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‘Our Star Is Rising’ Fall Convocation Speech

Date of Release: 08/22/2006

President Denise M. Trauth
August 22, 2006

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Welcome to each of you. Isn’t it fun to start the fall semester with temperatures in the hundreds? The heat makes me appreciate the work of the soccer and football teams and the marching band!

I realize that some of you have been gone since finals and commencement in May, so let me give you a quick summary of what’s happened this summer while you were gone:

* We dedicated the Avery Building, the first permanent building at the Round Rock Higher Education Center. We had been holding classes in it all year, but this was our official dedication with the Board of Regents.
* The McCoy College of Business Administration moved into beautiful McCoy Hall and held classes there for Summer I and Summer II.
* We gave our most famous living alumnus, George Strait, an honorary doctorate in a private ceremony. I understand he likes the sound of “Dr. Strait.”
* We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Southwestern Writers Collection in grand style with Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Smith, Bud Shrake, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Sam Shepard and 500 other people at the Four Seasons in Austin.
* The Board of Regents approved plans for several projects that will bring the Campus Master Plan closer to reality. I’ll talk about some of these later.

And several of our faculty have made headlines this summer.
* Britt Bousman and his students in anthropology made interesting news as they dug up 6,000-year-old artifacts at Aquarena.
* Brock Brown and Richard Dixon were recognized as among the best college geography teachers in the country by the National Council of Geographic Education. These are the 13th and 14th such recognitions to come to the Texas State geography department, which has received the award more often than any other university in the country.
* Lynn Brinckmeyer, director of choral education, was named president of the National Association for Music Education, the world’s largest arts education organization.

As interesting as the summer was, we are eager to begin the fall. Yesterday at New Tenure-Track Faculty Orientation we welcomed Kerrie Lewis, new in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, and Frances Burns, new in communication disorders from Vanderbilt. They are among the 83 new full-time faculty who are joining us this fall, and we welcome them. On the other hand, Bobby Patton of HPER is beginning his 45th year with us, and Bob Northcutt in mathematics his 43rd. It is this wonderful combination of long-time professors and fresh new faces that makes our faculty very special and truly treasured by our students, even after they graduate.

It is fitting that at the beginning of a new academic year we honor some of these faculty for outstanding teaching, research and service.

Arlene Pace, president of the Alumni Association, will help make our first presentation. Each year the Alumni Association recognizes an outstanding teacher with its Teaching Award of Honor. Today’s honoree is a member of the English faculty. He is a past Fulbright Award winner, past recipient of the Ev Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Award and past Honors Professor of the Year. He has made a lasting impression on his former students. On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Steve Wilson.

Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, for outstanding scholarship and creative activity and for outstanding service. This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who have shown an outstanding ability to make teaching and learning an exciting experience. They exemplify our devotion to both undergraduate and graduate instruction and our commitment to a student-centered approach to education.

Please join me in honoring Debra Feakes of chemistry and biochemistry, and Thomas Simpson of biology.

We also are honoring two faculty members this morning for their scholarly and creative activity. Both have made significant contributions to their disciplines and to society in general, as well as to their students’ classroom experience. They manifest our commitment to research, scholarship and creative activity as part of the teaching and learning adventure. We are pleased to award the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activity to Michael Forstner of biology and Britt Bousman of anthropology.

We call on our faculty to serve, as well as to teach and conduct research. The Presidential Award for Excellence in Service is given to faculty who exemplify our commitment to public service as a responsibility to our university, our professional fields and our community. This year we honor Timothy Mottet of communication studies and Michael Supancic of criminal justice.

Each year the Faculty Senate chooses two or three colleagues to receive the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Awards. I want to ask Bill Stone, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of criminal justice, to come forward to assist in giving these awards.

Recipients of the Everett Swinney Awards are chosen on the basis of their dedication to the teaching profession, their influence on the lives of students and their contribution to the university as a whole. They have combined their commitment to teaching with strong records of creative achievement, service and mentoring their peers and students. It is with sincere pleasure today that we present these awards to Laurie Fluker, associate professor of mass communication, and Kenneth Margerison, professor of history.

We want to include in our introductions this morning the 2006 Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Please help us congratulate Mary Ann Zapata of the Office of Professional Development.

And we also want to introduce this year’s winners of the Mariel Muir Mentoring Award. Each year we honor a faculty member and a staff member for their mentoring of our students and employees. We are proud to recognize Laurie Fluker of journalism and mass communication and Stella Silva of Multicultural Student Affairs.

* * *
Congratulations to all of you.

We are about to begin a new semester. We will quickly become engrossed in our classes, our research, our day-to-day interactions that are at the heart of what we do. As we carry out our individual responsibilities, though, it is easy to lose sight of who we are collectively. It is easy to forget or not realize how good we really are together.

