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High grades at OSU: University builds momentum in satisfying four years

Monday, March 12, 2007

High grades at OSU
University builds momentum in satisfying four years
By David J. Schmidly

Sunday, March 4, 2007
Edition: CITY, Section: OPINION, Page 19A

It doesn't seem like four years since my wife, Janet, and I arrived at Oklahoma State University with the assignment from the board of regents of developing a strategic plan for one of the premier land-grant universities in the country. As we prepare to say goodbye, it's appropriate to look back at our progress.

Four years ago, it was felt that OSU needed to move to the next level so that it could help the state advance in this highly competitive international marketplace. Our "Achieving Greatness" strategic plans examined how best to focus our core missions of learning, discovery and engagement in a way that would have the greatest impact on Oklahoma.

Appropriately, we developed a "Report Card" to measure our success, and we put it on the Web for all to see. Education, we believed, must be fiscally responsible, transparent and accountable for results.

The report card measures five years of performance for the entire university, and while numbers tell the story, one big number speaks the loudest: nearly $850 million in private donations and public funds for new scholarships and infrastructure. Donors, alumni and taxpayers have made a solid investment in the future of OSU, and they are getting a tremendous return.

Largely because of increased scholarships, we've improved the academic profile of the typical incoming OSU student: The average freshman's ACT score has improved each year, reaching 24.7 this year. While continuing to lead the state in the number of valedictorians, we doubled the number of National Merit Scholars, and our graduation rate increased nearly 8 percent.

We increased faculty salaries by 18 percent since 2002, introduced an optional retirement system, improved benefits and added more than 100 faculty positions through our "Restore, Reward, and Grow" initiative.

The most visible sign of our progress, of course, is an unprecedented amount of construction. Thanks in large part to generous donors like T. Boone Pickens, Sherman Smith, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, and Walt and Peggy Helmerich, we've already secured 70 percent of the funding we'll need for more than $825 million in planned construction that will vastly improve academics, athletics, student life and infrastructure. Most are aware we received the largest athletic gift in NCAA history from Mr. Pickens, but many don't know we also secured the largest academic gift in school history from Bill Spears, whose generosity created the first fully endowed college at OSU.

We developed innovative partnerships with local community colleges in Stillwater and Tulsa, and significantly increased the number of African-American and Native American faculty and students, Hispanic students and female faculty. We raised the university's profile through creative marketing, created a nationally recognized parents association and promoted wellness.

We fortified OSU's economic impact through the Oklahoma Land-Grant Triangle that includes a national sensor testing center in Ponca City, a biofuels and biotech experiment station in Ardmore and the College of the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee. We expanded and stabilized our medical school in Tulsa to improve patient care and place it on the cutting edge of telemedicine and advanced techniques in rural health care.

All told, thanks to the dedicated work and support of the entire OSU family, we can look back on these four years with satisfaction. OSU is enjoying tremendous momentum and is in excellent hands with OSU Provost Marlene Strathe as interim president.

Janet and I loved our time at OSU and in Oklahoma, and we will be forever grateful for the opportunities and kindnesses shown to us by the wonderful people of this great state. Go Pokes!

Schmidly is former Oklahoma State University System CEO and president.

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