2019 State of the University Address

Remarks of BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers

State of the University
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

“What If…”

Thank you, Trustee Schneider. And to the Board of Trustees and directors of the BGSU Foundation, including Chair Mike Kuhlin, who is here, we are very grateful for your leadership and commitment to Bowling Green State University. Also here today is my wife, Sandy, and my son Isaac. People often say that college presidencies are family commitments. And their engagement and support has been critical. The mayor of Bowling Green could not make it today. He sends his regrets. Maybe it was the construction from City Hall to campus. That being said, we greatly appreciate our partnership and relationship with the city of Bowling Green.

I want to share a story. And it begins more than 8,200 miles from here, in Hyderabad, India, in 1983.

A young man, looking to advance his education, was interested in pursuing a master's degree in a field that would soon shape our daily lives.

Little did he know upon his application that nearly 15 years prior, a group of innovative faculty gathered on this campus to take a chance.

They dared to conceptualize a new academic discipline. They believed in the new technology of the era, and that, in fact, it would transcend the very way we learn, communicate and connect. At the time, it was a controversial decision. No other university in Ohio, and very few in the United States, was pursuing this. There was uncertainty. And it was tough to get others to believe that this was even a discipline worth studying.

Now, 50 years later, we call this discipline computer science. And the young man from India went on to attend BGSU, and would leverage his degree to advance the industry further than ever thought possible. His name is Shantanu Narayen, and he is currently the chairman and CEO of Adobe Systems.

I share this story because I believe that, at its core, it reflects not only who we are as a learning community, but who we have always been – rooted in innovation, rooted in a belief in creating public good, always looking forward.

Time and again, we have reaffirmed that spirit:

Understanding the global society in which we live, BGSU was the second American university to establish a study abroad program in China, one that to this day thrives with our partners at Xi’an International Studies University.

And academically, our history tells a story of innovation:

We were the first institution in the Midwest to launch an executive MBA program.

We were the first institution to create a Master of Organization Development in the nation.

We were the first university in Ohio to develop an inclusive early childhood program.

BGSU has one of the oldest environmental science programs in the United States.

We are the only university to have bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in data science.

And we were the first public university in the state to launch a support program for students with learning differences, led by our University Libraries.

We have seen the power of innovation take our alumni across the Oscars stage, across the finish line of the 1972 Olympics winning the gold, to the East Room of the White House accepting the National Medal of Science, to receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant.

And from the onset, we have never lost sight of our founding promise of education, continuously refining and enhancing our pedagogy to prepare teachers who have gone on to shape classrooms in Inglewood, California, to remote areas in South Africa, to almost every school district in the state of Ohio.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Today, we are a national leader in partnerships. I am not aware of any other university that has the breadth and depth of public and private partnerships that support an educational mission as we do. Through the leadership of Dr. Sue Houston, vice president for partnerships, we have acted in the best interests of our students to reach beyond our campuses, knowing we are better together.

That commitment is seen in our strategic alliance with Mercy Health and Mercy College of Ohio to educate nurses and other health professionals to meet a critical workforce need. Though this innovative approach has taken a different shape since we first began conversations, we found a better path forward. And I would like to thank Dean Jim Ciesla for his leadership.

We’ve partnered with Cedar Fair Entertainment to develop a one-of-a-kind program in resort and attraction management. I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Swathi Ravichandran, faculty director, who will lead this program at BGSU Firelands.

Our existing partnerships with North Star Aviation, the Ohio Attorney General and Wood County Hospital show we are collaborating externally. We put students in the sky every single day at the Wood County Airport, a leading state agency turns to BGSU for its forensic expertise and services, and the Falcon Health Center provides exceptional care for our students and community.

As emphasized in our strategic plan, we are linking our research to the public good. In the last fiscal year alone, we have increased our externally funded award dollars to more than $14.9 million. And as we start off the fall semester, Dr. Jonathan Bostic, associate professor of mathematics education in the School of Teaching and Learning, earned a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to explore testing standards and assessment.

