President M. Duane Nellis

President M. Duane Nellis delivered the 2019 State of the University Address in Walter Hall late Thursday, Sept. 12 afternoon.

Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Sept. 15 newspaper on Page A1.

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis called for a major shift in strategy during his Thursday afternoon State of the University, introducing nearly a dozen new pathways he said would take OU in a better direction.

The new effort is to push OU to be “fearlessly first” in education, Nellis said, explaining the adjustments are necessary to reflect the changing needs of students.

OU had previously been focused on four such “strategic pathways,” Nellis said, identifying them as diversity and inclusion; enhanced academic quality; building an engagement ecosystem; and encouraging dialogue and civil debate.

OU’s approach has become outdated in some ways, the president said. He noted that many students do not enroll in college directly after graduating high school; some opt to take a “gap year. An increasing number of students are adults returning to school to seek a degree after years spent in the workforce.

Nellis said he has solicited ideas through a memo sent to campus leaders and faculty members earlier this year. In it, he asked several questions meant to spark discussions on how to improve the university. The results led to Nellis identifying 11 pathways forward.

One pathway involves improving retention rates within the student body. Another calls for investing more in research efforts and better amplifying campus achievements. To that end, OU recently announced its involvement with Ohio IP Promise, a collaboration with the state of Ohio and other public universities that helps with licensing intellectual property stemming from campus.

Nellis also wants to revise OU’s general education curriculum by the fall of 2021, an undertaking he said hasn’t happened in decades.

Other pathways involve striving for a more “balanced” demographic of students, and to continue expanding the university’s reach through online learning. OU has reported student enrollment in e-learning to be well above 7,000 students in recent years.

Nellis called for a change in approach to the budget, reflecting a downward trend in overall enrollment of students.

Nellis also noted that one of the highest expenses for the university is its physical footprint, and that a reduction of that size may be needed to help balance the budget. He called for a strategic pathway of re-imagining the space utilized by OU.

The last two strategic pathways Nellis touched on were to elevate the marketing efforts the university has underway and to increase engagement with alumni and corporations that may benefit from agreements with OU.

Nellis finished his speech by advocating for OU to continue to be an institution that responds to change.

“Ohio University was founded as Ohio’s first university,” he said. “It’s crucial that we carry this era forward today in order to make positive changes. Let us be fearlessly first to the future.”

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