Virtual State of the University Address acknowledges current issues, plans for future

Lauren Karmo, Managing Editor

President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz delivered the State of the University Address virtually from Meadowbrook Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 29. During the address, Pescovitz presented the issues the university is currently facing going into this next year, as well as reviewed the accomplishments from the past year. 

Pescovitz discussed enrollment; impactful members of the Oakland University community; strategic goals such as community engagement, research and diversity, equity and inclusion; overall finances; the “Strive for 45” campaign; recent changes to the university’s leadership structure; and the pandemic response and health plans.

Finances

Pescovitz said OU is in a good financial spot based on numbers from enrollment and the recent Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting. 

“In spite of the pandemic, we remain strong and one of the most fiscally sound higher education institutions in the state,” Pescovitz said. 

As of June 2020, the university has maintained that among the 15 Michigan public universities, it is in the bottom five for total operating revenue per undergraduate student, instructional utility costs per square foot and building square footage per student. This has allowed it to keep costs low and freeze tuition for this past academic year. 

The president also mentioned the university’s efforts to make tuition more affordable. The “Strive for 45” campaign and the Golden Grizzlies Graduate program have been the main focuses of the university to help alleviate student debt. 

“We must focus on making higher education more affordable,” Pescovitz said. “The Golden Grizzlies Graduate program addresses student debt … Addressing how to help students succeed means understanding the financial challenges facing students.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

With the heightened attention toward diversity, equity and inclusion both locally and nationally, Pescovitz addressed the efforts OU has taken. 

“In recent weeks, I’ve established an endowed scholarship for social, racial and environmental justice,” Pescovitz said. “I hope that this is one of the many significant actions that reflect our commitment to being engaged and working for a better world. The gift is keeping with the spirit of our annual Keeper of the Dream, an event that pays homage to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

This scholarship is one of the university’s attempts to support students and faculty. Others include university-wide unconscious bias and LGBTQIA+ supportive training, a commitment to diverse hiring practices and several disability support services. 

Student safety and experience

With additions such as the Golden Grizzlies Health Squad and the “Grizzlies Protect Grizzlies: Healthy Together” pledge, OU is looking at ways to maintain student safety against COVID-19. At the recent BOT meeting, low numbers of COVID-19 cases have been reported on campus compared to other public universities in the state. 

The president spoke directly to students, saying, “The pandemic will not last, but the character that each of us displays during these difficult times will sustain us.”

She acknowledged the atypical college experience students are getting this year, but encouraged students to be flexible as they look toward the future. 

“I know that this year isn’t the experience that you expected when you thought about attending college, but frankly, as you go through life, you will inevitably have to deal with situations that you didn’t see coming your way,” Pescovitz said. “If you’re compassionate and open to learning, there will always be hope for a better tomorrow.”