As you can see, our faculty remain at the heart of our academic mission.

Today, we are pleased to announce three areas, photochemical sciences, environmental health and water quality, and social demography, as key research pillars. We will invest in these areas to build our national and international reputation and to serve the public interest by addressing issues of significance. Provost Joe Whitehead and Dr. Mike Ogawa, vice president for research and economic engagement, will ensure these research priorities continue to reflect our mission to create public good.

Faculty across our campuses recognize they must go beyond teaching to create and share new knowledge. Look no further than the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health and the Center for Family and Demographic Research.

Today, we are announcing an additional $875,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support our water quality research. And because of the Ryan family, we have secured our second research vessel, which received a fitting name – R.V. Ziggy.

I would like to recognize Dr. Tim Davis, the Patrick L. and Debra Scheetz-Ryan Endowed Professor, of the Department of Biological Sciences, for his leadership. He, along with our faculty and students, is researching and solving problems affecting our own backyard, especially in the Sandusky Bay, where we are the only university in that region of Lake Erie that has boots on the ground. We are not just standing ready, but acting and doing.

Regardless of the type of research and creative activities, our faculty demonstrate our relevance to the public and support the educational, social, economic and cultural vitality of our communities.

We are so excited to welcome the Class of 2023 to our learning community. With our 5 percent increase in numbers from last year, we overcame a national and regional trend of declining enrollment in higher education.

These students are also the most academically prepared in our university's history, with a cumulative GPA of 3.5. In this class, we saw a 14 percent increase in our top scholars, including a 19 percent increase in the Honors College, and as of the 15th day count, our enrollment is at its best in nearly a decade.

I would like to thank Cecilia Castellano, vice president for enrollment management, and her team for their outstanding recruitment work this year.

The University and the faculty association signed its third contract. I would like to thank Dr. David Jackson, BGSU-FA president, and Dr. Bill Balzer, vice president for faculty affairs and strategic initiatives, for their leadership.

I am excited to share with you that just last week, the Wall Street Journal ranked Bowling Green State University third in the nation among public universities for our quality of teaching. And when our students were asked if they would choose BGSU again for their education, they overwhelmingly said yes, scoring best in the nation among our peers in the top tier.

This ranking is a great reminder that while it is tough to compete with the resources of the Big Ten in the athletic world, we are topping them in the quality of teaching. And that is why we are here.

Women’s soccer are MAC champions and they competed in the NCAA tournament! Matt Fannon was named MAC Coach of the Year for the second time in as many seasons, and Erica Hubert and Maureen Kennedy took home MAC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Volleyball won back-to-back MAC Championships. Hockey gained national prominence and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years.

And we welcomed two new head coaches, for hockey, alumnus Ty Eigner, and for football, two-time alumna Amy Loeffler’s husband, Scot.

Our students completed more than 83,000 hours of community service last year alone. We partnered with Habitat for Humanity and completed our first build right here in Bowling Green. And now, we are on to the next one, serving families here in our hometown.

The Maurer Center, the new home of the College of Business, continues to take shape, completing the first phase of our campus master plan.

And this fall semester, we will begin work on our campus master plan 2.0. I want recognize Vice President Sheri Stoll for leading this initiative, which will significantly impact how we educate.

Also, let us not forget the staff who work every day to maintain and support our facilities and campuses, ensuring they are among the best in the nation. Thank you for your work.

And … you can’t forget, this past spring, we even installed a pretty significant reminder to ensure there is no doubt we know who we are.  

You see, we have accomplished so much together.

While we have had many successes, we must also own that the challenges we face in higher education are the greatest of our lifetime.

There will be a sharp decline in the number of traditional students to recruit in next the five years.

Most students increasingly turn to loans to afford a college degree.

External and peer competition continues to rise.

Some are critical of the value of higher education.

To meet the educational needs of our university, we must not be timid or wait to follow others.

The state has stepped up. Thanks to Governor Mike DeWine and Chancellor Randy Gardner, we have a 2 percent increase in funding this year and next, reaffirming their commitment to higher education. Now, we must deliver and prove our value.

