University Day 2004

From Plans to Actions

Edward. J. Ray, President
Oregon State University
University Day
September 21, 2004

 

The opportunity to speak to you on University Day is both an honor and a pleasure. The honor is to be among the faculty and staff colleagues whose achievements we recognize today. I am equally pleased to share in this wonderful celebration, for it reminds all of us that a number of our colleagues accomplish great things even in the face of challenging circumstances and financial uncertainty. The individuals we honor today continue to advance the reputation and impact of this wonderful University. They inspire those who work and learn here. Thank you on behalf of all of us who are inspired and energized by your efforts.

The inspiration and energy we honor today is a powerful call to action for all of us. Our response must be an agenda for action. Fortunately, the adoption of the University Strategic Plan last winter has positioned us to act purposefully and quickly to move this University into the top ten land grant universities in America. The plan challenges us to increase our ability to add value, as reflected in the competitiveness of our graduates in their careers, and to imbue our students with a spirit of effective community service.

The strategic plan calls for us to enhance the impact of our research and creative work in promoting economic development and improving the human condition. The plan prompts us to deepen our outreach and engagement efforts so that we contribute more profoundly to the lives of the people of Oregon, the nation and the world.

My purpose today is to discuss with you the call to action that I find in the strategic plan and to consider how this call to action is expressed in this academic year. I hope to provide focus and direction to the spirit and energy that we take away from this celebratory moment. Before doing so, I want to acknowledge the efforts of Sabah Randhawa, Mark McCambridge, Tim White, Bruce Sorte, Stella Coakley, and others in completing the plan. Most especially, I want to thank Becky Johnson, who labored tirelessly on draft after draft of the document during the last half of 2003 enabling us to begin 2004 with a strategic plan that I believe will serve this institution well for many years to come.

Our strategic plan calls for the university to improve the quality of our academic programs, enhance the student experience inside and outside the classroom, and increase our ability to generate resources to advance our mission. The plan includes a number of metrics to track our progress, both relative to our past performance and with respect to our benchmark peer institutions. The first progress report on our performance is due by the end of this month. It will be the yardstick against which we can celebrate our successes and determine where additional efforts will need to be placed going forward.

The strategic plan also stipulates a detailed implementation plan that provides the timeline, costs, and assignment of leadership responsibilities for specific actions. Provost Randhawa will distribute a detailed implementation agenda for this academic year by the end of this month.

With the strategic plan to guide our direction and the implementation plan to track our progress, my comments today will focus on major elements of this year's agenda for action. In this, I will go beyond the content of the strategic plan itself to engage the issues and concerns expressed last year in meetings I held with groups of faculty, staff, and students. Many people took the time to educate me about OSU's strengths and weaknesses. I want to thank all who participated and to assure them that I will continue to schedule these meetings this year. Provost Randhawa and I are also establishing several other venues where we can listen and learn about the needs of our campus.

I have traveled throughout the state during the last year and I have met Oregonians from all walks of life. I have heard from state, federal and local elected officials, alumni, emeriti, proud parents, and grandparents of OSU students. I have heard from ranchers and farmers, high tech executives and an impressive array of volunteers - all of whom care deeply about OSU. I have received a countless number of e-mails advising me on how to do my job better. Some were written in all capital letters and asked if I was from California. Others were quiet and thoughtful observations.

Those communications left me with one overwhelming conclusion: The people of Oregon from Astoria to Ontario, from Coos Bay to Pendleton, and from Portland to Medford have a great affinity for Oregon State University. Their affection is the result of decades of service you have provided and it comes with the expectation that we will continue to serve the people of this great state.

Program Excellence

Our first item for action must be academic excellence, for it is the heart of the strategic plan. We have embraced an ambitious goal of advancing Oregon State University to be one of the top ten land grant universities in America. To accomplish this, we will focus on five themes, broad interdisciplinary areas where we already have the excellence to rank among the leading universities, or where we can build upon our strengths to achieve excellence.

The first of these areas is the arts and sciences. This may be the most difficult area for us to attain the leadership role we seek among public universities. It is listed first because there is no great university that is not strong in the arts and sciences. The other areas selected in the strategic plan are: the Earth's origins, dynamics and sustainability; entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development; the life sciences with a focus on healthy populations; and, the management and sustainability of our natural resources and quality of life.

