Office of the President



Ora Hirch Pescovitz posing for a headshot while sitting on a couch

At Oakland University, we are proud to be among the most inclusive and welcoming college campuses in the region, and country.

An OU educational experience is distinguished by a range of opportunities for “hands on” learning, one-on-one engagement with our talented faculty, and a supportive campus culture.

We take great pride in focusing on programs and services that foster student success; timely and practical research; partnerships with communities that have a measurable and transformative impact; and, creating a culture that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.

Among our top priorities is for an OU education to be affordable and accessible to students from diverse social and economic backgrounds. In September, The Wall Street Journal assessment of the best colleges in America ranked OU as the “best value for investment” among our peer institutions.

Located in metropolitan Detroit’s northern suburbs, OU is situated on 1,500 park-like acres of ecological diversity, and in a region of breathtaking lakes, streams and preservation of land. Along with being positioned in an inspiring natural environment, OU maintains exceptional relationships with a range of corporate and industry neighbors. Those key relationships translate into an array of internships and career opportunities whereby students readily realize the value of their “education investment.”

A major point of pride is that OU graduates are the “talent backbone” of the region. Their work and leadership are shaping the region’s economic future.

Come visit us, and learn more about the Golden Grizzly experience. I know you’ll be inspired to imagine the possibilities of your career and life.

Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D. President


>> Thank you and welcome to the State of the University Address. We're gathering at a time of great excitement, a time of reflection, and a time of promise. The signs of renewal are all around us. But before I share some of these positive signs, first, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge our very talented musicians. Please give them a round of applause. [APPLAUSE] 

Please join me also in welcoming our trustees, Chair, Bobby Schostak, David Kramer, and Colleen Ochoa Peters. Thank you very much. 


We also have several very special guests who are here with us today. Please welcome alum and Rochester Hills Mayor, Bryan Barnett. [APPLAUSE] Maria, thanks for being here too. 

Pontiac Deputy Mayor, Khalfani Stephens, that's a promotion. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] 

We're also very grateful to have with us from OU Pontiac initiative core members, Pastor Douglas Jones and Dr. Tom Kimball. [APPLAUSE] 

A special welcome to the 2023 distinguished alum recipient, Dr. Robert Gordon. 


We also have a number of our advisory board members who are also here in attendance. 

Thank you also for being with us. [APPLAUSE] 

You don't have to clap for everyone or else we'll be here all day. 