In May we graduated a Ph.D. candidate who is a citizen of three countries -- Great Britain, Sierra Leone and the United States. Her mother holds a Ph.D. from Columbia; her father, a Ph.D. from Harvard. Her brother has one from Cambridge and her sister, one from Yale. Her two other degrees are from England, but she chose Texas State for her Ph.D. This kind of choice is happening more and more regularly.

I know you have heard by now that the Princeton Review named Texas State one of the “best values” among America’s colleges for 2007. Only 150 public and private colleges were named. And only four Texas colleges were on the list: the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, Rice and Texas State.

Just last week we received the U.S. News and World Report college rankings that rated us among the top 10 public master’s universities in the West, the highest ranked Texas institution in this category.

The designation of Chris Frost as our 15th Piper Professor this year means that we have had more Piper Professors than any school except U.T.

Our graduation rate is fifth among the 35 public colleges in Texas and our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is eighth. We are among the most academically selective public schools in Texas, and our main competition for students is U.T., Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

Having these universities as our competition for undergraduate students is a different position than where we have been in the past. This progress -- the reality of it and the perception of it -- is an enormous source of pride for us. We are good and we’re getting better, and that’s because of the faculty and staff here who have made it happen.

Three years ago we got together as departments and colleges, then as divisions, dreaming creatively but thinking realistically, to design a strategic plan. We read each others’ plans and made comments across divisions. We hashed out our differences, and item by item, we created a foundation, then a complete document, for planning for our academic and support needs through 2009. Then last year, after talking with one another for a year and a half, we put the finishing touches on a wonderful Campus Master Plan for our physical needs for the next five and 10 years.

We have made amazing progress on both of these plans. We targeted our highest priorities and kept our focus. Let me share some of the high points.

One of our major goals was to increase the number of fulltime faculty in order to decrease the faculty load and to reduce our faculty-student ratio. In just four years, our number of full-time faculty has gone from 692 in the fall of 2002 to 850 this fall.

We also sought to increase the salaries of faculty in all ranks and here again we have made incredible progress. One of my goals since I came here was to raise the level of faculty salaries. Three years ago, we established a set of institutions with which we wanted to compare our salaries. These included more than 200 public master’s comprehensive and doctoral-intensive institutions across the country. Our goal was to raise our faculty salaries to the point that, in every rank and in every discipline, they were equal to or greater than the median of these schools. When we set that goal, fewer than a third of our salaries were at this point. Today 85 percent of our salaries meet that goal, and 75 percent of the fulltime faculty salaries are above the median. We have accomplished this by committing $2.25 million to this effort, in addition to the performance and merit salary raises, for a total of $6.7 million over three years.

And I am glad to say that the progress in salaries has not come at the expense of research support. Here, too, we have made progress. In the coming fiscal year, we will commit more than $1.2 million in faculty research start-up funding, in addition to the usual departmental and college contributions and in addition to $387,000 in supplemental travel money to support faculty engaged in research. Four years ago we had only the departmental and college start-up funds. We have increased research expenditures every year to the $23.3 million we spent last year.

Providing funds for faculty salaries and funds for research support are two critical initiatives we have undertaken to provide an excellent education for our students and to create the learning environment that they deserve.

A new master of science degree in accounting and information technology begins this fall. A School of Engineering that includes a B.S. in electrical engineering is in development, with plans for review in the fall. Degrees in various stages of review are Ph.D.s in criminal justice, mathematics, and mathematics education; a doctorate in physical therapy, and master’s degrees in human nutrition and athletic training. An M.F.A. in communication design is pending final approval from the Coordinating Board.

Another of our goals was to develop and implement a comprehensive marketing plan, and our progress on this goal is wonderfully obvious. You see the banners on campus, the billboards and ads in Texas Monthly and other places, and the numerous items that proclaim us as “the rising star of Texas.” We will phase out the logo we used immediately after the name change and will move to the logo with the star exclusively. This star logo has proved to be very popular, and it positions us well as a major player in Texas higher education. We continue to reap benefits from the name change, and we must capitalize on these benefits. This logo does that. You will hear more about the marketing plan and the transition to new letterhead and business cards soon.

Our beautiful Campus Master Plan has begun to take real steps toward implementation, with Board of Regents approval of preliminary plans of eight projects in May. This is very exciting news indeed. True to the “gray to green” theme of the plan, one of those projects is the Concho Street redevelopment. Concho Street runs between Lantana and Butler residence halls on the north and Falls and Sterry residence halls on the south from the theatre building on the east to the Undergraduate Admissions house on the west. Two blocks of this street will be replaced with a landscaped pedestrian-friendly mall between LBJ and Moon Street.

