Edward J. Ray, President
Oregon State University

State of the University Address

Friday, January 30, 2015
Oregon Convention Center

Today’s update on the state of the university will highlight the incredible changes occurring at Oregon State – achievements that are providing world-class teaching, research and service to advance  environmental progress, health and economic prosperity for all Oregonians – as well as our nation and the world.

Oregon State University is Oregon’s statewide university.

OSU was created in 1868 to serve the needs of Oregon by bringing higher education and economic opportunity to the great people of this state.

“Service to others” is our mission.

And economic development for Oregon is in our DNA. 

147 years later … we are intently focused on improving how we fulfill our mission as Oregon’s land grant university.

Thanks to the efforts and support of…

-- Oregon State faculty, staff, students and

    administrators;

-- Alumni and donors;

-- Industry and community partners;

-- University friends;

-- Governor John Kitzhaber and Oregon legislators;

-- And higher education supporters and colleagues.

OSU has become an internationally recognized public research university that is providing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

As you may know, I completed my 11th year as president of Oregon State University last summer.

2014 was a bittersweet year for me personally.

In January, my family and I were able to join with many of you and celebrate the dedication of the Beth Ray Center for Academic Support – a center that has one mission: the success of all Oregon State students. A few months later, my sweet Beth lost her courageous battle with cancer, but her incredible love and support for students, lives on in this magnificent center named in her honor. And, before Beth passed away she knew that she was loved and admired by many people. What a blessing.  Those of you who reached out to her have my everlasting thanks.

2014 was also a year of landmark achievement.

Oregon State’s enrollment exceeded 30,000 students for the first time ever last fall, making OSU Oregon’s largest university.

Globally, Oregon State University was ranked among the top 1.5 percent of the world’s universities.

And last year, we completed the historic Campaign for OSU – the most ambitious, most successful and, in fact, the only university-wide capital campaign in OSU history.

The public phase of the Campaign was launched in 2007 with a goal of $625 million. We breezed past that initial goal and then revised our fund-raising aspirations to $850 million … and then $1 billion.

I am very pleased to report that The Campaign for OSU concluded on Dec. 31 … having raised $1.14 billion.  As an economist, who likes numbers, I can tell you that .14 figure makes me chuckle since it represents $140 million.

Thanks to the contributions of more than 106,000 donors, The Campaign for OSU has helped to:

  • Build or renovate 28 OSU buildings;
  • Endow 79 new faculty positions;
  •  And create more than 600 new scholarships and fellowships serving 3,200 students – many of whom, without such support, would simply not be attending Oregon State or any other university for that matter.

I can assure you that this campaign was never just about reaching a certain number.

It was about investing in top students who come to Oregon State University and succeed.

It was about greatly extending the impact of our research enterprise.

And it was about expanding our outreach activities to improve the lives of others. 

To our Foundation leaders and staff and others involved in the campaign, I say: “Job well done and congratulations.”

To ALL of our many donors: “Thank you. You are difference-makers.”

Today, I will talk with you about three things:

  • Excellence.
  • Innovation.
  • And leadership.

These three qualities are what define Oregon State University’s mission here in Portland … throughout our state and nation … and the world.

And these qualities are fundamental to OSU’s commitment to shape the success of our state and society’s ability to address the most significant problems facing our future.

Issues such as:

  • The health of our oceans
  • Climate change
  • Safe and sufficient supplies of water and food
  • Clean energy
  • Sustainable ecosystems
  • Health and wellness
  • And the heartbreaking reality that today … fewer and fewer people have a chance of realizing a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

Let me talk briefly about excellence.

As you visit Oregon State University in the future, you will witness a remarkable transformation that has occurred over the past decade.

You will see a dedication to the success of all of our students.

And you will witness our commitment to excellence in everything we do. Being good is no longer good enough.

We are not unclear about what we mean when we talk about excellence. Excellence is not an abstract principle. The more exceptional we are in all that we do, the greater impact we can have on those we serve and in all that we do.

You can see Oregon State’s excellence in the quality of students who attend the university and in their many diverse achievements.

This fall, 44 percent of the freshmen entering OSU had high school GPAs of 3.75 or greater.

More of the Portland region’s high school valedictorians and most accomplished students chose OSU as their destination of choice over any other college or university.

We are pleased to have many accomplished OSU students here today.

And also, please join me in recognizing a number of the Portland region’s top high school students who are with us today.

Thank you for joining us.

I look forward to you and your families becoming part of Beaver Nation.

Excellence also is found in Oregon State’s growing graduate school programs where students from across the nation and world excel in environmental and molecular sciences, fisheries and wildlife, forestry, public health, robotics, writing, ocean ecology, nuclear energy, business entrepreneurship and food production – to name a few.