[LAUGHTER] Please join me also in showing appreciation to our leadership team, the Oakland University cabinet members, deans, and members of our strategy council. Thank you also to our staff and faculty who are here in attendance in person, and those of you who are watching via streaming here for the State of the University. A special thank you to Dean Elaine Carey for hosting us here for the State of the University here in Varner Hall. Also, I'd like to acknowledge several very special guests from Oakland University's charter class, which is celebrating its 60th reunion this year with a dinner at Meadow Brook Hall later this evening. We've been through a lot together during the last several years. Since navigating the pandemic and after a few years of enrollment declines, we are just so encouraged by the current trend. Enrollment has now stabilized and stands at nearly 16,000. Students, faculty, and staff are back on campus with an excitement that we haven't seen in several years. Our financial position has stabilized as the result of difficult budget reductions throughout the university and our financial outlook has improved as the result of our state advocacy efforts. Our efforts have led to an increase in state appropriations floor funding that benefited Oakland and also several other universities. In 2020, we began our Strive for 45 campaign and I feel a deep sense of accomplishment that Oakland, all of us surpassed our goal. For Oakland, the success of Strive for 45 translates into an additional state appropriation of $11.5 million in fiscal year 2024. This is an overall unprecedented level of state funding. Thank you to Governor Whitmer for her leadership, and special thanks to higher education appropriation subcommittee chairs, representative Samantha Steckloff, and Senator Sean McCann for their passionate support of higher education. Thank you to our vice president of government relations, Rochelle Black for her hardworking team. Thank you also to our trustees and to so many of you who were an integral part of our successful advocacy efforts. As a special demonstration of our appreciation and to acknowledge your passionate commitment to our university, in July, we implemented a 4% increase in staff pay and bonuses to our faculty. We also increased the hourly wage to $15 for undergraduate and master's degree student workers, and we increased the hourly wage for doctoral graduate assistance to $25 per hour. [NOISE] Please know that we appreciate you for all that you do for Oakland. You are the backbone of our university. In the past few weeks, we have been especially encouraged by the findings of a Wall Street Journal assessment of the best colleges in America. The survey ranks Oakland as the highest among our peers in Michigan. Oakland is also ranked as the best value for investment among our peer institutions. Furthermore, Oakland ranks first among public universities in Michigan for enhancing students' social mobility. We are ranked second after only the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for preparing students for careers. While the Wall Street Journal affirms [NOISE] our current approach, we must be mindful of emerging trends in higher education, including a decreasing number of high school graduates, increasing demand for online hybrid learning, and the need to be responsive to students' mental health and well-being. Further trends in higher education include improving students' career readiness, integrating AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality into the educational experience, and confronting skepticism about the value of a college degree. But we are committed to understanding the implication of these trends and acting strategically so we can understand the impact on retention and graduation rates. Under the excellent leadership of Provost Britt Rios-Ellis, we are applying data from an award winning student success and equity dashboard to critically understand how we can best support students on their path to graduation. Academic affairs is piloting several innovative initiatives to mitigate equity gaps and we're pleased to report that our one-year retention rate for underrepresented minority students increased by 5% this year, and the gap between URM and non-URM students was reduced by 5%. Thank you to our deans, chairs, and faculty for leading this effort to assess gateway courses in various units that are critical to improving student retention. 

We are so deeply appreciative of the work of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for their focus on high-impact practices. While there is work to be done throughout the university, I'm very proud to report that we have a clear focus on our priorities. This academic year, our top priorities include improving student success and increasing student retention. Being a student ready campus, and understanding how we can best support the needs of our students. We will always focus on recognizing the outstanding faculty in our schools and in our college. Other priorities include acknowledging excellence in teaching, community engagement, and research. In building on these priorities, we will continue to focus on research that makes a difference. I am just so proud to report that external funding for fiscal year 2023 reached a record of $28.9 million. Since the President's research retreat that we held in 2019, I'm delighted to tell you that total annual funding more than tripled and research funding has more than doubled. 


Furthermore, we are absolutely committed and place the highest priority on building a culture of shared governance and deepening our collaboration with our faculty in advancing Oakland. We are also committed and place the highest priority on maintaining a safe and healthy campus that strives to be a model of diversity, equity and inclusion, which fosters this sense, [APPLAUSE] a campus that fosters a sense of belonging to our increasingly diverse campus population. 