About a year ago, I delivered my first address to you in this room, highlighting the path forward as we focused on our future together.

I asked for your help in implementing our strategic plan, which stemmed from the input and feedback of students, faculty, staff and community members. I recognized then that I didn’t have all the answers, and I still don’t, nor does a single person in this room. However, collectively, we do.

Now, we are in this moment in time. It’s the most transformative period in higher education, including when the Morrill Act funded land-grants or when the GI Bill sparked a major influx in veterans after World War II. The difference is that during those times came large financial support and resources. Today, we must rely on our creativity and have courage in our convictions.

And so I ask ... what if? What if ... we rise to the occasion, like we have done so many times in our past?

We must go beyond just adding new programs or partnerships. We must fundamentally change how we educate our students, striving to be more holistic. We must fundamentally change the community that we do it in. And we must remain a great value.

Sure, at times, some initiatives will fail. Not everything that we try will work, and that is okay, because we will learn from our mistakes and be better for it.

Our strategic plan is five years of work. And while we have six overarching objectives, and 15 priority initiatives, it is imperative that we focus on three main areas. And it is those that I wish to speak to today.

While we must continue to meet the needs of post-traditional students by supporting BGSU Firelands programs, online programs and professional graduate programs, I believe it is incumbent upon us to redefine student success, leveraging our strength as a full-time, residential campus.

When you look across the nation, I bet the vast majority of colleges and universities have similar mission and vision statements, including BGSU. Ensuring lifelong learning. Promoting engaged global citizenship. A pursuit of discovery. And the list goes on.

And while all college students, across this nation, have the opportunity to experience these outcomes, what if, here at BGSU, we were honest with ourselves?

We need to stop this silly argument about career versus education. Honestly, it’s both. Our focus must be to prepare each student to have the ability to build 21st century success skills, content knowledge and apply it to real and messy issues – that is where real learning occurs.

So … what if we actually designed, delivered, engaged and supported such a learning experience for each student?

What if we intentionally prepared each of our students to lead meaningful and productive lives? Ones where they are prepared to be successful, professionally and personally.

What if we truly redefined our educational model for this century and made it more than just a degree? What would that look like?

I believe it would begin with each of our courses, having clarity around our expectations for teaching and learning, and how each of our classes supported the overall education of our students.

What if our general education requirements and the requirements of our majors were holistically and intentionally designed? Instead of being, at times, a compilation of course requirements that appear to most students simply as a “checklist.”

We know that significant learning occurs when students work through complex and messy questions. So … what if we actually required each student to complete a signature project with a team of their colleagues from various disciplines that requires them to learn from big, relevant and complex issues?

We are proud to be a leader in our high-impact practices, ranging from learning communities, to undergraduate research to study abroad. We know when students are engaged in them, they do better. But, what if we position these programs as the obvious? It’s more than just availability, it is promoting access and driving an understanding of the value of these programs to each student.

I am pleased that the task force led by Dean Ray Craig examined some of these issues. In their report, they concluded that, “In an era in which higher education is often dismissed as insular to the challenges and lived realities of many, this type of work provides opportunities for the BGSU community to be engaged in the means of upper-level experiences that transcend classroom walls and campus boundaries.” What if?

While our faculty are at the core of the academic experience, there is another group of our colleagues that is just as important to the success of our students.

We have academic advisors, career counselors, staff in our Division of Students Affairs, advisors in the Office of Financial Aid, advisors in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, counselors in the Counseling Center, coaches in our Learning Commons and staff in our various departmental offices.

What if we began to intentionally organize all of these support programs with a framework that can serve students in their college experience and beyond?

We will look to Provost Whitehead and Dr. Tom Gibson, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, to integrate this approach, leaning on the historic strength of student affairs at BGSU.

In short, we must empower our students to design their lives.

We have taken a first step in this direction, thanks to Dr. John Fisher’s leadership of the Task Force on Career and Academic Advising. For our students to achieve better outcomes, the group recommended that we integrate career and academic advising, merging offices and functions.

