Engaging in Change

Edward J. Ray, President
Oregon State University
Faculty Senate
October 13, 2005

I would like to thank the President of the Faculty Senate, Jeff Hale, and all of the members of the Senate for affording me this opportunity to speak with you today.

I will talk about three issues today:

  • the circumstances in which we find ourselves as a university community
  • some of the accomplishments of the last year
  • the agenda for the university during this academic year

This is my first annual address before the Faculty Senate, so it is appropriate for me to speak on these issues. I say this because I believe deeply in the importance and effectiveness of shared governance in the academy, and because the matters that we must address this year will require help from each of you and our colleagues throughout the university.

My first university address occurred less than two months after my arrival at Oregon State University. I spoke then about the challenges we face in advancing our land grant mission. I noted that OSU, like all land grant universities, was striving to connect its historical mission to the twenty-first century. I also addressed specific concerns that many of you and others shared with me during the preceding few months.

I stressed the importance of creating opportunities for the best and brightest students, regardless of their economic circumstances, to have access to an education at OSU that would prepare them as graduates to compete with anyone, anywhere in their chosen fields. I talked about preparing them to make significant contributions through service to their communities and society. I emphasized our need to add value in all of our teaching, research, service activities, and collaborative partnerships.

I concluded this first address by noting that if we wanted to fulfill our historic mission - and enjoy the full support of the people of Oregon - then we must be a positive and relevant force in the lives of Oregonians and people throughout the nation and the world. I said our strategy for success rested on effective partnerships with government, business, and every level of education. To begin to realize these goals, I argued that we needed to meet several objectives quickly: complete the strategic plan, prepare for a university-wide fundraising campaign, and manage the budget adopted by the legislature in 2003.

Working together as a University, we met each of these three objectives.

Last year I talked about the need to move from plans to action in the three primary areas essential to implementation of the strategic plan. These areas were: promoting academic excellence, enhancing the student experience both inside and outside the classroom, and growing our resource base in a way that did more than simply shift the costs of education from the state to our students.

We have made significant progress. Let me touch on a few highlights:

Provost Randhawa led a competitive, peer reviewed, process to provide seed funding for six collaborative initiatives that advance academic excellence in the five theme areas of the strategic plan.

Terryl Ross led our effort to articulate a University Diversity Action Plan with appropriate associated metrics. He has worked with individual colleges and units to develop plans that are aligned with overall university efforts. This planning process and the first report on conditions across the university will be completed this quarter.

We established both the Academic Success Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning, with Moira Dempsey and Peter Saunders in leadership roles. Mark Lusk was appointed Director of the Office of International Education and Outreach. We initiated a number of programs to increase student retention and student success. These include a peer mentoring program, transitional learning communities, and an academic enrichment program for international students. In 2004/2005, OSU sent a record 438 students abroad on study abroad and international internships.

Last year I urged us to consider eliminating plateau range charges for full time students; to consider re-basing college and support unit budgets; to make the budget process as simple and transparent as possible - including the publication of college level budget distributions - and to have an open discussion of resource fees in conjunction with proposed tuition increases.

We've done well on these tasks. Effective this quarter there are no plateau charges within the 12 to 16 credit hour range for students. We are the only university in the system to implement this change. Decisions regarding the re-basing process will be completed by the end of winter quarter, and the use of templates to lay out college budgets in simple terms will be completed this quarter. The issue of resource fees in conjunction with tuition decisions will be discussed this year by the Board of Higher Education and the University.

In addition, we now have dual enrollment agreements with 10 of 17 community colleges in Oregon, with the latest additions being Blue Mountain, Oregon Coast, Mt. Hood, Columbia Gorge, and Tillamook Bay. We expect to have dual enrollment agreements with all of the community colleges within 12 to 18 months.