Many of you have participated already in college and support unit efforts to develop subsidiary plans for action that align with the University's strategic plan. The Provost, Deans and Directors are beginning to consider how to implement these college and unit plans. In addition - and this is an important step for OSU - we have completed a preliminary competitive round to identify several areas for new strategic investment over the next few years. These investments are specifically intended to strengthen the five theme areas targeted for excellence.

This competitive process will be completed this autumn. Some colleagues have expressed concern about reallocating existing resources for new activity when so much of our mission-critical work is under-funded already. I am not insensitive to this concern; nor am I unaware of the efforts by faculty and staff to perform capably with insufficient resources. Nevertheless, experience has taught me that any organization that wants to move forward consistently must make the hard decision to invest in its future, even in the worst of times

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In talks around the state last year I shared one message consistently: Oregon needs a diversified economy with access to best business practices and cutting edge technology in every sector in order to be globally competitive and thereby capable of sustained economic growth and social progress. Unfailingly, I went on to point out that in many ways Oregon State University uniquely has the people, the programs, and the mission to help the people of Oregon realize these goals. The message is well received, and it is believed. We cannot serve in that capacity if we are not disciplined enough to continue to invest in our own excellence, regardless of our overall economic circumstances.

Student Experience

Oregon State University was judged last year to be one of the friendliest university campuses and Corvallis was judged to be one of the top ten places to live in America. Neither of those accolades surprised me. My wife, Beth, and I have felt very welcome here in Corvallis and at the University. For us, and for many others, this is a wonderful place to live and work. It is not equally congenial to all members of our community. The evidence clearly suggests that we could and must do better.

As I noted in my University Day speech last year, our graduates are the most important contribution we make to the future. I believe this sincerely. Unfortunately, I also cannot help but note that our first year retention rate for fall quarter freshman is only 80% and our six year graduation rate is only 60%. Retention and six year graduation rates for minority students are significantly lower than those figures. We simply must do better.

Doing better includes reaching out to students who lack easy access to us. Through our distance learning programs we need to engage traditional and non-traditional students throughout the state. The Virtual Tribal College is a particularly exciting opportunity for us to make a real difference in the lives of Oregon's earliest peoples. Our innovative and very successful dual enrollment program needs to be expanded to all of the state's community colleges. We need to stand as a leader among higher education institutions in developing articulation and transfer programs that help students transition into this University from other institutions. Our Cascades Campus must provide signature programs to Central Oregon that address the critical higher education needs of that vibrant community.

Doing better also means connecting more effectively with the K-12 sector. Our self-interest should be obvious. Some 87% of our new fall quarter freshman come from Oregon's K-12 system. If this system is not working effectively, our students cannot take the maximum advantage of the educational opportunities we offer. Therefore, helping to improve the performance of the K-12 sector in Oregon is not simply the job of our new School of Education but of all of us.

Obviously, we must continue to upgrade the quality of our classrooms and in particular to improve access to these rooms and other learning resources for our students with disabilities.

In this academic year, I look to Provost Randhawa, Director of the Academic Success Center, Moira Dempsey, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Becky Johnson, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Larry Roper, and Terryl Ross, Director of the Office of Community and Diversity, to work with others across campus to develop new strategies for improving student retention through to graduation and to shorten the time to graduation for all of our students.

Last spring we completed a climate survey for the first time in the University's history. The results of that survey must be used forthrightly to develop effective strategies to improve retention and graduation rates. Survey results aside, some of the challenges that students from diverse backgrounds face on this campus, and in the community, should be readily apparent. My own experience has taught me that because I look the way I do, and because of who I am, I can never feel the sense of outrage, imperative for change, and feeling of isolation that can be common to those among us who feel marginalized and excluded because of who they are or how they look. If this is true for me as an individual, I believe it must also be true for any predominantly white institution like Oregon State University. Improving the quality of the learning experience both inside and outside the classroom requires us to honestly assess whether or not we have a learning environment that is welcoming, supportive, and excellent for all of our students. Following that assessment we must deal with our shortcomings.

I genuinely believe that excellence is achieved through diversity. Therefore, creating a more inclusive and welcoming community both on and off campus is not simply a way to improve the learning environment for some of us. It is an essential improvement for all of us. We will each more fully realize our individual potential if we are able to recognize and celebrate our differences and learn from each other.