When we focus on our priorities, we build on our strengths. As a result, we succeed in promoting the impressive return on an investment of an OU education on elevating our leadership in health care and health services education. Further, we will continue to highlight internships and experiential learning for all students. We will advocate for civility in discussions about the issues shaping our democracy. As we focus on our core priorities and strengths, this year, we are also embarking on several timely and transformative initiatives, including a refresh of the university's strategic plan, building on our partnership with the OU-Pontiac Initiative, and expanding our role as a strong steward of place throughout our region. Other initiatives include establishing the OU's Center for Sustainability, a step toward becoming a more sustainable university, and creating an artificial intelligence task force to prepare us for the latest technological revolution. Along with these timely initiatives, we continue to re-imagine our university. Our gathering today is here in Varner Hall. This is symbolic of the physical and infrastructure development of our campus, including renovations here in Varner Hall that have enhanced rehearsal space for students and faculty offices. The new welcome center in the expanded Wilson Hall provides a gateway for prospective students and families. Reconstruction of South Foundation Hall will impact every student who takes a course in the building. The new facade of O'Dowd Hall will reflect the environment of our world-class medical school. Other new renovations include the opening of the engineering research building, a new Meadow Brook Hall visitors center, and ongoing innovations at OU West Campus, where recent developments include space for the best, an initiative to further elevate Oakland as a leader in health and human services and a training facility for OU's basketball teams. We are just so proud of our athletic teams and all of our student-athletes. There is just no question that we at Oakland have established a culture of winning. I'm extremely proud that our student-athletes are also winning in the classroom. Just a few short years ago, we would not be sitting next to each other like you are here today. Instead, we were at home connected by Zoom. But the efficiencies of technology should never be a substitute for a real and dynamic community. Let's appreciate that today, we are gathering as a community, but we remain vigilant and prepared for any threat to our health and to our security. Earlier this year, a timely review of campus security lead to a new investment of $655,000 to improve security, including access control doors and enhanced lockdown capabilities. Thank you to Chief Mark Gordon and his team at OU PD for making sure that we are all safe. In addition to ensuring that our campus is safe and welcoming, we are also committed to being a healthy community with a wide range of available resources. Our healthy campus initiative is led by Becky Lewis and her team. Their work inspires students, faculty, and staff to take the healthy campus pledge, which is simply a statement that you will take care of yourself mentally and physically, and that you will be there for others to. When you came in or when you sat down, you were given one of these green bandanas. One way you can show support for this initiative is to display this green bandana. This green bandana is a symbol of your support for everyone on campus that you promised to be mentally healthy. Our healthy campus team is an outstanding example of stepping up, taking the initiative, and making a difference. Making a difference is the positive and inspirational impact that we have on students, faculty, staff, and the communities that we serve. But we must be strong to make a difference. Strong as measured by how we live up to our mission and how we act on our values. Strong financially and strong as a community that believes in the transformative power of education and research, and the promise of Oakland University. Now, as many of you know, the higher education landscape in America and here in Michigan has changed dramatically in the past several years. These changes are part of broader trends. In the fall of 2010, there were 18 million undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities. In 2021, that number fell to 15.5 million, a 14% decrease. Each day, we address the common issues facing all universities, while also dealing with the unique challenges that face us here at Oakland. We stand at a crossroad. We must be determined, we must be dedicated, and we must act decisively based on our mission and with purpose. That sense of determination, dedication, and purpose can be seen in our approach to our fiscal responsibilities. Since more than three-quarters of our revenue comes from our tuition, any loss in students means less tuition revenue, which impacts our bottom line. Despite decreasing revenue attributed to declining enrollment in the past, I'm proud to report that the 2023-'24 budget is balanced. This was accomplished through the implementation of the second phase of a three-phase across the board 10.4% across the board budget reduction. Phase 3 will be completed in the current fiscal year. It was also accomplished through stabilizing enrollment and we also balanced the budget through a successful advocacy strategy in Lansing that led to unprecedented state funding support. Many people contributed to these efforts, but I especially want to acknowledge Vice President Steve Mackey and his team. The current balanced budget reflects sound fiscal management, ensuring that an Oakland University education is both accessible and affordable. As a result, 19% of all of our undergraduates will have their tuition fully covered. But of our incoming class, 43% will have their tuition fully covered. It's great. [APPLAUSE] 74% of incoming first year students whose family incomes are less than $70,000 will have their tuition covered fully by the golden guarantee. Furthermore, 57% of incoming first year students whose family incomes are less than $70,000 and who qualify for housing grants, which is essentially any of those students whose family incomes are less than $70,000 will pay nothing for either their tuition or for housing. There's no reason why students cannot afford an Oakland education. [APPLAUSE] 

Not only must college be affordable, it is profoundly important that students are not burdened by debt when they graduate. We're proud that 56% of Oakland University's new undergraduate students leave Oakland with no debt at all. In addition, the Golden Grizzlies Graduate Program help students complete their Oakland degree, including those who do have prior debt. Today, 450 students who participated, and 265 of these students have already earned degrees in this new program. As reported in the Wall Street Journal just two weeks ago, Oakland graduates repay their tuition, those who did have debt in only one year and seven months. [APPLAUSE] 

This is the second fastest among all public universities in Michigan. 

