Take a moment to look around … you will see nearly 750 members and friends of Beaver Nation.

We also are joined by Portland-area and Oregon community, business and educational leaders.

I greatly appreciate your interest in OSU, and I call upon each of you to join me in advancing the vital role that higher education plays in our state’s future.

Unfortunately, across the nation, many question the value of a college degree in life and career.

Meanwhile, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and legislators will be challenged severely to balance the state budget by deciding what they will invest in … and what they will not.

I call upon them to invest in the future of all Oregonians and our state by investing more in higher education, while we also invest in Oregon’s K-12 schools.

My comments today will share news about OSU and point out challenges that lie ahead.

As Oregon’s land grant and statewide university, OSU is building on its just-completed 150th anniversary by advancing a legacy of excellence in teaching, innovation and engagement.

Our faculty and students drive our success. They are critical thinkers. Determined. Collaborative. Confident. They explore new frontiers and solve today’s most pressing issues.

Yes, Oregon State is 150 years old. And while for some, 150 years may seem like a place to stop and rest, I guarantee you, we are not done. Rest is for others. Not for Oregon State or Beaver Nation.

We already are focused on the future by improving who we are today.

Three weeks ago, we launched OSU’s roadmap for the next five years – Strategic Plan 4.0 – and Vision 2030, an articulation of strengths and aspirations that OSU will build upon -- and achieve -- over the next decade.

This planning serves as our North Star in achieving Oregon State’s mission here at home and globally.  It will serve well our commitment to the ideal that higher education is a public good.

Moreover, our strategic plan affirms that the education OSU provides, as a research-intensive land grant university, is uniquely important and will be accessible to all learners.

By this plan, we will help transform society by providing research, discovery and innovation. And success for all people regardless of their race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or identity, or economic circumstances.

At Oregon State, we believe that excellence is achieved through diversity in all that we do and for all that we serve. Thanks to the leadership of our Office of Institutional Diversity, we are making great strides in becoming a more inclusive university, but we know that we have more work to do. We realize the more diverse and inclusive we are, the more excellent we will be.

We turn learners into leaders as students enroll in our Corvallis and Bend campuses; take nationally top-ranked online courses anywhere in the world; participate in hybrid classes in Portland, and participate  in community-based learning offered by the university.

Yet, we know that access to an affordable higher education is not enough. We are convinced that an education in both the sciences and the liberal arts with a focus on critical thinking and writing, understanding other cultures, and service on behalf of others, matters.

At Oregon State, we collaborate with many others:

-- The university’s board of trustees;

-- Our faculty, employees and students;

-- Alumni, donors and OSU Foundation and Alumni Association staff;

-- Industry, education and community partners; and

-- Our governor, legislators and Congressional delegation.

OSU continues to realize outstanding achievements:

  • In June, we graduated our largest class ever: 7,128 students. Nearly a five percent increase.
  • In fall, our enrollment totaled a record 32,011 students, making us Oregon’s largest university for the fourth straight year.

I am most proud of our enrollment this year:

  • 71 percent of our Corvallis undergraduates are Oregonians;
  • OSU-Cascades’ enrollment grew 4.6 percent and online enrollment in Ecampus grew 7.9 percent.
  • 183 entering freshmen ranked No. 1 in their graduating class and 22 were National Merit winners;
  • 1,253 students are U.S. veterans;
  • More than 25 percent are students of color;
  • 4,947 are graduate students – a 5 percent increase;
  • 11 percent are international students; and
  • 6,192 are first-generation students.

In keeping with OSU’s mission to provide access to learning for all Oregonians, this year’s enrollment includes thousands of students who started their education at a community college.

This past year was one of mighty achievements at OSU.

Here are a few examples:

  • Generous donors made 2018 another historic year as the OSU Foundation raised $151.93 million – a record. December was the Foundation’s largest ever-fund-raising month with gifts just shy of $32 million, including a $6.5 million gift to Veterinary Medicine.
  • Our baseball team won the NCAA World Series by beating Arkansas in a thrilling three-game series. Did you know that OSU is the only school to have won three baseball national championships since 2000.
  • The OSU women’s basketball team is among the nation’s best. And for the first time in university history, the aggregate fall term GPA of 3.19 for all student-athletes surpassed the aggregate GPA of our general student body. Go Beavs.
  •  Our Ecampus online degree program continues to grow and serve learners with excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. In January, U.S. News & World Report ranked our online undergraduate program as No. 3 in the nation.
  • This is our first year in offering hybrid academic programs at our new OSU Portland Center. These degree offerings and our new center grow Oregon State’s decades of regional service and partnerships in Portland. The opening of this center was made possible by the work of many but most particularly thanks to the leadership of Mitzi Montoya, dean of our College of Business

Our Portland activities include research partnerships with business, industry and the region’s hospitals.