Last year, I asked Larry Roper, Phyllis Lee, and others to begin the process of drafting a Diversity Action Plan for the University that would be a template for diversity activity within each academic and support unit. I want to acknowledge the efforts of Larry Roper in particular. He created a model diversity action plan that can be used throughout the University to help establish a more diverse and welcoming community, and he provided us with measures for assessing our progress. Terryl Ross will assume leadership for continuing the process this year. Just as we have goals, objectives, implementation plans, and metrics to assess progress with respect to the strategic plan, we need them for the Diversity Action Plan. Accordingly, I am asking that we produce our first Diversity Action Plan annual report during spring quarter.

Plans alone do not ensure speedy and appropriate actions. I have made it clear to all of my direct reports - and through them to everyone in a leadership position in this university - that advancement and job performance evaluations will reflect the extent to which efforts to enhance our diversity and our sense of community succeed.

Resources

Let me now turn to the difficult issue of resources. I do not have to tell any of you that we are seriously under-funded relative to our mission and our aspirations. I know that many of you have been coping with substantial resource deficiencies for years. We are also seriously under-funded relative to Oregon's need for our programs, our research, and our graduates. Governor Kulongoski is committed to ending the disinvestment in higher education in the state of Oregon. The Board of Higher Education he appointed last February has been working diligently to develop a legislative funding package that will end disinvestment and provide modest resources to meet strategic needs. Particularly noteworthy is the hard work by the Governor and the Board to develop a way to provide all high school graduates in Oregon with access to an affordable college education. Leaders in the legislature have also expressed sincere interest in ending the disinvestment in higher education and in understanding the most critical needs of higher education for the next biennium. We will work with the Governor's staff, the legislature, and the Board of Higher Education and the Chancellor's Office to reverse the disinvestment of state funds in higher education. We also will continue to pursue alternative means of improving our overall resource situation.

Completion of the University Strategic Plan and development of college and support unit plans positions us to manage current resources more effectively. As noted earlier, the strategic investment program will redirect existing resources to key areas of excellence over the next several years. These strategic investment decisions will be made this quarter.

Clearly, we need more resources. We also need to ensure that we are using resources effectively. And, we must communicate convincingly how we are using our resources. Before I turn to a discussion of our action agenda with respect to the budget process here at Oregon State, I want to applaud the excellent work last year by all of our faculty colleagues in maintaining quality learning experiences and services for our students under trying economic circumstances. The Deans, Chairs, and Directors worked effectively with their colleagues to make the best use of our limited resources. I heard praise throughout the state for the exceptional service provided by our colleagues in extension and the experiment stations despite declining staffing and resources. Gil Brown and his staff, under the leadership of Mark McCambridge, helped us deal with beginning and mid-year cuts in state funding. The Budget Advisory Committee under the leadership of Bill Boggess helped us to refine the current budget model to meet the needs of the strategic plan.

That said, it is now time for the University and the colleges (and the faculty, staff, and students) to ask whether or not the current budget process is serving the purposes of the strategic plan effectively. My own preference, based on my experience, is for us to seriously consider re-basing budgets. Similarly, we must develop a process to review central expenses and to determine if they are cost effective. Finally, I believe that each college should have an explicit budget allocation model of its own that is developed through a consultative process led by the Dean. The budget process should be open, and the resulting budgets should be transparent. The budget process is not an end in itself; it is a tool for implementing institutional decisions and strategies. Now that we have well defined University and unit strategic plans we can carefully assess changing current budget practices.

All of these proposed actions are intended to make the budget process as open, transparent, and responsive to the strategic plan as possible. On the matter of openness and transparency, there are three tasks that should be undertaken quickly. First, we should conclude a university-wide discussion during autumn quarter regarding the use of charges in the plateau range between 12 and 18 credit hours. As I have suggested elsewhere, we should either continue to raise plateau range charges to a discount of approximately 50% of the charge per credit hour for 12 credits, or we should return to no charge for credits taken in the plateau range. Faculty, staff, and students should participate in the dialogue. The outcome should be reflected in our tuition proposals for the next fiscal year.