This success is the result of so many people here at Oakland, many people who have worked tirelessly. But I especially want to acknowledge the Enrollment Management Team led so ably by our Vice-President Dawn Aubry. [APPLAUSE] 

As an ardent supporter and proponent for affordability and the intrinsic value of higher education, Oakland supports the state, Oakland County, and the Detroit Drives Degrees campaigns to increase college degrees in Michigan, but also the ongoing effort to close the equity gaps. We're so grateful to have our partners, which you see here on this slide, in our ongoing efforts to improve college completion rates. Let's take a moment and appreciate that our strategic collaborations in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors are really making a difference. Let's consider how these collaborations demonstrate how we are attracting a broad range of supporters to the mission of Oakland University and how that is enhancing our reputation. We are no longer a hidden gem in Michigan. [APPLAUSE] 

Nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to the advancement activities of the university. 

I am proud to report that our fiscal 2023 fundraising of $36.1 million is again a record for our university. [APPLAUSE] 

The Aspire Advance Achieve campaign is now at 95% of our $150 million fundraising goal, thank you. [APPLAUSE] I want to thank our dedicated and talented team led by the outstanding Vice President Mike West Paul. 

Our advocacy for increasing college degrees underscores Oakland's pivotal role in building a talent pipeline for the Michigan economy and being a major talent pipeline is an area where we at Oakland truly distinguish ourselves. Our career and life Design Center reports that 72% of OU graduating seniors are employed within a year and 98% of those students work in Michigan and right here, mostly in Southeast Michigan. OU students are getting work experience in the region. Eighty six percent of our graduating seniors report that they have had at least one paid internship. That's the reason why the Detroit News, when they reported on all of the Michigan brain drain problems in Michigan, reported that we at Oakland are the number one brain gain public university in the state. [APPLAUSE] 

That simply refers to the proportion of graduates who remain in Michigan after graduation and we are that number one institution whose graduates stay in Michigan. 

In late June, the Supreme Court's landmark ruling came out, and that prohibits race-based affirmative action in college admissions. It set into motion a nationwide debate about fair and equal access to a college education. Well, subsequent to the High Court's decision, we have been determined to bring some clarity to what is often been an extremely complicated topic. But often overlooked in the heated discussion is that about 70% of underrepresented minority students attend public universities that are very similar to Oakland, where the focus is on access, affordability, and pathways to opportunity and social mobility. To underscore this point, our recent profile looks like this, 37% of full-time students at Oakland are Pell Grant eligible, 36% are first-generation college students. Furthermore, I'm very proud to report that we are becoming a more diverse university. We have a record number of underrepresented minority students. 26.2% of our FTIAC are underrepresented minority students. In addition, the Latinx FTIAC population has more than doubled in the last 10 years and our African-American population has also nearly doubled in the past 10 years. Overall, underrepresented minorities make up 9.1% of our faculty and 17.7% of our staff. With the support of the Black Faculty Association and the Latinx faculty association, we are working for even greater diversity. Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion must be affirmed each and every day. That's exactly the focus of our DEI efforts led by Glenn McIntosh, Oakland Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, and our chief diversity officer. [APPLAUSE] 

As we strive to be a model DEI campus, we must have the courage to address tough questions. In August, we were proud to host Teaching Race in America, a conference which featured Nikole Hannah Jones, The New York Times journalist and developer of this 1619 Project. I want to thank our faculty and staff members for their work on this extremely important conference, which was attended by more than 200 educators from around Metro Detroit. To some, the notion of teaching race in America might seem controversial but at Oakland, we do not back away from discussing complex and contentious topics. [APPLAUSE] 