The effort to grow our own resources has also been remarkably successful in the last year and the potential for the future is excellent. Here, the performance of the OSU faculty has been outstanding. As some of you may recall, we set a goal of $171 million in competitive federal grants and contracts for the first few years of implementation of the strategic plan. Clearly the OSU faculty had other ideas, because we passed that goal last year. In fact, we left it in the dust! Overall research funding for the university exceeded $200 million for the first time in university history last year, reaching a total of just under $209 million. This is a remarkable accomplishment by our faculty, one for which the university and the state can be very proud.

An important responsibility for Vice President Cassady over the next few years will be to help faculty be even more successful. To do so, he will streamline the grant seeking and grant management process at the university, improve the flow of information on funding opportunities to the faculty, increase the ability of faculty to participate in business start-ups and technology transfer, and promote key university-business partnerships. We need to do a much better job of broadcasting and celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments of our faculty and the new research magazine should help us accomplish that.

This year as we work to complete the several projects I have described, it is also essential that we pursue additional initiatives that will directly advance academic excellence, enhance the student experience and help us grow our resource base. To help guide us in these efforts, we have brought some exceptional colleagues to the University: Terryl Ross, Director of the Office of Community and Diversity, Jeff Todd, Director of the Alumni Association, Luanne Lawrence, Vice President for University Advancement, Mike Goodwin, President of the University Foundation, John Cassady, Vice President for Research, Liz Clark, federal government specialist in the Office of Government Relations. In the spring Sabah Randhawa was selected to be our Provost and Executive Vice President. This summer, Nancy Heiligman joined us as the new Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration and Becky Johnson became the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs.

These senior administrators join a number of outstanding colleagues who obviously did a lot of multitasking while the searches were going on. I am thinking about leaders like Mark McCambridge, Caroline Kerl, Jock Mills, Larry Roper, Curt Pederson, Rich Holdren, Stella Coakley, Jeff Hale and many others. Those I have named - and all of our Deans, Directors, and Chairpersons -will play a critical role in helping us to advance our agenda this year.

As you know, we also recruited a number of outstanding faculty members last year. As President, I know full well that it is you and your colleagues on the faculty and staff of the university who will determine the extent to which we succeed. Therefore, I first want to speak briefly about initiatives that we must pursue collectively this year. Then I will focus on the extraordinary talent and dedication of OSU's faculty and staff and address what must be done to retain them at Oregon State University.

Provost Randhawa will take the lead in monitoring the effective implementation of the six collaborative strategic plan initiatives that we are funding. We have committed scarce resources to these initiatives and those resources must be successfully employed. There is another major initiative the Provost must lead to preserve and advance the academic agenda, and I will return to that initiative shortly.

We must complete the University Diversity Action Plan and provide metrics that illuminate where we stand and the magnitude and type of challenges we face in creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment for all of us. Unit plans within colleges and support functions must be aligned with the university plan and contain their own metrics. The university's success in this area will derive from the effectiveness of both university-wide and local actions.

Terryl Ross is also pursuing an initiative called A World of Difference, of which many of you may already be aware. This effort is intended to help each of us accept responsibility for our collective improvement in diversity and in building a stronger sense of community on campus. We must all share in this important work. If we simply rely on an "office of…" to "fix" our diversity and community problems we will fail.

In addition, I have discussed with the Provost the need for a special task force to assess the student experience whose membership would consist of equal numbers of students and faculty, to look at every aspect of student recruitment and retention through to graduation. Larry Roper and Dan McCarthy, President of ASOSU, are co-chairing the Student Experience Research Task Force, which is expected to report its findings before the end of the academic year. Then we will establish a Commission on the Student Experience which will be charged with ensuring that we make substantial progress in the next several years in our first year retention rates and our 4 and 6 year graduation rates for undergraduate students and in the quality of the student experience for all students.