I have asked Provost Whitehead to begin working on a centralized model to ensure the integrity of our approach is represented throughout our university and is available to each student. It requires us to invest in mentors and guides, not just the traditional academic advisors.

This will also allow our faculty to focus on their teaching, learning, research and creative activities, providing mentoring for our students inside the classroom.

This comprehensive change will take time. And it comes with risks, but that is part of trying something new, like creating a computer science program.

I have heard some say at BGSU, as well as at other universities, that they are tired and fatigued. Too many changes. Too much work. Too much uncertainty.

Well, I ask what if each of us became part of creating something new and more powerful than the educational model used in the 20th century?

If you are up for the challenge, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work hard, I ask you to join us, eyes wide open, ready to tackle the bold.

If you are skeptical or unsure, I ask that you use your energy to better the idea.

Change is here for higher education.

We must redefine student success for this century.

What if we truly enhance our culture to support diversity, so not all, but each student, faculty and staff member felt like they belonged here?

What if we didn’t just focus on recruiting diverse faculty and staff, but worked to retain and support them?

We started to answer those questions last spring with the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. To date, we have begun implementing those recommendations to build a just learning community.

It comes down to this: we must focus on the objective to empower and support each person in our learning community to achieve excellence. I believe that commitment must be reflected in our recruitment strategies, research and outreach agendas to the community and beyond.

And there is a difference. To me, serving all students is just passively offering education and support where anyone can step up to access it. But, what if we focused on each individual student, and we were intentional about our holistic approach to those who historically have not been afforded the same opportunities? Diversity is about belonging.

Nationally, there is stark divide on the outlook of student success rates between our students of color and white students. This is not something unique to BGSU. We must no longer accept different outcomes between these two populations.

Recruiting a more diverse student body should remain at the forefront of our enrollment strategies, because we know the vibrancy of our learning community depends on it. And we should strive to be reflective of the diverse world we live in.

Last academic year, our learning community faced a difficult challenge when understanding our past. And I want to take a moment to address it.

It is just outside this ballroom where we began to install the Gish display, which was moved from Hanna Hall. Starting with the Black Student Union and other constituencies, we began to understand what this display represented to our learning community.

And here is what I know. Going into this, we understood there would be differing opinions, and not everyone would agree on the final decision. But I am proud of how our learning community came together.

We launched a task force, comprised of students, faculty and staff. They studied the issue. They engaged in a structured process and thoughtful dialogue, often looking externally to inform their recommendations. We learned from each other. We listened. We embraced and didn’t shy away. And if we cannot do that here, at a public university, a place of learning to pursue knowledge, then where can this space live?

There have been some who have expressed concern that we are erasing history or changing history, but I actually believe we illuminated history. And today, we are moving forward.

In June, I asked Jennifer McCary to serve in an expanded role as chief diversity and belonging officer, a Cabinet position reporting directly to me. Our university priority is to create a comprehensive, outcomes-oriented strategic diversity plan.

Jennifer brings deep expertise in these areas, and she will lead a holistic approach to accomplishing this initiative so we can foster a learning community that we are proud of – one that values what makes us different, one that honors what makes us similar and one that we wish for all of society.

Since then, we have launched the new Division of Diversity and Belonging. These critical responsibilities and functions no longer live in a single college or administrative area, but we recognize them as university-wide, bringing voice to substantial work reaching every corner of our campuses.

This is the first step in building a more robust infrastructure that demonstrates our commitment to diversity and belonging. Students who come here to learn want to live in a society that is civil, inclusive and vital. This can only be accomplished if we don’t merely include and welcome everyone, but ensure they are supported and find a home where they belong.

Finally, no matter what we do, we must remain a great value. That will push us to think creatively, undaunted by the pressures we face. It’s on us to ensure higher education is a public good.

What if we began to think about our organizational structure from the student and public perspectives rather than its historical origins?

What if we started to be honest with ourselves, and truly assessed staffing models and budgets, starting in front of a white board with a clean slate to think big?

What if we thought of our value in its simplest of forms?