Our discourse, like our actions, reflect the values at the core of Oakland's identity. These values include academic freedom, freedom of speech, respect for a diversity of people, culture, and ideas, as well as the pursuit of knowledge and truth. As a university, we are committed to a civil and open discourse about the issues that are at the core of a democratic and pluralistic society and that is the philosophy that is at the heart of the Center for Civic Engagement, which under the outstanding leadership of Professor Dave Julio, presents fora on a range of complex topics. The Dennis Muchmore Public Policy Series, which kicked off last week with a discussion about civility in politics with former Governors Blanchard and Snyder, is just one of the ways that we are fostering public discussions on timely and critical issues. Also, last week, the center, in recognition of National Voter Registration Day, celebrated the civil rights advocacy of Alice Moore and Denise Holt, who were among those who marched for voter rights in March of 1964 when they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. I'm so proud of Dave's work in the Center for Civic Engagement. [APPLAUSE] 

In keeping with the spirit of being vigilant, we must confront both the promise and the potential disruption of artificial intelligence in higher education but we're up to the challenge. Under the able leadership of deans, Louay Chamra and Graeme Harper, a new task force will consider the impact of AI. The task force will consider the ethical guidelines, resource allocation, and ongoing monitoring and adaptation of this new technology. Today, in the State of the University, we've reviewed our fundamentals, including our priorities, fiscal responsibility, and commitment to our mission. When we gaze into our future, we can envision many scenarios where the fundamental principles of operating a university remain the same but the higher education landscape is shifting dramatically. We must be open to and ready for inevitable change. We must listen to each other and we must collaborate with one another. We must understand how a university needs to transform itself in order to remain relevant to students' needs responsive to faculty, and fully engaged within our communities. Technological breakthroughs help us understand that the future is fast approaching and while there is widespread speculation about where the digital revolution leads, one thing is abundantly clear, the future will look quite different from both the past and the present. It's not just a preference to be prepared. It's our responsibility. This month we embark on refreshing Oakland University's strategic plan. The purpose of the plan is to strategically position Oakland for opportunities emerging in our fast-changing cultural, economic, and higher education landscape. The strategic plan presents a six-year roadmap. The plan will be reviewed and revised annually and a comprehensive assessment will be conducted every three years. The four-phase planning process will be completed by next fall. A team nominated by the cabinet and deans will oversee the development of the strategic plan. The strategic plan is an outgrowth of the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which includes the work of more than 50 faculty and staff who developed 16 initiatives. These proposals will be listed on the President's webpage and I want to thank the Baldrige teams that develop these timely initiatives. Your work is greatly appreciated and you can see the names of these category leaders here. [APPLAUSE] Throughout the strategic planning process, the OU community will have ample opportunities to submit their views and ideas at town halls, online fora, and division meetings. I want to stress that the strategic planning process is really a team effort. We're drawing on input from around campus and look forward to rigorous and comprehensive discussions. Thank you to members of the strategic planning team for your unselfish service to our university and thank you to our Chief of Staff, Josh Merchant, for leading this effort. [APPLAUSE] 

An essential part of the strategic plan is furthering our claim that Oakland is the university of choice. 

What does it mean when we say, and I've been saying this for a long time, that we're at the university of choice? It means that Oakland is a driving force for the betterment of all those who learn, work, and live in our region. It means that we are stewards of the dreams and ambitions of our students. It means that we provide a collegial and supportive teaching environment and a research environment for our faculty. It means that we are deeply engaged in our communities and it means that we are a force for progress in shaping our region and Michigan's future. Among the most striking ways we demonstrate our stewardship is through community engagement. In late October, we will hold our annual OU Pontiac Initiative Town Hall, which is a prime example of our commitment to community engagement. For nearly a decade, we have been proud partners with the civic, business, philanthropic, educational, and cultural leaders in Pontiac. Here you see some of the members of the leadership team and of course, this list of leadership team members works with community residents. When you consider the range of backgrounds and expertise coming together for a common cause, you get the picture, this is what collaboration looks like. [APPLAUSE] 