While there is work to be done we have a solid base to build on. A poll last year identified the campus of Oregon State University as one of the most friendly campuses in the country. Students are already having extraordinary success. This past summer NASA had an internship program to work on robotics in connection with the Mars landing project. They invited 200 of the best students from across the country to participate in the program and three of those students were from Oregon State. At the end of the summer NASA recognized 4 of the 200 students for extraordinary work and our three students were three of the four selected.

I know that Jeff Todd will be a great success in connecting alumni with the university. Luanne Lawrence has already made a difference in getting stories published locally and nationally about the exceptional research going on here at OSU. Mike Goodwin knows how to organize a successful fundraising campaign and he will guide us to do that here. But, the success they can achieve in telling our story and garnering financial and other forms of support for the university rests directly on the talents and accomplishments of our faculty.

As I meet with alumni and friends of the university to discuss our fundraising campaign, I always ask alumni to tell me what was special about their association with the university, the key things that we should address in the campaign. Invariably, alumni talk about the faculty and staff who took an interest in them and literally changed the world for them. They are talking about you and our colleagues across the university - and the OSU faculty who have come before us - and that is something of which to be very proud.

The clear message here, reinforced by the research productivity I mentioned earlier, is that faculty at Oregon State University are world class, competitive with the best at what they do. Faculty like Jane Lubchenco and Bruce Menge in the College of Science, who lead the multi-university PISCO project and are internationally recognized and celebrated. Kaichang Li in our College of Forestry, just developed a soy-based adhesive for the wood products industry that may literally replace formaldehyde based adhesives in a $34 billion industry. John Wager in Engineering and his team of researchers have developed transparent transistors that could revolutionize consumer products in the personal computer and home entertainment industries. Kevin Drost in Engineering, partnered with Dave Johnson at the University of Oregon to pioneer what became ONAMI and turned $1 million in state operating funds into $29 million in grants and contracts in the first year of operation. There are so many others whose accomplishments are exceptional such as Balz Frei and Tory Hagan in LPI, Joe Beckman and Jim Carrington in Science, Russell Turner in HHS, Kathy Moore and Chris Anderson in CLA, Barbara Bond in Forestry, Henry Yeh and Kelly Beniot-Bird in COAS, George Copa in Education, Mark Green in Business, George Allen in Pharmacy, Luis Bermudez in Vet Med., and Melodie Putman in Agricultural Sciences. The point here is that all of our remarkable success is directly attributable to our extraordinary faculty.

These observations - your research accomplishments, and your impact on students and the communities we serve - bring me back to the other major initiative the Provost will lead this year to advance our ability to promote academic excellence. This initiative is to address our faculty compensation needs. The faculty is the core of all that we accomplish as a university and we must protect this core.

In my message to the university community in August indicating that we will provide a merit increase package of 4% effective July 1, 2005 and another 2% merit increase effective January, 2006, I made two observations that I want to repeat here. First, I said that without students there would be no university. Our graduates are the most important contribution that we make to the future. We are committed to preparing them to compete with anyone, anywhere and to be positive agents for social good. Second, if there are no universities without students, it is equally true that there are no great universities without outstanding faculty. We cannot prepare students for lifelong accomplishments, we cannot adequately serve Oregon and her people, and we cannot hope to reach our aspirations for this wonderful university, without outstanding faculty and staff. That is why I made the commitment I did to those compensation increases even though they will create a tremendous challenge to all of us to find the necessary resources.

To remind you of the facts, when all is said and done, the university's general fund will increase about 2% in each year of the biennium. The compensation increases outlined above will require a reallocation of about 5%, or between $9 and $10 million of the current budget. Compensation increases for the second year of the biennium will increase that funding gap further. As a consequence, we will likely have to contend with average budget reallocations on the order of 8% or more across the university over the next two or three years. Clearly, business as usual will not be possible.

