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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014

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Pam Benoit

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Provost welcomes OHIO faculty and staff


On Tuesday, Ohio University Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit sent out an email to all OHIO faculty and staff to welcome them back to the University.


Dear Ohio University Faculty and Staff:

Last week I had the opportunity to welcome new faculty to Ohio University. Along with greeting our new students at the First Year Student Convocation, it is one of the highlights of the year to meet the women and men who will be enriching our academic community with their knowledge and their enthusiasm for working with students.

At the faculty welcome event I spoke of where "true north" lies at Ohio University. If you've ever engaged in any sort of enterprise involving navigation, you probably know about the concept of true north vs. magnetic north. True north never varies; magnetic north changes as the Earth's magnetic fields shift.

In higher education, as in many other spheres of professional endeavor, we experience the impact of changes in culture, the economy, and society that take place both in America and abroad.  These shifts pull Ohio University and all universities in new directions.

However, at Ohio University, we understand the difference between being drawn by these magnetic forces and being propelled by our own efforts to the "true north" of our institution.

Our "true north" is providing a transformative learning experience for all of our students whether they are undergraduates or graduate students.  By transformative learning experience we mean that we expect our students to graduate with what James Madison called a "distinguished competency."  At Ohio University, a distinguished competency consists of facility in: writing, analysis, communication, and collaboration; civic, cultural and scientific literacy; global fluency; and, the creation and application of knowledge through research and creative activity.

Transformative learning cannot happen in the absence of talented and thoughtful individuals who remind themselves daily that they are still learners and who know that they have the power to equip new generations with the ability to advance our understanding of each other, the world around us, and the universe beyond.

There is a wonderful biography of Paul Dirac by Graham Farmelo called "The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom." One of the themes of the biography is the influence that a single teacher of mathematics had upon the life's work of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who co-invented the field of quantum mechanics.

That teacher, Peter Fraser, introduced Dirac, during his undergraduate studies, to the concept of mathematical beauty.  It was Dirac's encounter with mathematical beauty, combined with the personal kindness of his teacher, according to Farmelo, that unlocked Dirac's intellectual potential.

Mathematical beauty became Dirac's muse and it led him to countless important discoveries including predicting the existence of anti-matter. In essence, Dirac's teacher made it possible for his pupil to imagine the totality of the early universe in his head and to fundamentally change our understanding of the physical world around us.

Will one of the Ohio University students whom we welcomed to our campuses this week go on to win a Nobel Prize?  It has happened at Ohio University in the case of Venki Ramakrishnan and I'm certain that it will happen again. But prizes do not measure the impact of a good faculty member. A good faculty member is measured by her or his ability to stoke the fires of intellectual curiosity, to instill an appreciation for excellence, and in the case of Ohio University to propel a student along the path to a distinguished competency.

Staff also have an important role to play in steering the university toward its "true north." Each day in dozens of different ways they shape the experiences that students have. It is not unusual for them to accomplish six impossible things before lunch.  Their patience and perseverance make it possible for Ohio University to stay on course.

Today, as we begin the new academic year, we have all of the elements in place that will guide us to our "true north"-talented students, engaged faculty, and outstanding staff.    

Sincerely,

Pam Benoit
Executive Vice President and Provost