In his 11th State of the University address to the campus Feb. 3, President Sidney Ribeau offered a perspective on the relative value placed by the government on higher education and the waging of war.
Commenting on a report in the day’s news that the United States is spending about $4.5 billion a month on the war in Iraq, or about $100,000 per minute, and about $800 million a month in Afghanistan, or about $18,000 a minute, while universities in Ohio are “scrapping and struggling to get just a small increase in funding,” Ribeau said, “The balance of the scales is a little odd.”
Noting that Ohio institutions are asking for about $1 million more apiece while the federal government recently cut $14.5 billion from the national student loan program, he said, “I think we would get a greater return on our money in the quality of life by spending more on education than we do on war.”
Ribeau is president of the Inter-University Council, an association of Ohio’s four-year institution presidents, and serves on the Higher Education Funding Council, a legislative committee that is looking at changes to the funding allocation process. Overall, state support for higher education in Ohio, or “state share of instruction,” continues to decline, he said.
In an overview of the changing landscape in Ohio and the nation, Ribeau highlighted potential developments that are under discussion, including what he called some “pretty scary” initiatives.
These include a proposal to allocate funding by a voucher system, in which money would follow the student but “do nothing for the institution,” Ribeau said, and a metric that would decide funding based on campus productivity and efficiency. “I don’t know how they would measure that,” he commented skeptically.
Another, more positive proposal, which he said “might see the light of day,” was put forth by senators Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and Joy Padgett (R-Coshocton). It would increase funding and provide incentives based on course completion and graduation success.
Incentives for programs in the STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) areas are being discussed both at the state level and nationally, Ribeau said. In his State of the Union address, President Bush said he would ask Congress to pass legislation that would provide significant increases in basic research funding over the next 10 years, as well as funding to prepare 30,000 new math and science teachers and provide additional training to 70,000 current teachers in math and science. At the state level, Ribeau said, it is not clear yet if the STEM proposal would allocate new funds for those areas or merely redirect existing funding.
The funding council must file its report by May, Ribeau said, and “however it comes out, it will impact all the higher education institutions in the state. We cannot assume from this day forth that we will funded in the same way in the future—and not just at the same levels—as in the past, but in ways that will impact how we make decisions about what to teach, what not to teach and how we conduct our business.”
Ribeau drew a laugh with an illustration of the power of funding control to change one’s mission and life. “I don’t have to come into your house and say, ‘I want you to change the dietary habits of your family!’ If I cut your salary enough, you
change the diets of your family.”
He encouraged people to take an active stance on issues in higher education, where “we are the experts. We need to be very, very vocal because if we don’t define our agenda, someone else will change it for us.”
One area he does not expect to change, however is BGSU’s relationship with the University of Toledo and Medical University of Ohio when they merge. He applauded the work of the two presidents, Dr. Dan Johnson and Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, respectively, in taking the initiative on a step they hope will strengthen both. While there is “major work to be done” in sorting out how the merger will be accomplished, Ribeau said, “there’s no reason to think anything will change in our relationship.” BGSU has multiple shared programs and research projects in the millions with UT, he said, and looks forward to new partnerships and opportunities resulting from the joining of the two institutions.
He also reassured the campus not to be threatened by the merger. “Our mission is not their mission and their mission is not our mission,” he said.
Success garners national note
By adhering to Bowling Green’s distinctive mission to be the premier learning community in Ohio and one of the best in the nation, faculty and staff have achieved tremendous results that have been noted at the national level, Ribeau said.
U.S. News and World Report has cited BGSU for its learning communities and first-year programs, and now the Association of American Colleges and Universities has expressed interest in learning more about those areas here, he announced.
In terms of year-to-year continuation of students, or retention, Ribeau said “we’ve made marvelous progress as a result of our programs.”
Last year, the student retention rate was 79.9 percent, the highest it’s been in 12 years. And for students in learning communities, it is even higher: 83.1 percent.
“We said we were going to do it, we’ve done it and we’ve done it quite well,” he said.
BGSU’s commitment to undergraduate research has also been very successful, he added. “It starts today, preparing undergraduates to be the researchers and the academicians of tomorrow.
“But all that didn’t just happen. A number of people on campus have taken the time to make these things work so we have the kind of experience we want for our students.”
In addition to national recognition for undergraduate programs, the University has received acclaim for its graduate-level programs. He reiterated the statement in BGSU’s mission statement that it will support its vision by having focused master’s and specialists’ degrees and a number of nationally recognized doctoral programs, as well as academically challenging teaching, fully connected research and public service.
This year, he said, BGSU has secured $5.2 million in federal earmarks for six faculty research projects, several of which involve collaborations with UT, MUO and other Ohio universities. BGSU is already $2 million ahead of this time last year in external grants and contracts.
He pointed to a number of successes campuswide, from music student Kisma Jordan being chosen by famed soprano Marilyn Horne to sing in her master class at Carnegie Hall, to the Center for Family and Demographic Research being chosen as one of only 15 population centers nationally to receive support ($1.3 million) from the National Institutes of Health. GEAR UP faculty and students are making a difference in the educational outcomes at schools in Toledo and have received more than $4 million in a second federal grant, Ribeau said. Fulbright scholars from BGSU this year include Dr. Cindy Miglietti of Firelands and Dr. Dwayne Gremler, marketing. And Dr. Pavel Anzenbacher, chemistry, has been named an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, a highly competitive national award.
The Comprehensive Campaign has already raised more than $91 million of our $120 million goal, he said, despite those who said at the outset that it couldn’t be done.
These are only a few of the successes the campus has marked, he said. The intellectual climate is thriving, enhanced by recent visits from author and educator John Beck, who spoke about the students of today and how they are “neurologically wired” through video game playing; famed “Remember the Titans” coaches Herman Boone and Bill Yoast, who taught a community and a nation a lesson in how to get along and work with others, and speaker Jane Elliott, the former Iowa teacher whose simple “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” classroom experiment was a powerful demonstration of the dangers of discrimination and prejudice.
All these provided valuable insights to campus, Ribeau said. “If we don’t learn how to get along and work together, we’ll wind up spending more than $100,000 a minute to clean up the mess we’ve made,” he said.