At Oregon State University, you see excellence in our research, where private industry, the state and federal agencies increasingly invest in problem-solving by calling on OSU. For example, this past year Oregon State garnered $285 million in total grants and contracts for research. Of that total, a record $37 million came from industry – a 50 percent increase from just 2010.

This summer, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities honored OSU Open Campus as one of the top four programs in the nation for bringing customized education and problem-solving to struggling urban and rural communities. And just this month, U.S. News and World Reports ranked Oregon State’s online distance education E-Campus program as the fifth best undergraduate program in the nation.

Why does such excellence and service matter?

It’s about our students success. And their impact on the future.

Consider the story of Kimberly Janci. Many years ago, Kimberly stopped taking college classes to raise her two children and work in the Portland area. For Kimberly, this was much like what happened to her father – who preached the importance of education – but after serving in World War II left college to raise his family and never received his degree. Kimberly was determined to break this cycle.

But once she raised her children, she found her options to advance very limited.

So she returned to college taking classes at Portland Community College and online at Oregon State.

I am happy to say that Kimberly graduated from OSU last June with a degree in environmental sciences with a focus on ecological restoration and climate change. She hopes to advance in her field and someday hold a national or global position.

Oregon State University is also defined by its leadership.

Let me offer a handful of examples:

  • Professor Rebecca Vega-Thurber in the department of microbiology is doing research on bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms in marine ecosystems. Her studies of how pollution and disease have led to the decline of tropical reefs have earned her the nickname, the Coral Doctor. 
  • Scott Ashford, dean of Oregon State’s College of Engineering, is a collaborator with the National Science Foundation and is leading efforts to implement the Oregon Resilience Plan, which will help protect lives and property from a massive earthquake in Oregon’s future. His work in resiliency is known worldwide from Chile to Japan.
  • And Patrick Iversen, a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. When the scourge of Ebola struck in Africa and showed up in the U.S. last fall, Iversen was part of an effort to develop an anti-viral drug to slow the progress of Ebola so an infected person’s body could eliminate the virus.

I see examples of Oregon State’s leadership in this room today. And throughout the Portland region.

Over the years, OSU engineering graduates working at firms such as Hoffman Construction, Andersen Construction, Northwest Natural, Blount International, CH2M Hill, Howard S. Wright and Kiewit Construction helped to build this city. Including Portland’s tallest high-rise buildings and – most recently -- the region’s landmark Tilikum Crossing: Bridge of the People. This iconic Willamette River bridge will open in September and carry light rail cars on the new MAX “Orange Line” … an appropriate Beaver Nation connection, I’d say.

Oregon State University has helped not only build, but enrich Portland with improved community health and wellness through our newly accredited College of Public Health and Human Sciences; through our Colleges of Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine, whose partnership with the Oregon Humane Society in Portland has  become a national model; our College of Business and its apparel design and MBA programs; and the work of our colleges of Forestry and Agricultural Sciences to improve natural urban environments, water resources and food security.

We don’t do this work alone … but with partners in private industry, such as Intel, Nike, IBM and Boeing; non-profit organizations; and education colleagues, such as OHSU and Portland State University in the Collaborative Life Sciences Building in Portland’s South Waterfront, where our Pharmacy students and faculty contribute to learning and research.

Oregon State’s impact reaches throughout the state. This past fall, we asked the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest to update its 2011 evaluation of OSU’s statewide and global economic contributions.

Here’s what we learned:

The university’s economic impact reaches throughout every county in Oregon, around the nation and the world and now totals $2.371 billion – an increase of more than 15 percent from three years ago.

Statewide, Oregon State’s activities were responsible for creating 31,660 jobs in 2014 and the university’s payroll, capital construction, purchase of goods and services, and student spending directly contributed just under $1.3 billion to Oregon’s economy.

The contribution of Oregon State University to the Portland economy is profound. Last year alone, the university added $400 million to the Metro economy and was responsible for 2,350 jobs.

OSU’s financial contributions beyond our main campus in Corvallis bring $900 million to the rest of the Oregon economy and more than 6,550 jobs.

While these numbers are impressive, you can also see evidence of Oregon State’s leadership in the Oregon Business Plan – a strategy put together by statewide business and community leaders that Gov. John Kitzhaber has said represents his economic road map for the next four years.

You will find that OSU is at the foundation of the Oregon Business Plan’s commitment to:

  • Connect education with careers;
  • Put our natural resources to work;
  • Modernize our state’s infrastructure;
  • And as the Governor has additionally asked: to battle poverty and bring a greater share of opportunity and prosperity to all Oregonians.

Here are three examples of how Oregon State is a leader in this effort.

The first goal of the University’s own strategic plan emphasizes that OSU will provide a transformative educational experience for all learners.

We will achieve this outcome in classrooms in Corvallis, Bend and Newport and in non-traditional settings as we provide learners of all ages with excellent teaching, research opportunities and real-world experiential learning. Doing so will allow our students to be ready for success in life and career.

