Despite budget challenges, a faltering economy and uncertain times ahead, BGSU is not only surviving but thriving, President Sidney Ribeau told the audience at his 12th State of the University address Feb. 2.
Ribeau shared his view of the University—a view of success that is increasingly being recognized nationally, even if it is sometimes hard to see for those closest to the work.
“I’m proud of a lot of things about Bowling Green State University,” he said, “and not just what we’ve achieved but the aspirations we seek to achieve.”
Pointing to the unprecedented success of the women’s basketball team, he noted the Falcons are ranked 17th in the nation, a first for the MAC, despite not always having the advantages some teams have. In addition to their athletic ability, they are excellent students and model citizens, with dedication and commitment—exactly the type of student one would wish for, he said.
That ability to put together all the components is even more important to success than having the most brilliance or money, Ribeau said, reminding the campus of the core values that were established in 1996 and have been the building blocks of what has been created at BGSU.
Respect for one another, cooperation, intellectual and spiritual growth, creative imaginings and pride in a job well done have brought the University this far and will continue to guide its achievements, he said.
“It’s important that we look at the University realistically, but with a little love,” he said, describing BGSU as a “work in progress.”
Changes and challenges
The hard realities of Ohio’s current economic situation will have a significant impact on BGSU and all of higher education, he said. Newly elected Gov. Ted Strickland has announced three priorities for the state: economic growth and job creation, expanding access to affordable and quality health care, and accessibility to and affordability of education at every level.
Two weeks ago, Ribeau and the other presidents of the state’s colleges and universities spent five hours with Strickland discussing the role of higher education in attacking these problems and how it fits into the governor’s priorities.
“Higher education is very important to him,” Ribeau said. “He wants to see if we can bring intellectual capital to these issues.”
That Ohio is undereducated has been known for some time, Ribeau said, and it can’t afford to be this way. “But when we’re talking about access and affordability of education, we can’t forget the issue of quality. It’s not just about getting them into the schools, but giving them the skills to allow them to be successful.” Getting a degree is not the end in itself, he said, recalling what a visiting professor from his college days said: “Time will tell how important what you know or don’t know is.”
“We can never abdicate the argument that quality is important,” he stressed. “When students leave Bowling Green State University, there are certain things we should be able to say they can do and know.”
Strickland has also proposed some organizational changes that will have implications for higher education, Ribeau said. For example, the governor has “challenged the structure of the Ohio Board of Regents” and suggested making the chancellor a member of his Cabinet, reporting directly to him. That would leave the fate of the regents in question, Ribeau said.
Adapting to conditions
The biennial budget is also looking fairly dire, the president said, in part because of lower-than-anticipated tax revenue and in part because of some of the tax reforms enacted by the previous legislature. “While in the previous administration we had been hearing about a 3 percent increase, early indications now are that we’re looking at a one to a one-a-half-percent increase in the first year and maybe none in the second year,” Ribeau said.
“We also don’t know yet about the tuition caps and where they will be,” he added. Indications are that they will be lower than the current 6 percent and maybe as low as 4 percent, he said.
In the meantime, the University is dealing with some significant mandated cost increases in energy and health care.
In response, Ribeau has asked all vice presidents and deans to look at their budgets, priorities and cost structures and begin to plan accordingly.
“The news (from the state) is sketchy now, and how that turns into policy remains to be seen. But the governor still wants to accomplish his three objectives, so we still have a role. We need to help him understand how we can help.”
Given the constraints BGSU faces, “we must find ways to align our mission and objectives to the state’s mission and objectives. It’s going to be a stretch and it’s going to be a challenge,” Ribeau said.
Thriving in adversity
Reminding those gathered of the University’s vision of being “the premier learning community in Ohio and one of the best in the nation,” the president said, “At the end of the day, that’s the measure of a university: it’s the academic programs. It’s the teaching and learning and discovery. It’s the students, faculty and staff who make an environment where problems are solved and cures are found.
“Education is not a commodity,” he emphasized. “It’s not something that’s bought, packaged or canned. It’s an active process of reflecting, growing, thinking and changing that shapes your way of thinking and interacting with the world.”
Education has the ability to expand the world for those with preconceptions and prejudices so they can see there is more there than they thought, he said. That is the kind of education BGSU has provided and will continue to provide—and that’s not true everywhere, he added.
It’s the kind of education that prepares people to operate successfully in an environment “where you have to think, solve problems and adjust,” he said. “That kind of intellectual flexibility is critical for workers in a knowledge-based economy.”
BGSU used to be the “best-kept secret,” Ribeau said, but “the secret is out.” The University has recently been recognized by a number of national organizations for its achievements in first-year success programs, learning communities, the BGeXperience program, civic and personal leadership, learning outcomes and engagement.
These awards come from such prestigious groups as the Carnegie Foundation, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and U.S. News and World Report.
“These programs are all recognized for the value they bring to our students,” Ribeau said. While everything else is going on in the state, “you’ve been busily creating an environment for active learning. Everything we do is designed to facilitate student learning.”
A little help from our friends
Clearly, none of this could have been accomplished if the University had relied solely on state support, the president said.
“We’ve been extremely successful with the Building Dreams comprehensive campaign. The goal is $120 million, and today, we’re at $107,580,000,” he announced to applause.
“They said we couldn’t do it back in 2002,” Ribeau said, adding that with two years to go, the campaign will exceed the goal.
To date, 380 new scholarships have been added, and the $35 million goal for scholarships has been exceeded by $2 million, he said.
Other areas receiving funding through the campaign include BGeXperience and endowed professorships, with seven new positions that will “allow us to attract the best and the brightest,” he said.
“Our alumni, friends and supporters throughout the nation really believe we are ‘changing the world by degrees,’” Ribeau said in reference to the University’s marketing campaign theme.
That theme aptly expresses what BGSU strives to do, he said, because it connotes individuals’ “ability to really impact their environment,” a bit at a time, as well as the University’s ability to do the same through its degree programs. It counters the “sense of paralysis people have where they don’t think they can make a difference.”
Keeping the dream in sight
Ribeau closed his talk with a quote from Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman, one of his favorite writers, who said, “As long as a person has a dream in their heart, they cannot lose the significance of living.”
“Dreams shape the future,” Ribeau said. He urged the University to “continue reaching beyond your limits despite the world’s telling you you can’t.” Changes made one at a time add up, and “as long as there’s a dream in your heart, there’s a chance that the world can be a very different kind of place.”