The Provost will work with the Deans, Directors, and Department Chairs, who will in turn work with all of our colleagues, to identify the resources to fund the compensation package. There is no magic here. We must preserve the availability of critical courses for students to complete their studies in a timely fashion but we cannot continue to try to be almost everything to almost everyone. We cannot continue to "thin the soup." Every academic program must make hard decisions about areas of instruction that must be reduced or eliminated. Enrollments at every level must be examined and low enrollment sections and courses that are not core to students' majors and timely graduation must be considered for elimination. In effect, if we are to provide faculty with adequate compensation, we must determine which program options we will no longer offer to students.

This cannot be a top down effort if it is to be done right and succeed. The leadership in every program must work with colleagues within units to make the choices that will preserve program excellence in a narrower set of academic pursuits. I know there will not be any easy choices for any of us in this process. In an environment in which we are under-funded, the only option we have that is consistent with our commitment to academic excellence, the appropriate compensation of faculty and staff, and preserving access to an affordable education for our students, is to reduce the menu of academic options available at the university.

On University Day I said that we are a University that over-achieves. We must stop asking our faculty to do more and more with less and less.

The Provost and I have already begun discussions with the University Cabinet, the Provost's Council, the leadership of the Faculty Senate and other groups. Realistically, savings this year to meet the current financial requirements will not be enough to balance the budget. Fund balances will almost certainly have to be redirected to cover a portion of compensation costs this year, as the programmatic changes I referred to above are not likely to free up needed continuing resources until the next academic year.

This is not a circumstance that any of us would wish for or care to manage. Nevertheless, if we are correct in believing that our drive to excellence depends critically on our faculty, which it does, then we must find the means to accommodate the compensation increases I have already identified and search for resources to support additional compensation increases in the next academic year.

Similarly, Vice President Mark McCambridge will work with all of the support units in the university to ensure that they contribute appropriately to the redirection of funds required to implement the proposed compensation changes. Obviously, there are a number of support services that are integrally tied to the effectiveness of the academic programs and student success. The Provost and the Vice President for Finance and Administration will have to coordinate their efforts as necessary.

Fortunately, we have a road map to guide our decisions about where to reduce our academic and support service efforts. That road map is provided by the university strategic plan along with the individual plans we have created for colleges, departments, centers and institutes, and support units that are aligned with the university strategic plan. Plans are always important for providing focus and direction to our collective actions but they are most essential in difficult times when hard choices have to be made.

Provost Randhawa and Vice President McCambridge will work closely with all of our colleagues to manage this process responsibly. It is critical that all faculty and staff participate in the decision making process and that student concerns are heard and students fully informed regarding proposed changes. Delay is not an option, however. It is critical to set a timetable for action and to meet it. My general sense is that unit level plans for cost savings must reach college and support unit offices by the end of January and that Sabah and Mark must have the plans for review by the end of February. They will distribute guidelines soon for the process to be followed to make resource reallocation decisions.

I expect those guidelines to emphasize the importance of doing all that we can to ensure that students have access to courses that they need for timely progress toward graduation. Reductions in academic program offerings must be staged to ensure that each current student can complete his/her chosen course of study. Future applicants should be told if a program of interest to them is being phased out. We should consult with colleagues within OUS about program reductions to minimize the inadvertent elimination of programs across the state. Changes should follow the processes established by the Faculty Senate.

As President, I need the help of all of you and our colleagues throughout the University. We must make choices that meet our current financial circumstances and position us for future success. I have said on many occasions, and in many settings, that I came here in part because of the courage and dedication I saw among the faculty and staff. You continued to plan for the future even when the budget process was in crisis in 2003 and you did not know who the next leader of the university would be. You have proven to have resilience equal to your skills as teachers, scholars and service providers. This task we face will not be easy but I know that we are up to meeting it. I will do all I can to help us address this challenge responsibly and effectively.

Together we will do this. In doing so, we will demonstrate that shared governance is the best mechanism for engaging in substantive change in the university, and that we have the courage and the ingenuity required to meet tough challenges, and overcome them. There is challenge and risk for us here, but also the opportunity to emerge a more focused, more strategic, and even more successful university.