Ohio State needs to place a greater focus on teaching, while continuing its goal of research eminence, President Michael Drake said in his first address to University Senate on Thursday.
The university is a “modern land-grant institution that’s also a doorway to the world,” he said. “We teach for Ohio, but we do research for the world.”
As examples of OSU’s worldwide presence, Drake noted the university’s Global Gateway offices around the world, such as the one in São Paolo that opened Sept. 13.
Drake strayed from announcing anything bold for OSU’s future and he avoided taking up any controversial stances.
Instead, the president used the forum to highlight the university’s accomplishments, and laid out goals for the future to make the university competitive in a difficult higher education climate.
Drake gave an update on the status of the university’s Discovery Themes, a $400 million initiative that includes expanding research and bringing in 500 faculty over 10 years. Thirty-nine positions in more than 20 departments have been approved so far, Drake said.
The new president also highlighted the accomplishments of the expanding Wexner Medical Center, which now comprises roughly half of the university’s more than $5 billion budget.
The medical center was recently ranked third in the country by the University HealthSystem Consortium, behind the New York University Langone Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, Minn.
The latter hospital can “hear our footsteps as we come up behind them,” Drake said, hinting at hopes to pass up the Mayo Clinic in future years.
Drake also took time to praise the university’s staff, calling them “the stewards of the campus.” Staff acknowledgement became a vogue topic last year, after some raised concerns about the lack of representation of staff on the Presidential Search Committee and in University Senate.
For the president finishing up his fourth month at the university, it was one of his first high-profile live appearances, which took place in the Ohio Union U.S. Bank Conference Theatre. The venue, which seats 293, was set up to accommodate overflow seating outside and a live stream of the event to boot.
Videographers, reporters and public relations representatives filed in along with members of the university community to hear the first major speech from a president who’s faced his fair share of criticism in his brief tenure. It was a big change from the Interim President Joseph Alutto’s address last year, where the audience was comprised primarily of University Senate members.
Drake did, on occasion, mention concerns for American universities as a whole. Citing “funding constraints and rising costs,” Drake expressed concern that “the American Dream is leaving America,” especially as the U.S. is falling behind other countries in terms of number of college graduates.
With teleprompters in front of him and an ASL intrepreter by his side, Drake said the university is making progress to counter that trend, citing the work of university groups like Bell National Resource Center on the African-American Male and the Latino & Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research.
Despite state funding for higher education dropping 18 percent in the last five years, Drake also praised Gov. John Kasich for his pledge to address the cost of higher education if he wins Tuesday’s election.
Drake made no direct or passive remarks on the fallout from former marching band director Jonathan Waters’ firing. Waters was fired July 24 after a two-month OSU investigation into the band found a culture conducive to sexual harassment. It was determined Waters was aware or reasonably should have been aware of that culture and did not do enough to change it. The topic, which now has made Drake a defendant in a lawsuit by Waters, has been alluded to in each of his previous remarks to University Senate bodies. When he spoke at both previous Faculty Council and Senate meetings, Drake talked at length about need for the university to maintain its integrity.
He also talked about building “character excellence” in OSU students.
“One of the things that’s important to me is how we go about doing our business — our own personal values and how we exemplify those with our staff and our students and the examples we set for them,” Drake said at the Sept. 18 Faculty Council meeting, adding the need to teach “what it means to move forward in life in a way that is consistent, positive and constructive.
“We can never play a perfect round of golf, but we can all try to play a perfectly honest round of golf,” he said. “And it’s amazing how hard that is to do.”