And service to those in need by Oregon State pharmacy students working within the Bridges Collaborative Care clinic with OHSU and Portland State students to provide medical care and compassion to the region’s homeless. In Beaverton and Portland public schools, we offer a unique masters of arts in teaching degree program to address a growing need for teachers with masters degrees and skills in STEM and bilingual education.

As you leave today, you will receive IMPACT 2019 – a portfolio complete with stories about remarkable people and programs making a difference at OSU. Inside this portfolio is an invitation for you to help create a brighter future for our state.

At the heart of Oregon State University are learners … of all ages and walks of life. Some of our students are with us today.

More than ever, OSU is a destination of choice – not just within Oregon, but nationally and globally for students seeking to transform their futures.

Outstanding faculty are Oregon State’s strongest asset and are difference makers by providing excellent teaching and research.

In 2018, grant-funded research at Oregon State totaled $382 million – our second-best year ever. This included an $88 million National Science Foundation grant to build the second of two new regional research vessels.

Our College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences manages this massive undertaking. We anticipate the first vessel will be delivered in 2021 to be stationed at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The second will be used within Atlantic waters, and we hope to build a third vessel for research in the Gulf of Mexico.

OSU research is out there, providing for wellness, a better environment and prosperity worldwide.

For example, OSU-Cascades assistant professor Bahman Abbasi has received a $2 million grant to create a solar-powered desalination process to provide clean water for countries worldwide.

Researchers within OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute, the colleges of Science and Pharmacy and other universities have developed an enhanced dressing to ward off post-surgery infections in patients. Every year, 300,000 patients develop an infection within 30 days of surgery; 13,000 die; and the financial cost treating these infections is $10 billion annually. We intend to help solve that problem.

Meanwhile, OSU’s College of Forestry is ranked No. 2 in the world; our graduate robotics’ program, No. 4 in the nation; and our oceanography program, No. 3 globally.

According to Clarivate Analytics, four OSU professors are among the top 1 percent of the world’s cited researchers. They are:

  • Bev Law in forest ecosystems and society;
  • Markus Kleber in the crop and soil science department;
  • And Joey Spatafora and Brett Tyler – both in plant and animal science.

In all, our state has 10 such recognized faculty, with four of them being from Oregon State University, and three are from the College of Agricultural Sciences.

OSU research is addressing climate change; food innovation and food quality; veterinary care; public health; business entrepreneurship; public policy; and advancing educational fields, such as STEM learning.

Our faculty’s commitment to collaboration and inquiry has provided a legacy of research distinction.

Consider Linus Pauling. After graduating from Oregon Agricultural College in 1922, his work changed healthcare worldwide. Pauling is the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes: for chemistry in 1954 and peace in 1962.

It was in 1968, that Doug Engelbart – an engineering graduate from OSU -- introduced his invention of the computer mouse – a block of wood on wheels. That day, he shared computer systems concepts that would influence creations by Apple and Microsoft Windows.

Recently, Oregon State’s Jane Lubchenco was granted the National Science Board’s annual Vannevar Bush Award for her distinguished contributions as one of the world’s most highly cited marine ecologists. We are very proud that Jane will serve as our 2019 Commencement speaker.

Then there is Bill Ripple -- a distinguished professor in the College of Forestry. Bill served as the lead author in 2017 of the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” that describes the perils of climate change and human activities on the environment. Since published, 20,000 scientists in over 184 countries have signed this article, endorsing its message.

Students are part of our research mission and success. Last year, 2,000 undergraduates engaged in research. Meanwhile, OSU provided more than $1 million for undergraduate research and funds to engage students from diverse backgrounds.

Our graduate students are helping solve thorny issues. For example, Elizabeth Kaweesa, a Ph.D. student in biochemistry from Uganda, along with chemistry assistant professor Sandra Loesgen and OSU colleagues have discovered a bacterium found in soil that can help kill melanoma cells – a skin cancer that strikes 80,000 people and causes 9,000 fatalities each year.

