By Casey S. Elliott
Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit began her open forum with Athens campus staff by saying that chief among the things that she had learned in her time on campus was that she had much to learn.
For more than an hour on Friday, attendees gave Benoit a tutorial on Ohio University by noting what they valued, what accomplishments they took pride in, and what issues they were concerned about.
In her brief opening remarks, after praising the hard work of staff and faculty who participated in the three weeks of Bobcat Student Orientation, Benoit shared her intention to survey the academic landscape.
Comparing her project to the 1785 public land survey that established the boundaries for what would become Ohio University, she told a packed room in Bentley Hall that Vision OHIO would be her compass, but she needed their assistance to understand fully the lay of the land.
In a lively conversation that was punctuated by shared laughter, staff and faculty members recounted their appreciation for Ohio University's rich history, its strong sense of community, openness to new ideas and support for students. But Benoit, who started work at Ohio University on July 1, also heard concerns about the budget, staffing levels and the need to improve communication.
Collegiality and a can-do attitude are what make Ohio University unique, said Mark Weinberg, director of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
"You can have an idea here of what you want to accomplish strategically," he said. "The culture supports both innovation and being able to pursue your ideas. I think that's a key component and it's very important to support that."
Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus told Benoit that embracing sustainability has been one of Ohio University's strengths and contributes to the uniqueness of the campus and the Athens community.
"It's a balance," she said. "Before you rush to make Athens a lot like everywhere else, keep in mind how special Athens is."
Budgets -- and the need to do more with less -- permeated many of the comments during the session.
"We don't have enough money coming in every year to cover continuing costs. The budget pressures are serious," said Dawn Weiser, assistant to the senior vice president for finance and administration.
Meanwhile, College of Business IT Support Specialist Adam Yulish said he reaps a good deal of job satisfaction from the autonomy and accountability granted by his college. He said he worries, however, that he might lose both as budgets tighten and the university changes how it conducts its daily business.
"If I didn't have one or the other, I wouldn't be able to do as well as I do," he said.
Benoit acknowledged those concerns, adding that she is counting on the university community to help find solutions to budget issues.
"It is going to be tough, and I'm going to need your help," Benoit said. "We need to think about how we do business and do it in a different way."
Benoit added she would be holding conversations with groups of university constituents over the course of fall quarter. She said she plans to report the initial findings of her survey during Founders Day activities on Feb. 19.
In response to several comments, she also agreed that communication could be improved, and said she hopes to do that during her tenure. Finding the best way to communicate would involve some trial and error.
"I'm going to make mistakes. I know it up front," she said. "But I will work my hardest and try my very best, and I do need your input. I am interested in what you have to say."
Benoit plans to post notes from the forum on her Web site later in the week.