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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/11/2012

COMMENTARY

A new model for public universities

BY E. GORDON GEE

Public higher education in America faces a reality check of the highest order. Even in Ohio, where state elected leaders have been supportive and understand the critical role of our public universities, the fact is plain: Our slice of the pie -- resources from state and federal governments -- is unlikely to get any larger than it is today.

Every day, I grapple with the central question of how to sustain the teaching and research of our faculty and to ensure a high-quality and affordable education for Ohio's young people in an era of limited funding. This much is clear: We cannot hold our palms upright and wait for the halcyon days of more-bountiful budgets.

After more than 30 years as a university president, I am convinced that universities need to look beyond the usual. We must be more creative. And we must be willing to change.

Universities must seek fundamentally new ways to fund their core purposes. As a starting point, this means finding innovative ways to leverage the market, assessing university-owned assets and looking at shedding those that do not contribute to our central mission, commercializing technological innovations, streamlining processes, and growing private support.

We have achieved a series of recent triumphs at Ohio State that hint at the promise and potential of innovative financing strategies.

Most recently, our university announced a trailblazing new partnership with Huntington National Bank that will provide more than $25 million for academic scholarships and educational programs, and another $100 million for economic development in the community.

Last October, we became the first public university in this country to issue a century bond, securing historically low interest rates to finance building projects over the coming decades. Although we are not in the business of construction, we are in the business of building exceptional academic programs, which require modern facilities, research space, and classrooms.

Last spring and summer, we began a more-aggressive approach to technology commercialization. We must transform the abundant brainpower of our faculty and students into products and processes that will create new businesses, generate economic growth, and improve lives.

We are thinking of leasing the management of our parking facilities. This would generate significant and immediate resources to be reinvested in our academic mission -- providing new scholarships, hiring faculty, and supporting the arts and humanities.

We are wholly committed to becoming a more efficient and unified institution. I have said that this is akin to turning an elephant into a ballerina.

But we are determined to simplify and streamline how we operate, so we can direct greater resources to what is most essential. And increasingly, we rely on the growth of private support from our generous and loyal alumni and friends.

We are duty bound to fulfill our mission as Ohio's land grant university. To that end, we must be infinitely more inventive in funding our present-day goals as well as our future aspirations: to invest in ideas and new partnerships, provide unsurpassed learning experiences for our students, extend our reach to those in need, and enhance the lives of 11 million Ohioans.

E. Gordon Gee is president of Ohio State University.



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