To the business and industry colleagues among us, I ask that you reach out to me and let me know how together we can build a better economic future for Oregon and the nation.

Learners statewide are engaged with OSU early on.

For example, OSU’s Juntos Program serves 3,500 Latino 6th to 12th graders in more than 33 school districts. With support from local partners, 100 percent of the students who have completed the Juntos program have graduated from high school and 92 percent have gone on to college.

Meanwhile, Oregon voters directed OSU to launch a statewide collaboration with school districts and community partners to coordinate outdoor school programs for more than 40,000 5th and 6th graders.

Over the past year, we launched a gateway program to assist community college students who seek to transfer to a four-year university, without losing credits.  This effort has started within Portland Community College with the hopes of expanding it elsewhere.

Within our own campuses, we are committed to:

  • Raise the first-year retention rate of all undergraduate students to 90 percent; and
  • Raise the six-year graduation rate for all undergraduate students to 70 percent.

OSU faculty are engaged on the front lines by:

  • Fostering stronger student relationships and mentoring outside of class;
  • Improving and streamlining curriculum; and
  • Expanding access to student experiential learning, such as internships and study abroad programs.

A focus on student success is underway in the College of Business with many initiatives, including aid from a $775,000 grant to employ work-based learning, employer interaction and career advising to improve first-year student retention.

OSU Foundation donors are all in. In just two years, donors have contributed $100 million toward a goal of $150 million for student success scholarships, fellowships, experiential learning and other initiatives.

Our Honors College is committed to inclusive excellence and student success. Overall, 1,350 students are in the Honors College, including students enrolled at OSU-Cascades and underrepresented students who are interns in an Emerging Leaders program in Portland.

The College of Liberal Arts is planning a new path for student success: a $75 million arts and education complex.

An anonymous donor has pledged $25 million to this complex and other donors have made significant gifts. We are seeking $35 million in state bonding to construct this complex in Corvallis to make the liberal arts an even stronger contributor to student success.

At OSU-Cascades, we completed fund-raising for a second academic building; have received unanimous Bend City Council approval of a campus master plan, and seek state approval of bonds for a student experience center.

These many efforts are paying dividends:

  • Our first-year retention rate is up nearly 2 percent;
  • We hit our goal for the 2017 academic year with a 67 percent six-year graduation rate;
  • Our profile of graduates is more diverse.
  • And last June, we graduated 400 more students who came to us with financial need than just four years ago.

Yet, we recognize there is much more to do. One area that I am most troubled by is student mental health.

Nationally, the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s. Suicide is now the 2nd most common cause of death among college students.

Away from home and friends for the first time, many students experience disrupted sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. Along with the significant pressures of college.

We know this is a problem at Oregon State. Twenty-five percent of the respondents to a student survey in 2016 shared they experienced moderate to severe anxiety and 32 percent, varying levels of depression.

Sadly, 11 percent of respondents admitted they experienced suicidal thoughts; 4 percent said they had a suicide plan and 1 percent said they had attempted suicide.

The scourge of suicide on our college campuses is a national health crisis.

In response, we are working to enhance a culture of caring. Improving student wellness is among the university’s priorities because we know that student success is founded in student wellness.

OSU counseling and psychological support programs seek to address this crisis. So do programs in our residence halls, colleges and Athletics.

Consider the extraordinary leadership and passion of two of our student-athletes. This past year, Taylor Ricci, who was a member of the Oregon State women’s gymnastics team, and Nathan Braaten, a soccer player, co-founded the Dam Worth It campaign. After each lost a teammate to suicide, they hoped to destigmatize mental health on our campus by spreading awareness of this crisis and services available.

Taylor and Nathan’s efforts to support others in need has spread through Oregon State and nationally. They have been recognized by the Pac-12 Conference and have spoken on many campuses and at a national conference on student-athlete wellness. National media have portrayed their efforts, including Sports Illustrated in its annual coverage of athletes of the year.

While Taylor is out of state today interviewing for admission to the Stanford School of Medicine, Nathan is with us today. All I can say is thank goodness for people … and students … like Taylor and Nathan. Thank you for your important leadership and collaboration.

Meanwhile, we know that Oregon’s overall population has among the nation’s highest rates of suicide. In response, the College of Public Health and Human Sciences will work with communities statewide to foster individualized services to address mental health.