Meanwhile, through the Oregon State Advantage – our university-wide focus on the economy – we work daily with industry partners to improve their bottom-line performance by providing access to world-class research, faculty and top students.

For example, in just the past 18 months, university and community partners have launched 12 new companies through the OSU Advantage Accelerator, which takes the ideas of faculty, students and others and brings them to market.

This coming fall in Central Oregon – the last region of the state without its own four-year university -- we will welcome freshmen to OSU-Cascades as we expand our Bend campus to a four-year branch university.

And in Newport and Corvallis, we continue work on our marine studies initiative. This is an exciting effort to address the most daunting challenges and important marine opportunities facing the world, including climate change, ocean acidification, coastal safety in the event of a tsunami, and food supply. And, as we all know, our oceans are the life blood of the world.

We are off to an impressive start: an anonymous donor has pledged $20 million to help build a world-class research and academic building at Newport where we will serve up to 500 students by 2025. The Governor has asked the Oregon Legislature to support this effort with another $25 million in bonding.

We are also leading Oregon’s recovery through innovation.

By 2017, Oregon State will open a $60 million forest science complex in Corvallis to study and help implement the use of advanced wood products in the construction of high-rise buildings in Portland and around the world.

Quite simply, this very exciting initiative will help restore high-paying jobs to rural Oregon; will increase the value of Oregon’s natural resources across the nation; will showcase how engineered wood products can improve the sustainability of urban cities; and will connect the quality of Oregon wood products and pioneering know-how to fast-growing nations in Asia – nations whose communities represent large and growing markets.

The Governor has said the wood products initiative and science complex are among his top priorities. He has proposed $30 million in state bonding to match another $30 million that OSU will gather in private fund-raising.  Going forward, this national center for advanced wood products, manufacturing and design hopes to collaborate with the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Oregon State also is part of an effort to literally change the face – and capabilities – of higher education in America.

OSU and 10 other major public research universities have formed the University Innovation Alliance to significantly raise admission numbers, as well as retention and graduation rates for low-income students, students of color and first-generation students, while managing costs and raising the quality of our academic programs.

Other Alliance members include Arizona State University, Michigan State University, the University of Texas at Austin, University of Kansas, Purdue University and Ohio State University among others.

By 2018, the nation is expected to be three million college graduates short of the number required to fill expected employment needs.

That is just one reason that I am so committed to the University Innovation Alliance.

Also, it is time to address the inequality present in U.S. higher education. Today, a student from a family with an annual household income of $90,000 or more has a one in two chance of graduating from college. Yet, a student from a family with a $30,000 household income or less has only a one in 17 chance to earn a college degree.

We are in the process of creating a country of “haves” and “have nots,” which tears at the fabric of our society and undermines our democracy.

This alliance is near and dear to my heart. As a first-generation college graduate myself, I know firsthand how important a college education is to one’s future as well as the future of our society.

Some of the nation’s most prominent foundations have committed millions to match the investments of University Innovation Alliance partners.

As a result, we are doubling down.

I intend that Oregon State will be a showcase of access to higher education and quality programs that significantly improve retention and graduation rates. There is much to learn from colleagues at other universities, but I am happy to say that we are already underway, including working with high school and community college partners in the mid-Willamette Valley to increase admission rates and student success.

My intent is to share all that we learn throughout the higher education community.

In closing, let me share a few thoughts about the future.

Higher education must be different in the 21st Century than it was even a decade ago.

It will no longer be about simply building more structures, but about bringing students the best, highest quality and most relevant educational opportunities with technology and information to help them learn even more effectively.

The future simply cannot be about big.  Instead it must be about being better, more creative and more nimble. We need to provide higher education more efficiently and less expensively to vastly greater numbers of students.

That’s what this nation needs.

But we cannot do this alone.

We need your support and engagement.

We need the support and engagement of the business community, the Governor and the Oregon Legislature.

Yes, the state of Oregon needs to provide more funding for higher education and help reduce the growing financial burden felt by students and their families. But in the future, greater success will be determined not only by money, but by the state’s providing Oregon’s universities more flexibility and appropriate regulatory relief.

As Oregon State University increases its standing among the best internationally recognized public research universities, we always will remain Oregon’s statewide university – where Oregonians make up 74 percent of our undergraduate class at our Corvallis campus this year.  Oregon State will continue to be a university where excellence, leadership and innovation are harnessed in the service of others.

During the past 147 years, Oregon State University has helped to build and improve this city and this state. We will continue to do so and be even more effective in the future.

In closing let me assure you:

From our classrooms and research facilities, to our athletic playing fields and courts, to our leadership in tackling the planet’s most pressing problems, I promise you that we will bring our “A” game.

We are not done.

The best is yet to come.