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Johnson Delivers First State of the University Address
Ohio Ag Connection - 02/23/2021

In her first State of the University address as the 16th president of The Ohio State University, Kristina M. Johnson announced a commitment to hire hundreds of new faculty members and invest more than $750 million in new cutting-edge research, and promised a debt-free undergraduate education in a decade.

Johnson started her tenure during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, following a summer of protests against racial injustice and through a contentious political campaign season. While highlighting the challenging times, she also pointed toward a more optimistic future.

"The Ohio State University was created to spread opportunity more widely," she said. "And if ever there were a time that required a mission like that, it is our own. Where on the one hand, we are struggling to recover from a pandemic that underscored painful and increasing inequalities, and on the other, we are being offered so much that is so promising, by new technologies and all the lessons we have learned about using them during this pandemic. And if ever there were a university with the power to seize this moment, it is Ohio State."

Investing in excellent faculty is one of Johnson's top priorities. She said the university's next provost will be charged with the urgent mission to hire a minimum of 350 net new tenure-track faculty -- 150 of whom will come from a new initiative called RAISE: race, inclusion and social equity.

At least 50 of the RAISE faculty will be scientists, artists and scholars whose work addresses social equity and racial disparities in fields such as health care, education, justice and public safety. The RAISE initiative will also include a goal of hiring at least 100 underrepresented and Black, Indigenous and people of color hires in all fields of scholarship.

Johnson said it's critical for students to see faculty who represent them.

"I want every single Ohio State student to be able to look across the lecture hall or seminar table and understand immediately that their dreams are valid and achievable," she said.

The faculty hiring plan also includes adding 150 scholars in high-demand fields where student-faculty ratios exceed university peers, such as the Fisher College of Business, and recruiting at least 50 faculty in emerging fields of leading-edge research. The goal is to cap class sizes at 50 students per class in those high-demand fields.

Johnson also announced a $750 million investment in researchers and research over the next decade. Part of that will be dedicated to the Presidential Research Excellence Fund supporting two types of projects: innovative proposals by faculty and initiatives in fields of emergent and convergent research that support national scientific, medical and engineering priorities.

The goal, she said, is for Ohio State to lead in research fields like next-generation computing and communications and artificial intelligence -- developing "killer apps" in health care, education and the arts and humanities -- as well as the life sciences. Johnson wants the university to build on existing expertise in infectious diseases and vaccines, advancing the development of living therapeutics -- such as engineered microbes that can diagnose diseases and produce drugs in the human body to fight infections and tumors.

A part of that commitment to research includes a just-announced, $100 million strategic partnership with JobsOhio and Nationwide Children's Hospital to spur innovation and economic growth. The university has committed to increasing sponsored research in biomedical sciences and engineering by 50% and growing STEM programs that produce 22,500 graduates over the next 15 years.

Johnson wants students to play a role in innovation. The university is launching a student startup accelerator, creating an annual competition for students to be selected as Buckeye entrepreneurs and awarded $50,000 to work on their new ventures for a year. The Buckeye Entrepreneur Awards Program will also introduce them to potential investors and partners.

These discoveries will take place in new facilities that represent strategic expansion of the university's physical infrastructure. Johnson highlighted the 270-acre Ohio State Innovation District on West Campus, the $1.8 billion Wexner Medical Center inpatient hospital and the newly opened 60,000-square-foot, $33.5 million Wooster campus science building.

Focusing on a theme of building opportunities for all citizens, Johnson emphasized the need to help graduates manage the cost of an Ohio State education. In 2019-2020, 47% of Ohio State graduates carried an average of $27,000 in student debt. That debt can prevent students from continuing their education, buying a home or starting a business, and it's a burden she wants to eliminate.

"Over the next decade, we are going to make sure our undergraduates leave Ohio State debt-free," she said. "This is well within our reach, and we will lead the nation, as the first university to offer a zero-debt bachelor's degree at scale."

Johnson said the university is committed to aiding graduate and professional students with affordability measures, as well. Ohio State recently announced an increase in the minimum graduate student stipend by $4,000 per year, beginning in August 2021.

Ohio State can be the greatest land-grant university of the 21st century, she said, by fiercely committing to four kinds of excellence: in academics; research and creative expression; entrepreneurship and partnership; and service to Ohio, the United States and the world.

"We can take on the great challenges in our society -- the great challenges in science -- the great challenges in engineering, the arts, the humanities, the law and in every other field we encompass, and make a real difference," she said. "We can converge across disciplines, colleges and industries around the most pressing and most interesting problems; become a force for equity, justice and the American dream; educate young leaders more than ready to take over for us in building a better world; and redefine what it means to be a great land-grant university in the 21st century, in service to the common good."


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