Are we confident that each one of us assigning required textbooks is sensitive to costs? Did we explore alternative curriculums, leveraging common resources?

Rather than always adding a course to meet a requirement from an accrediting body, what if we curated a streamlined curriculum, preserving quality, reducing costs and providing an education not just for today, but for tomorrow?

We should move to a standard 120 credit hours to earn a BGSU degree, being mindful of student debt and our responsibility to our students.

Under the leadership of Provost Whitehead and Vice President Stoll, we are implementing Academic Performance Solutions and Academic Benchmark Consortium, so we can better use data to inform decisions.

We take these steps so we can redirect resources to support our efforts to redefine student success and to enhance our culture of belonging.

We are in the midst of our most aggressive comprehensive campaign in our University’s history. Changing Lives for the World is our promise to ensure a brighter future for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and stakeholders.

To date, we have raised more than $173 million of our $200 million goal. I want to recognize Pam Conlin, vice president for University advancement, for her leadership.

This campaign supports four key priorities: professorships, facilities, programming and scholarships.

Scholarships demonstrate our commitment to affordability and access. And scholarships close the gap so students depend less on loans.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share that I am thinking about Kathleen Nicosia Hawk today. As a student, she loved her time in Alpha Chi Omega, and after graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1969, she went on to find a career filled with purpose and passion.

On September 11, 2001, she started her work just like any other day. As a flight attendant, she boarded American Airlines Flight 11 at Logan International Airport in Boston. Sadly, we lost Kathy when her aircraft was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Because of the generosity of her friends, family and donors, Kathy lives on through more than just a memory, but something we see every single day.

With us today is Anna Jones, the 2019 Kathleen Nicosia Hawk Leadership Scholarship recipient. Anna is a senior from Solon, Ohio. She is majoring in adolescence to young adult education with a mathematics specialization, and she is studying to be a teacher to prepare the next generation in the STEM fields. Anna happens to also be a member of Alpha Chi Omega, where she served as president in 2018.

She is here today because of Kathy. And it is students like Anna who will make a difference. Anna, we are so proud of you and cannot wait to see what you accomplish next.

Changing Lives for the World represents so many unique stories. And I am reminded of a special one from this past spring.

I believe this momentous occasion illustrates what we do at Bowling Green State University, but it started years ago.

On June 4, 1954, a young woman walked across the commencement stage on University Hall Lawn, earning an education degree. She had a great student experience and aspired to be a teacher.

A year later, on June 5, 1955, a young man walked across the same commencement stage with the same hopes of teaching in the classroom. He had met his future Falcon Flame at a fraternity-sorority mixer and was ready for life after college. Their names were Ellen Bowen and Bob Thompson.

Anyone who knows Bowling Green State University knows the impact of Bob and Ellen. The hub of our student life, this building, the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, bears their name.

Bob and Ellen have recently made a significant transformational gift by expanding their financial commitment to support students from working families with lower income who may not be able to afford higher education. And now we’ve been able to substantially increase the students supported by their scholarships to nearly 500, with many thousands more to come in the next years.

In May, we named the historic heart of campus the Bowen-Thompson Quadrangle in honor of Bowling Green State University’s most generous philanthropists. Not only is it our most iconic space on campus with the backdrop of University Hall, it is the space where it all began at commencement in the 1950s.

The Thompsons have done more than their part for our university. Now, we must do ours so each student can control their destiny.

We have come so far since our founding in 1910. The state of our university is strong, strong indeed.

The actions we take today will ensure our best days are ahead. It is on us to redefine success for our students, enhance our culture to support diversity and belonging, and it is on us to remain a great value.

I ask that all of us, especially our faculty and staff, come together this year to take action, to collaborate and to innovate, because that is what each of our students deserve, that is what the public deserves and that is what it means to create public good.

If we do this, the foundation we lay will ensure Bowling Green State University will thrive, ready to meet and overcome any challenge. We must own the legacy to which we belong. The next chapter is ours to write. And we get to answer what if, because that is what a 21st century public university does.