President Ribeau
At his opening day address, President Ribeau celebrates BGSU's citation in the 2006 U.S. News & World Report's “America's Best Colleges” for its learning communities and first-year programs.

Growing engagement will give BGSU a new look, president say

Scholarship and service that demonstrate community engagement will help create “a new front door for the University,” President Sidney Ribeau told his opening-day audience Aug. 19 in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom.

The new look will showcase “not only what we do, but how it makes a difference for society,” the president said. Engaged service and research, along with teaching and learning, are all “part of a composite that says we are a valuable resource.”

And that’s an important statement at a time of change for higher education in Ohio, Ribeau added, predicting that it will be funded differently by the state 10 years from now.

New funding methods will be tied to outcomes the state wants colleges and universities to achieve, said the president, estimating that he currently spends 10 hours per week in Columbus with groups that are discussing the issue. One way that BGSU can validate what it’s doing is by telling the public how the University is engaged and improving the qualify of life in Ohio—which, he noted, the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education and the Economy called upon colleges and universities to do.

The commission’s call in April 2004 spawned the president’s Engagement Initiative, an effort—announced in his opening-day address last August—to connect the University’s resources with social, economic and cultural needs of the broader community and region.

Reviewing the past year’s progress, Ribeau pointed out the work of a 16-member Task Force on the Scholarship of Engagement, which was charged with recommending how the University might best integrate the initiative into the faculty recognition and reward structure. That was viewed as a “major roadblock to implementation,” he said, but the task force provided its recommendations in January, and earlier this month, a Standards Committee suggested guidelines to the president for evaluation and documentation of scholarship of engagement.

An email message concerning the committee’s report and his response will be forthcoming to faculty and staff, who will also receive a copy of a June 24 Board of Trustees resolution in support of the initiative.

“It’s amazing how many faculty members are (already) involved with the scholarship of engagement,” Ribeau said, naming December 2006 as the target date for its full integration into the tenure and promotion policies of all BGSU colleges and academic departments.

In the meantime, professional development and workshops will be offered to deans, directors and department chairs as they work toward implementation of the scholarship of engagement. The president also plans to meet with those administrators, as well as Provost John Folkins and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, to discuss their suggestions on how to move forward and meet the target date.

External consultants will also be involved in the process, as will a yet-to-be-hired interim director for faculty development in the scholarship of engagement. Filling that position will be either a retired faculty member or a faculty member who will be given release time this academic year.

In addition, BGSU representatives will help plan the 2006 national conference on outreach and engagement, to be held at Ohio State University.

Ribeau acknowledged that the scholarship of engagement doesn’t fit the research agendas of all faculty. But “that’s perfectly all right,” he said, explaining that the initiative is intended to complement, not supplant, other research on campus.

(More information about the Engagement Initiative is available on the president’s Web site, at .)

The president also cited areas where staff are participating in the initiative. The University Bookstore’s creation of a student scholarship fund provides scholarships for students—graduate and undergraduate—who are working with faculty on engagement projects in their academic programs. And Administrative Staff Council is leading a campuswide food drive this fall as BGSU participates for the first time in the statewide and national “Make A Difference Day.” Donated items will be collected Oct. 22 and delivered to food pantries in the region.

“These are examples of how our University is getting involved,” Ribeau said, noting its service learning programs as well.

On other fronts, the president:
• Pointed out BGSU’s citation in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” issue for its learning communities and programs for first-year students. “There are very few schools on this list from Ohio,” he said, praising “the quality of the experience” that the lauded programs provide for students. (See related story.)

• Specifically congratulated one of the first-year programs, BGeXperience, for its growth over four years from a pilot program with about 125 participants to a program now involving all 3,500-plus first-year students. “The logistics of this are unbelievable,” Ribeau said, adding that if someone had told him four years ago that BGeXperience would grow as it has, 'I would have said, 'Maybe, but never in four years.’”

Designed to introduce critical thinking about values to first-year students, the program presents “an opportunity to create the preconditions for learning,” he said, extolling the value of connecting with students before they arrive on campus.

• Mentioned that the number of freshmen of color and those with ACT scores of 30 or higher are both the highest such numbers in BGSU history. This year, 17 percent of freshmen are students of color; five years ago, that figure was 8.9 percent.

• Called for the campus community to break down barriers that prevent increased collaboration. “What worked 50 years ago (in the organizational structure) might not work 50 years from now,” he said, adding that policies are still in place “from the Stone Age” while the University has moved into cyberspace.

August 22, 2005