baseball team lost the first game of the NCAA World Series to Miami by a score of 11 to 1, I am sure that many of you – like me – were simply hoping we could win one game and come back with some bragging rights.

This is not what Pat Casey thought, or Kevin Gunderson, or Bill Rowe, or any of the other players and coaches. They genuinely believed that they could win it all.

My take-away lesson from that wonderful on-field and off-field performance by OSU student-athletes is that if you absolutely believe you can accomplish something, you have a great shot at succeeding.

I absolutely believe we have it within us to transform this special place into one of the top ten land-grant universities in America.

I absolutely believe we are doing the right things, difficult as they are.

Someone has to win the college world series. Someone has to be in the top ten. Why not OSU?

We know it can be done, because we saw it happen.

My hope is we can continue to do what our World Champions did: Stick to the plan, stick together, and execute extremely well.

If we do that, we can compete with the best – and win more than our share.

Thank you.