Community engagement is a term that translates into a formula for people coming together, learning from each other and finding a common cause. Foremost, our alliance is about people. People working together to improve the quality of life for Pontiac residents. The OU-Pontiac Initiative is built on a six pillar model that integrates the work of neighborhood groups and non-profits, PK-16 education, civic engagement, economic and workforce development, health care and wellness, and arts and culture. In November, Glenn and I will accept the inaugural excellence and innovation award for stewards of place from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Chicago. [APPLAUSE] 

The award sites Oakland as a national model of civic engagement. 

A special thank you to Teresa Rogers for her unwavering commitment to this initiative and everyone associated with the OU-Pontiac Initiative. This is truly an amazing honor for all of us and we're just so proud of this national recognition for this 10-year long major effort of community engagement. 


Another way, we're demonstrating our claim as the university of choice is the establishment of the Oakland University center for sustainability. By next fall, a founding director will lead to center funded by a one million dollar gift from the OU Credit Union. The director will lead a collaborative effort to develop a comprehensive sustainability campus plan. Thank you to our sustainability team for their passion and dedication to making sure we are responsible stewards of our university, of the climate and the environment. In the coming year. I look forward as together we all imagine the next chapter in Oakland University's history. Albert Einstein observed, imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. In the days ahead, every step we take along and uncharted path will be illuminated by what we can imagine. As you came here today, when you sat down, not only did you receive the green bandanas, you should have also received a pack of flower seeds, and if you didn't get one when you came in, you can get one when you leave. Find a special place to plant these seeds, and imagine the possibilities. We will do the same in a garden outside of Varner Hall that we have named the garden of imagination. In a way, that's what we're doing here. We're planting seeds. Maybe it's because we're optimists, and we believe passionately in the future. Together, we have, we can, and we will make a difference in the lives of our students, in the lives of our faculty, in the lives of our staff, in the lives of our alumni, and in the lives of the communities that we serve. We need look no further than the founder of our university, Matilda Dodge Wilson, for the inspiration to shape the future with a pioneering spirit. Matilda said, "To attempt great things is to expect great things." May each of us heed her timeless advice. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] I want to take a moment to thank the people that did most of the work for this presentation, and I wanted to just say that there's a lot of people that did a lot of work. We had an amazing team that put together this wonderful presentation, so many people and I'd like you to give them all a round of applause. 


I want to specifically also especially point out Frank Provenzano who's spent a huge amount of effort on this, but the entire team. Thank you. 


As we were coming in today, I will just say that John asked me to tell you why I wore this particular jacket today. [LAUGHTER] I have a lot of black and gold, so many of you know that, but he asked me why I word this one today. I have plenty of black and gold in my closet. Those of you who've seen my closet know there's a whole section of black and gold, but he asked me why I wore this one, and he thought maybe it was because it looks like the flower garden that we're going to plant, and that's partly true because it does, it is full of the flowers that we're going to have, but I did tell him that there was a second reason, so he asked me to share the reason with you, so I will. Matilda is obviously the inspiration to all of us and she's an inspiration to me too. I did think about the flower garden when I pick this out today, but John thought I should tell you the second reason. The second reason is that some of you are aware that I recently had an article that appeared in JAMA about mentors and the different people that mentored us and some of you who've seen it and commented to me about it, but one of the important mentors in my life were both of my parents. This jacket was my mother's and she was an important mentor to me, and I thought of her, I thought of Matilda and I was thinking about my mentors, and so John thought I should tell you that this was my mother's jacket, [APPLAUSE] so you know that I do listen to the people that report to me. [LAUGHTER] 

Thank you very much for being here. We do have lunch and you'll get it when you leave, but I do hope you'll all plant your seeds. If you don't know where to plant them, please join us in planting them in our garden of imagination. Thank you very much. 


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