Second, questions have been raised regarding the size of the university's fund balances in light of two years of double digit tuition increases. We have released detailed information on fund balances to student government leaders and I have asked for a more detailed review of a sample of academic and support unit budget balances to verify their descriptions. We will monitor and review the status of fund balances on a monthly basis going forward. Following an open discussion of the appropriateness of the levels and proposed uses of fund balances we will determine if our tuition requests for the next biennium should be modified and/or if some of our reserve balances could be used to provide direct financial support for our most economically disadvantaged students. This discussion should be concluded during autumn quarter.

Third, we should consider making the additional charges imposed by individual colleges an explicit part of tuition. This change would make clearer to students and their families the true cost of education in respective majors. Furthermore, we should make every effort to inform students about proposed tuition increases several years in advance, drawing on predicted state support and cost factors. Such a policy would help students and their families evaluate the costs of obtaining a degree from Oregon State University and plan accordingly.

Finally, the completion of University and unit level strategic plans should prove helpful in developing case statements. Case statements are critical elements in the fundraising process for our first university-wide capital campaign. We are already seeing exceptional success in raising funds to support our engineering and athletic programs through organized campaign efforts. My travels last year, and my conversations around the state convince me there is a deep reservoir of support for this wonderful university, one that we have not tapped yet. Tapping that support will assure us of a successful university-wide capital campaign.

Another message I have been sharing in my talks is that higher education in Oregon cannot play the same primary role in helping realize economic and social progress that is possible in states like Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas, unless our universities work together as a kind of virtual mega-university. Separately, we simply lack the potential economies of scale and scope enjoyed by large, comprehensive, state universities elsewhere. I regularly cite ONAMI, the Oregon Nanoscience and Micro-technologies Institute, a collaboration of the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Oregon State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, and Hewlett-Packard, as the poster child for what can be accomplished if we work together. The key message here is that in a period of resource scarcity each institution can leverage its own resources by supporting opportunities for their faculty to work with colleagues in other universities and the private sector.

For those of us in higher education in Oregon, synergy is not a slogan, it is a competitive necessity.

Our mission at Oregon State University is to make a positive difference in the lives of the people of Oregon. In assessing potential collaborations, our first question should be: What do the people of Oregon want us to do? What benefits them the most? To my mind, it does not matter if we are the lead dog or the last dog in any particular partnership as long as we are helping to make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve.

Of course, we still want to win the Civil War. But we cannot let competitive zeal distract us from our larger role as an educational institution - or from the needs of the people of Oregon.

Provost Randhawa and I have begun meeting with the presidents and provosts of the other public universities in Oregon to discuss the joint programs we have in place and whether they are working well or not. We are also discussing possible future collaborations. We will revisit those possibilities from time to time to make sure that we are not overlooking opportunities for effective cooperation.

I know that the challenges we face with respect to resources are substantial. I have also learned that this campus is special with regard to the degree that faculty collaborate across departments and colleges. If I had to choose between being at a university with substantial resources where collaboration was uncommon, or a university like Oregon State, where collaboration is the norm and resource scarcity the biggest challenge, I would every time choose to be at the latter. It is easier to enhance resources than it is to change the culture. I think we have the culture for success here. I think we have learned to be productive and resilient during tough times. I think a lot of people admire our spirit and our character. We will get the resources.

I sense among our business partners, alumni, supporters of the university, and legislative leaders a growing consensus that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Whether it is support for higher education, the regulation of natural resources and businesses in Oregon, or the intractability and lack of civility in the legislature, the impetus for change is real. We must play our part in helping everyone in Oregon find better ways of working for our common benefit.

Beth and I have traveled to almost every region of the state. Invariably, we found great affection for this University and a deep appreciation for its contributions to the lives of the citizens of Oregon. This university has much to be proud of, and it can claim great public support for its educational and outreach missions. We must build upon this foundation in the years ahead. We have many friends ready and willing to work with us to realize our mission of service to all of Oregon.

The times are not the best. The resources we have to work with are less than we could use effectively. We could do much more for Oregon if we had more resources. The financial prospects we face for the immediate future are not as certain and positive as we would have them. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine a finer group of colleagues with whom I could work to realize the aspirations and opportunities contained in our strategic plan. The challenge is daunting and real - it is also one I would not miss.