The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Ed Ray Oral History Interviews

Four life history interviews conducted by Chris Petersen.

June - August 2015


Edward John Ray was born in New York City on September 10, 1944, and grew up in two neighborhoods in the borough of Queens - Jackson Heights and Flushing. The son of a truck mechanic active in the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Ray was heavily influenced by an older brother who instilled in him a love of reading. After a stint in Catholic elementary school, Ray attended P.S. 200, Campbell Junior High School, and Jamaica High School, from which he graduated in 1962.

Ray conducted his undergraduate work at Queen's College - a branch of the City University of New York system - which he attended while living at home with his parents. Attracted to numerous subjects during his collegiate years, Ray majored in mathematics and double-minored in economics and theater. After completing his Queen's College degree in 1966, Ray travelled across the country to begin graduate work in economics at Stanford University. Interested in international trade, economic development, and the intersection between economics and history, Ray earned his Stanford master's degree in 1969 and his Ph.D. two years later, writing a doctoral dissertation titled "Finance in a Development Context: Lessons from West Germany." It was likewise at Stanford that Ray met the woman who would become his wife, a law student from rural Indiana named Virginia Beth Phelps. Ed and Beth Ray were married for forty-four years until her death in 2014. Together they raised three children, Stephanie, Katy and Michael.

In 1970 the Rays moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Ed had accepted a junior faculty position in the Ohio State University Department of Economics. After just six years on staff, Ray was named chair of the department, becoming, at age thirty-one, the youngest department chair in school history. He continued to serve in this capacity for sixteen years, all the while pursuing his research interests on economic history and international trade. In 1992 Ray made a move into Ohio State's central administration, initially as Chief Information Officer and later, from 1997-2003, as Executive Vice President and Provost.

In July 2003, Ed Ray became the fourteenth President of Oregon State University, succeeding Tim White, who had served on an interim basis following Paul Risser's departure for the Oklahoma University System in November 2002. As OSU's chief executive, Ray has overseen both historic growth on campus and a major recalibration of university ambitions. During his tenure, the university raised $1.142 billion dollars in private funds as a result of The Campaign for OSU, completed at the end of 2014. This university-wide capital campaign, the first in school history, resulted in the construction or renovation of twenty-eight buildings on the Corvallis campus, the endowment of seventy-nine faculty positions, and the creation of over 600 new scholarship and fellowship funds.

Ray's presidency has also been marked by significant increases in student enrollments, with totals rising from about 19,000 students in 2003 to over 30,000 in 2015. Growing numbers of these students attend OSU either online or at one of the university's two branch campuses, trends that, in themselves, reflect points of administrative emphasis during the Ray years. During his tenure, Ray has also propelled the reorganization of academic units and support staff to more closely align with OSU's signature academic priorities; promoted the further internationalization of the university, in part through a collaboration with INTO University Partnerships; and furthered the university's private sector ties through a variety of strategic initiatives. OSU also came under the governance of an independent Board of Trustees in 2013 with Ray, an ex officio member, playing a key role in guiding the formation and early efforts of the group.