Oct. 23, 2009

As we approach the mid-point of the quarter, I want to take a moment to reflect on a number of challenges and opportunities facing OSU in the coming months and through the 2009-2010 academic year. Our enrollment for the school year will be nearly 22,000, with additional enrollment at OSU-Cascades surpassing 600. Because our students and their success are among our top priorities, we have met the increased demand for access to courses through increased financial aid and by adding course sections in high-demand areas. Compared to last year, we disbursed an additional $13 million in financial aid through tuition reimbursements to help students significantly affected by the economic downturn. And thanks to your efforts we have been able to create much-needed capacity in foundational courses for first-year students, enabling them to successfully start their studies at OSU.

In the depths of the recession last school year, we engaged in formal and informal conversations to consider and address questions about how OSU can continue its upward trajectory toward our goal of being a top 10 land grant university. Given the near-term challenges presented by state budget cuts, and the potential for additional reductions early next year, we also discussed changes that will allow us to emerge from this period more focused, more strategically aligned and better prepared for the future. Ignoring the problem and doing nothing would serve OSU and its students badly and is not an option.

I addressed these matters earlier this month when I spoke to the Faculty Senate regarding the state of the university. I described an “OSU 2025” profile, a vision to provide clarity about how current efforts to achieve strategic alignment and investments and budget reductions can ensure progress toward our longer-term aspirations, even in these toughest of times. Since the Senate session, I’ve heard from some who are energized and enthusiastic about this discussion. Others have wondered whether OSU 2025 is more about quantity than quality. Some have questioned how a statement about 2025 is connected to current budget realities.

To be clear, I intended “OSU 2025” discussion to do two things: 1) to provide a clear picture of the gaps we have to continue to close to reach our top 10 land grant goal; 2) to challenge the state and others to step up and join us in this effort going forward by conveying in substantive terms the proven value and future promise of investing in OSU. Our progress is contingent on securing resources to enable growth in faculty and infrastructure to support increases in our teaching, research and service capacities.

I have a very clear understanding of our current budget situation and the difficult decisions we must make during this biennium to ensure that we sustain the current impact and future potential of this great university. I commissioned the Advisory Council on Budgets and Strategic Priorities earlier this year to recommend areas where costs can be reduced and ways in which we can position the university for future growth in signature areas outlined in our Strategic Plan. Based on the council’s recommendations and the subsequent campus-wide discussions, I made a number of decisions. I shared some of the more important strategic and policy decisions with you via e-mail in July and during my recent address at the Faculty Senate.

We are undertaking cost-reduction activities in earnest, and recognize that because of the timing of the legislative cycle and subsequent decisions from the State Board, many activities cannot be stopped in mid-stream during the first year. Consequently, our focus for cost reductions in 2009-10 will be on streamlining and consolidating administrative services and reducing course offerings in low-demand areas to meet approved course guidelines. These transitional changes will also gives us time to plan transformational changes in academic programs and units that conform with divisional structures, consistent with approved academic system guidelines. This will allow for faculty engagement in shaping the university’s future consistent with our commitment to collaboration and shared governance.

The decisions that I have approved so far create a much-needed framework to make relevant decisions during the rest of this academic year. The description of Oregon State University in 2025 that I shared with you provides a long-term context within which to assess the appropriateness of short-term actions. In the Implementation Plan released by Provost Randhawa, a clear process and timeline has been defined for implementing decisions regarding programs, departments and colleges within each division. We will ensure that we stay with the implementation milestones that we have established. A set of dashboard indicators will be posted shortly online and updated regularly to clearly demonstrate the progress we are making toward cost-reduction goals. A Strategic Alignment/Budget Reduction Review Committee will provide oversight to the budget-reduction process, including validating and adjusting reduction targets associated with specific actions.

We will continue to make as strong a case as we possibly can with state elected officials and the Board of Higher Education for increased state support for OSU programs. While we implement actions to align programs and reduce costs, I will continue to work with you in advocating for the revenue base that we need to make substantial progress toward our collective vision.

The challenges we face in the coming year are momentous. I sincerely hope that by working together we can weather the near-term hardships in a way that prepares us for a much better future.

I encourage you to provide your comments and perspective. You are welcome to e-mail me directly, or you can submit comments to LIFE@OSU, where this message is also posted. Following my senate speech, which is posted online as streaming video and text, there were a number of thoughtful questions from faculty and staff; these questions and my responses are also posted.

Ed Ray