”I think our direction for Bowling Green State University could never be clearer,” President Sidney Ribeau told a capacity crowd at his Aug. 18 Opening Day address.
With skyrocketing mandatory costs such as utilities and health care and only a projected 3 percent increase in funding for the first year of the coming biennial budget and flat funding for the second year, Ribeau said, “We cannot be everything to everybody.”
BGSU must zero in on its priorities, identify its areas of strength and focus its resources on those, he said.
The president laid out five areas on which the campus needs to focus its attention.
• Improvement of the teaching and learning process, through practice and research. “This is something that needs constant reflection and self-assessment,” Ribeau said, because while the faculty has plenty of expertise in content areas, “the students of 2006, the incoming class, are not the same as the students of 1996, or 1986, or 1976.”
The increasing availability of technology is in large part responsible for this change, he said. “We must always ask ourselves if our pedagogy is in tune with our students. And we can do this systematically by talking to students.”
Getting students engaged early on in active learning is a key goal, he said. Innovative programs such as the BGeXeperience teach students to think critically about what they’re exposed to at BGSU, in the media and in the rest of their lives and encourage them to begin the active learning process. That is what schools are about, he added—not simply taking tests and getting good scores.
• Maintenance of the scholarly community. Academia, and especially higher education, is virtually under assault from a number of quarters, Ribeau said. With challenges to academic freedom and critical reports from state and national commissions, it is vital that we uphold the values of reasoned discourse, rationality and evidence-based opinions. “The pursuit of knowledge must be valued and protected,” he said.
• Commitment to the development of faculty and staff. “We can’t stop investing in them,” he said. “We must help them be the best and the brightest.” In tight budgetary times, professional development is often the first thing to go by the wayside, but to let that happen would undermine the rest of the University’s mission of achievement and service to students.
• Rigorous evaluation of programs. “It’s easy to get so caught up in what we’re doing every day that we don’t take the time to ask if those are the right things to be doing,” Ribeau said. The University is very good at studying everything—the key is to use the results of those assessments to modify what we do.
Reiterating his statement that BGSU cannot be all things to all people, he said we must focus our attention on what we can be the best at, some of which the campus has already done, particularly in its graduate degree programs. Picking a niche, such as policy history in the history department’s Ph.D. program, and concentrating resources on those areas, will be more fruitful than spreading limited dollars too thinly. That is the only way we can insure the quality of our programs, he said.
• Identify alternative sources of funding. Private giving has never been more important, and neither have sponsored programs and research, Ribeau said. With the economy at a low ebb and the state either unable or unwilling to fund higher education, “we need an alternative means of support,” he said, calling on the deans, chairs and development officers to raise funds for the University.
Speaking metaphorically, Ribeau said the University’s “dollar” has already been spent on utilities, maintenance, health care and more, and it has already borrowed another 50 cents for other needs. Using faculty/staff development as an example, he asked, “If that’s important to me, where am I going to get it?” The only answer is private funds, he emphasized.
BGSU’s “Building Dreams” fund-raising campaign has reached $99 million of its $120 million overall goal, and he would like to hurry and reach that goal, Ribeau said. He noted that, when he became president in 1995, the University was raising roughly $3 million annually. Today, it raises about $15 million a year. “It’s an incredible feat to go from where we were then to where we are now,” he said.
But that kind of increase is imperative if BGSU is to remain an “access institution and a gateway to opportunity. If students are to find opportunities at Bowling Green State University that they couldn’t otherwise find elsewhere, we have to raise private dollars for scholarships.”
The campus also needs to upgrade its buildings—it needs a new performing arts center and a new laboratory building for the sciences, among many other needs.
“We don’t want to admit students to a mediocre education,” Ribeau stressed. Simply admitting more students without giving them what they need “is not the correct way to go. We need to give access to quality.”
Higher Education Compact
The University cannot offer that quality without adequate funding, however. As chair for a second term of the Inter-University Council of presidents of Ohio’s four-year public universities, Ribeau is encouraging his fellow presidents to work with the Ohio Board of Regents and the Chancellor in developing a Higher Education Compact between the state’s public universities and the legislature.
Higher education has a lot to offer Ohio in terms of economic growth, Ribeau said, from producing well-trained workers to expertise in areas such as Medicaid reform and the environment. The compact would be a sort of “contract” in which “we provide the educational value and assist the state, and in return they invest in us.”
The proposed compact calls for funds to increase education access and a stable budget environment that would establish a base funding level over four to six years. This would enable higher education institutions to plan for the future and develop a long-term fee policy for their students.
“It’s not too late to have a different kind of future,” Ribeau said.
“People make the difference in any organization,” Ribeau said. They are more than the sum of their skills and abilities. All voices are important to the dialogue, and wide participation is what makes for good decisions.
He noted that the high turnout for his talk was “just extraordinary” and indicative of how much the campus community cares for the University. “I deeply appreciate the effort and the commitment you’ve made,” he said. “This is going to be an ambitious and rigorous year, but we know what we have to do.”