Dr. Bruce McPheron was officially installed as provost and executive vice-president of the Ohio State University by the school’s Board of Trustees in June. He previously served as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences before assuming the role of interim provost in January.
A conversation with…
Bruce McPheron, provost and executive vice-president of the Ohio State University by the school’s Board of Trustees.
OCJ: You were officially installed as provost and executive vice-president of the Ohio State University by the school’s Board of Trustees in June after previously serving as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences before assuming the role of interim provost in January. What has it been like going from dean of CFAES to being thrown into this role?
Bruce: Well you know it became full time really quickly. In fact Dec. 2 there was no honeymoon and so that initial transition when President Drake asked me to serve as the interim executive vice president Provost, he made it very clear that this was not a place holding role — he wanted us to continue to move the University forward. I have had a lot of help from people around me over here. A very generous group of folks gave me notebook after notebook of things to study. Just as the students were going through finals, about that time I felt in some ways I was studying for midterms as well.
OCJ: Did CFAES, you feel, prepare you in any way for your new office and if so, how?
Bruce: Well you know coming from the background of agriculture and all the related sciences starts you from the perspective of thinking very broadly and so I think that is actually an advantage that I had in then being able to walk across the University. Ohio State is one of the world’s most comprehensive institutions in terms of the disciplinary backgrounds that we have in 15 different colleges. The fact that half of what we do here is an academic medical center in the health sciences that are associated with that and we’ve got the arts and humanities just here on either side of Bricker Hall on the oval. All of these things are reminders of just the breadth of what this particular University has to offer and I think coming from a College like ours that had so many different disciplines embedded in it made me start with the mindset of understanding the connections among them.
OCJ: You’ve touched on this slightly already, but coming from dean of Penn State then coming right to Ohio State and now coming here — has that changed your view of Ohio State in this process or do you feel it’s been pretty much the same throughout?
Bruce: Well I feel like I’m learning every day. You know I’ve told people for years to celebrate being a lifelong learner. I will tell you that these past six plus months have really reinforced that. So you know I wouldn’t say that I have the same impressions, but they continued to build and evolve. You know the roots that I have in CFAES, and in my experiences back at Penn State before that, really have me thinking about the mission of the University and that I think is an important thing that I can bring to this office. I understand the excellence of our teaching and being very student centered — that’s something that our college is known for across the campus. I understand the importance of really focusing on high quality research because that’s one of the other jobs of a university — to discover new ideas and that may be a cure for a disease, that may be a better way to grow a crop, or it may be some creative work of art that really moves the spirit. That is a fundamental part of what we do and you know I bring that with me from my experiences and CFAES. And then the final piece, which I think is absolutely essential, is the recognition that for a University like Ohio State, learning and teaching do not stop at the classroom door. We are across the state. We’re in every community of Ohio through programs that belong to Ohio State and I really want to see that mentality extend further to the campus so that we’re taking full advantage of everything Ohio State brings to the table.
OCJ: Talking about communities, you are originally from Hardin County. And as a 4-H member from there, do you ever find yourself reflecting on that and how far you’ve come since then?
Bruce: I think about it all the time. In fact, it was 52 years ago that I first became officially affiliated with Ohio State and it was through Ohio 4-H. Now it was in Union County at that time but as I grew older and we moved up to Hardin County where we really call home — both Marilyn and I are from Hardin County — I just I think back all the time to lessons learned there. So I learned not just as a 4-H’er and what you learn as a club officer, what you learn in having responsibility for a project, and what you learn in the various service projects that a 4-H club might do, but also then I had the opportunity between my graduate degrees to come back and work in cooperative Extension. Those have been absolutely invaluable learning experiences for me. You know I carry those things with me every day.
OCJ: When President Drake offered you the job and said here, is this what you want to do? What went through your mind and what went into the decision process of saying “yes,” I will take this full time from here on out?
Bruce: Well you know I made that decision sometime in the middle of the spring semester. When I came in as interim in December, it truly was in my mind with the intent of being the interim individual in this role and it was only as I really began to understand the role and to work with the people around me and see what the potential was across the University to really do some amazing things that it occurred to me that this was another opportunity for leadership. I will carry CFAES with me every single day and I will miss the opportunity to provide leadership at that level, but I really feel that I can bring the interests of what our college represents both as a society and as a part of an amazing university to a new level by serving in this current role.
OCJ: And through that service, do you see Ohio State’s involvement in agriculture, food, and environmental sciences changing at all? Where do you see that going here in the future?
Bruce: Well you know of the food system is a changing creature. We have new opportunities every year. Earlier in the spring we actually hosted the first Buckeye Summit and its focus was food security. There are a lot of things to think about in terms of what the entire University can bring to some of the things that we hold so dear within CFAES. I think that is about creating an environment where it’s really an all of Ohio State effort to advance our ag and food system and all the things we depend on there. There’s so much capacity across campus that I now can see from a different vantage point and encourage others to be part of finding great solutions for the future. That really energizes me.
OCJ: Can you lend any insights as far as the future of the agricultural facilities here at Ohio State regarding Waterman Dairy or livestock facilities out by Don Scott Field? Can you tell us anything about that?
Bruce: Just at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, we gave an overview of some of the changes that have now been proposed and planned. There are a lot of steps still to take. Facility decisions are complicated and so the first step is really sound planning. There’s been work that has been involved with our Wooster campus and of course here in Columbus thinking about the teaching needs, particularly in our animal science areas. We have been thinking about what we might do because of our unique urban location, something that didn’t really characterize the college back in the day. We’re actually looking at improvements to Waterman Farm over the next several years that would help us to continue to be able to support our teaching mission in animal agriculture — Animal Sciences being the most popular major in the college — to be able to really think about our outreach programming and the possibility to do some work in urban agriculture. Essentially we can use Waterman in a way that actually takes advantage of its location and then we still have all of our experiment stations and the Wooster campus scattered around the state to do the work that we have done for so many years to really support the unique elements of Ohio agriculture in different corners of Ohio.
OCJ: What do you really hope to accomplish as Provost, whether that be through service or helping out the students at Ohio State University or the community of Ohio overall?
Bruce: Well you know I really share President Drake’s philosophy. He’s called it the 20-20 vision, 2020 being of course our sesquicentennial, the 150th birthday of the University and of course our college should be construed as a founding college of the University. He’s laid out a premise that we need to really provide access to an affordable and excellent education. We really need to be a great member of our community so we need to be engaged and we really need to think about the diversity and inclusion of our programs. And you know we’ve been ahead of the game in agriculture over the years in all of those areas so I feel very comfortable stepping in to say those are the kinds of things we’ll continue to promote here at the University. We have lots we need to think about in terms of the nuts and bolts of things that will move us forward, but honestly some of the elements that drew me here to Ohio State originally a few years back remain very true. This is a place where we can solve problems by working across boundaries and I think one of the big signatures that I would like to leave at Ohio State is really reinforcing that kind of culture.