President Drake delivers his State of the University address at the Ohio Union on Jan. 24. Credit: Sam Raudins | Social Media Editor

Ohio State University President Michael Drake delivered the annual State of the University Address Thursday, in which he provided updates on how the university has been balancing access, affordability and excellence through different initiatives.

Drake also addressed the more controversial topics of the year, including the progress of the Suicide and Mental Health Implementation Team and the investigation into Dr. Richard Strauss.

Drake said that the implementation team was actually at work on the other side of the country as he spoke.

“One interesting note is that the implementation team has connected with our Digital Flagship initiative to lead the development of a student-focused mental health app with the assistance of Apple,” Drake said. “In fact, our team is in Cupertino, California, today working with Apple on developing that app.

The investigation into Strauss — who is accused of sexually abusing at least 150 students during his time at Ohio State and in an off-campus clinic — is nearing an end, according to Drake, and the university will address its findings in the near future.

At a Board of Trustees meeting in November investigators said the fact-finding portion of the process would be done by the end of 2018.

“As a reminder, the purpose of the independent investigation is first, to uncover what happened, and, second, to determine what the university and its leaders at the time knew. We remain steadfastly committed to uncovering the truth,” he said.

According to Drake, Ohio State aims to build a “best-in class model” Title IX program by utilizing input from students, faculty and staff.

“Educational requirements to help prevent sexual misconduct were introduced across our community, with support from the University Staff Advisory Committee, Undergraduate Student Government, Council of Graduate Students, Inter-Professional Council and University Senate,” he said.

Shawn Semmler, vice president of Undergraduate Student Government, said that he was excited to hear Drake speak on how the university works with students on issues such as mental health and Title IX.

“Overall, we were excited to that he pointed to a point of collaboration with USG and tackling some of the largest issues facing our university,” Semmler said.

In the realm of research, Ohio State’s external research funding is nearing $900 million, but the government shutdown has implications for this funding, Drake said.

“Along with our key partners, we are monitoring the situation and actively looking for ways to minimize the impacts to faculty, students and the broader community,” Drake said. “Foremost among the things we do as a public university is to produce and share knowledge that advances lives. Nothing will change that.”

Semmler said that Drake’s address showed commitment to research on campus in spite of the government shutdown.

“I appreciate his affirmation of that because I know there’s a lot of concern out there right now with how this government shutdown is dragging on and what that means for research, especially here on campus,” Semmler said.

Drake opened his speech by highlighting the university’s accomplishments to date, but also looked ahead toward future transformative projects and the completion of ongoing endeavors.

“We want to expand access and affordability for more students as we increase excellence in everything we do — from the academic experience to the impacts we make through research, outreach and service,” Drake said.

Drake noted the admittance of the most high-achieving, diverse freshmen class of students in Ohio State history, as well as increasing graduation rates.

“The average ACT score was 29.3, and the number of first-year minority students increased 7.5 percent to 1,658,” he said. “The university’s first-year retention rate of 94.5 percent is our highest ever, while our four- and six-year graduation rates at 64.6 percent and 83.5 percent are trending very positively.”

To increase accessibility and affordability, Ohio State launched the Buckeye Opportunity Program last fall on the Columbus campus, and it has been expanded to regional campuses this semester. The program covers gaps in the full cost of base tuition and fees for Federal Pell Grant-eligible students in Ohio, Drake said.

“Overall, let me say this is the first year of the Buckeye Opportunity Program, and we’re uplifting 4,000 students — and their families — across the state,” Drake said.

Drake also said that the University Institute for Teaching and Learning, which provides faculty support for classroom work, created the Teaching Support Program that provides an inventory of teaching practices, online modules on teaching approaches and the opportunity to redesign courses. Drake said that more than 2,000 faculty members had taken part in the program.

Drake said the university has also had the opportunity to lead national coalitions in higher education.

Ohio State has been a part of the American Talent Initiative, “a collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies to enroll 50,000 low- and moderate-income students in top universities by 2025,” for two years, according to Drake.

“For our part, Ohio State enrolled last year 1,290 Pell students, which is a 7 percent increase over the year before,” he said.  

Drake mentioned that Ohio State is seeing increases in the number and diversity of college graduates as part of the University Innovation Alliance.

“They directly reflect our Time and Change strategic plan and our strategic pathway to transformative change, which is further distinguishing The Ohio State University by elevating the quality of life for our students, for our faculty for our staff, and for our communities,” he said.

In terms of tuition, Drake said that Ohio State will commit more than $45 million in the 2019-20 academic year for need-based student aid. The university has already established the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, a four-year tuition freeze, for all in-state students.

The Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State has partnered with Mercy Health to provide more access points to healthcare throughout the state, and the center as well as the James Cancer Center is collaborating with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to develop the region’s first proton therapy treatment facility, Drake said.

Ohio State has also reached a record-high number of donors — nearly 270,000 — and raised more than $600 million, Drake said.

In the future, the university is looking to advance the Enterprise Project, a university-wide system to modernize business practices, as well as Career Roadmap, a project to streamline compensation processes across Ohio State and the medical center.

Meanwhile, Ohio State Energy Partners will aim to make the Columbus campus 25 percent more energy efficient in the next 10 years and will put $50 million toward the creation of an energy innovation lab, Drake said.

Drake emphasized the importance of continuing Ohio State’s innovative legacy and leadership in the future.

“What Ohio State does matters — and will continue to matter to students, families, patients and communities everywhere,” he said.