As we work to support student mental health, we also will better serve students with other insecurities, such as when they can afford and obtain their next meal. Nationally, 9 to 50 percent of college students cite problems with food insecurity. We will invest resources to make the greatest difference, including educating students about the availability of federal nutrition assistance and expanding campus locations where those who otherwise might go to class hungry may use these and other benefits.

As Oregon State begins its next 150 years, we are well- positioned for opportunities, challenges and priorities thanks to the commitment of our administrators, deans, excellent faculty and new leaders including:

  • Interim Vice President of Research Irem Tumer;
  • College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Alan Sams;
  • Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Alix Gitelman;
  • Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Phil Mote;
  • Director of Human Resources Cathy Hasenpflug;
  • College of Pharmacy Interim Dean Mark Leid;
  • Senior Adviser to the Provost for International Affairs Kendra Sharp; and
  • Vice President of Alumni Relations John Valva.

Our strategic plan calls upon the university to achieve four overarching goals:

  • Achieve preeminence in research, scholarship and innovation;
  • Provide a transformative education that is accessible for all learners;
  • Provide significant and visible impact in Oregon and beyond; and
  • Offer a university culture of belonging, collaboration and innovation.

Moreover, OSU’s Vision 2030 will drive the university to achieve strengths in excellence in education, research and engagement that are bold, impactful and effective in serving all Oregonians as the People’s University.

Yet, serving these outcomes is challenged greatly in an era of declining state support for higher education.

Student tuition now pays more than 65 percent of the cost of our Corvallis campus educational operations and the state only 22 percent. This represents more than a 50 percent decline in the state’s relative contribution from 15 years ago. And nearly a 43 percent increase in the share students and their families pay.

Unfortunately, this era of decline may worsen as Governor Brown’s recommended budget provides no additional funds to our universities. This occurs at a time when mandatory employee benefit costs are rising by 8 percent, and state revenues are rising by 5 percent.

Under the governor’s budget, universities would be forced to shunt even more costs onto the shoulders of students; and cut staffing and programs even more. Or both.

Instead, the governor seeks a yet-undefined $1.9 billion tax increase and promises that a significant portion of this new tax will be invested in higher education to keep tuition from rising by more than 5 percent. I appreciate the governor for seeking new funding, but I must plan the university’s operations on what I know, not what I hope legislators and voters might approve at some future date.

And while the increased funding promised would help moderate tuition increases to less than 5 percent, it would not improve access to Oregon’s universities or make investments in student success.

For our state to progress, our elected leaders must invest in higher education and student success to serve urban and rural economic, educational, health, environmental and cultural needs and strategies.

Going forward, I ask our state’s leaders to listen to students. They will say that Oregon’s public universities no longer can be funded on their backs and the backs of their families.

At the same time, it should be clear that in a state with declining numbers of high school graduates, enrollment growth in our universities is not a budget solution.

Meanwhile, we woefully underinvest as a state in research and graduate programs, at a time when major employers, such as Intel and others, tell us we need to produce more Ph.D. graduates to power the future.

This mandate for education is not just about the economy of our state or our nation, but also about advancing the culture and wellness of Oregon and America. Instead, since 1970, we have literally doubled the educational attainment gap in our colleges and universities between wealthy and poor Americans. We are at risk of creating a permanent underclass of people who have no stake in the future of our society. Moreover, if anything brings this country down, it will be the division between the haves and the have-nots in America. Not some external threat.

I ask each of you to join me in addressing this crisis of inequity. This resolve must start with a debate in Salem about how Oregon funds its universities:

  • Have conversations with the governor and your legislators.
  • Ask them to govern as if the future of our state … and the lives of our children … depend on them to get things as right as possible.
  • Ask them to consider the legacy that they will provide your children; your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s children.
  • Help them commit to public higher education being a public good. Not a privilege enjoyed only by the wealthy.

I ask you: if state leaders do not step up, who else will?

Nevertheless, let us be clear here: I am not about whining. People who want to whine or feel sorry for themselves need to step aside and let others lead. I am an Oregonian who acknowledges what is wrong and then gets to work with others to make a difference.

We have so much work to do as we begin Oregon State University’s next 150 years. I know that by working together we can help transform rural and urban communities.

As president of Oregon’s statewide university, I look forward to collaborating with each of you, the governor, our legislators and others to provide for a bright future of equal opportunity for all Oregonians.

In closing, I guarantee you that working together the best is yet to come.