In keeping with the plan’s goal of replacing surface parking, Phase I of the Speck Street parking garage received Board approval, as did the adding of three levels to the Pleasant Street parking garage. The Speck Street parking garage near the water tower will add 721 parking spaces. The three levels of the Pleasant Street parking garage south of the Music Building will add 365. With the Speck Street garage comes a garden area between it and the Ivey-Moore house at the corner of Holland and Academy. With the Pleasant Street garage comes a new bus loop and a landscaped patio area -- more “gray to green.”

Also approved by the Board of Regents were the addition to the Student Recreation Center and the renovations of the Commons Complex, Jowers Center and the Trinity Building, one of the former technology buildings on Pleasant Street that will house Student Publications, Risk Management and the Center for Archaeological Studies. The regents also cleared the way for improvements to campus utility systems, including expansion of the Co-Gen Plant and upgrades to the Harris Plant. All of these projects, even the parking garages, will help unite the campus in a cohesive, Spanish colonial architectural style, another of the master plan’s goals.

These are major physical changes, and difficult to follow in a speech I realize. I invite you to explore them further on the Campus Master Plan website.

One of the intentions of the master plan was to make the campus a more inviting place, a place that enhances community outdoors as well as indoors, a place where students and staff walk more, enjoy our beautiful surroundings and congregate. The proposed landscaped malls and walkways will help to provide a more healthful atmosphere, but there are things we can do now as we await these improvements.

We have attempted this year to make the campus more beautiful and more healthful by further restricting smoking areas. We must face the fact that we know that second-hand smoke kills. This summer the surgeon general in a new report said “the debate is over and the science is clear,” that “smoke-free environments are the only approach that protects nonsmokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke.” We are not making the leap to a completely smoke-free campus yet, but last year we did designate the Quad from the breezeway of Alkek to Old Main as a non-smoking area and prohibited smoking within 20 feet of the entrance to any building. We have installed signs indicating this policy, and smoke receptacles outside these areas. Our efforts have met with mixed success. Some people disregard the signs, and the areas are littered with cigarette butts. Our best hope of enforcement is peer pressure. I call on all of us to take enough pride in the beauty of our campus and the health of our community that we will confront those who ignore the boundaries. It would be an uncomfortable thing to do if only one or two of us take on this responsibility, but if we all do, we can make it socially unacceptable, and I believe that’s the key to making it a reality.

There is much more progress. The strategic plan update that will be available on our website September 1 is full of evidence to support this; these are only the highlights. We take steps every day toward our goals, but it is not until we step back and document them that we realize what we have done. As we update the strategic plan, we note the accomplishments toward reaching each goal, and I must say that even I am impressed when I see the progress. We collaborated, we put this plan into place, and we have linked arms and made it happen. You are to be congratulated.

But of course we are not resting. As the Carpenters used to sing, “We’ve only just begun.”

As you know, diversity is one of our goals, and our commitment to a more diverse faculty, staff and student body is paying off. Our student population is becoming more diverse. Last fall, the number of our Hispanic freshmen increased by 27 percent and African-American freshmen by 10 percent. And, more importantly, we are retaining these students. Compared to the 10 largest Texas public universities, Texas State ranks third in retention and graduation of both African-American and Hispanic students.

Likewise, our faculty and staff are becoming more diverse. Since September 2004, 42 percent of all new tenure-track faculty hires were ethnic minorities. In the fall of 2002, we had 94 minority faculty, and this fall we are projecting 140. Among the staff, since September 2004, 34 percent of all new full-time hires have been ethnic minority. This fall alone, we will be joined by 47 new tenure-track faculty, 46 percent of whom are of an ethnic minority. Nineteen percent are African American; 13 percent are Hispanic. We welcome the eight new African-American and six new Hispanic faculty to our campus.

As Texas demographics change, we are more determined than ever to become a Hispanic Serving Institution. We will achieve this goal within the next few years. In three years we have increased from 4500 to 5400 Hispanic students, and this year’s freshman class has the largest number of Hispanics ever enrolled in a Texas State freshman class. And this is only fitting because in the fall we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the enrollment of the first Hispanic student at Texas State. We are quite proud that the Latino Presence is almost as old as any presence on campus. The first 303 students began classes at our university in 1903, and Maria Elena Zamora joined the student body in 1906. She would go from here to make her mark as a teacher-principal, prosperous businesswoman, author and recorder of the Texas-Mexican story. We invite all of you to celebrate Elena’s legacy among us.

One of the most exciting undertakings for us in the next few years will be our capital campaign. During the summer, upfront planning has brought together more than 80 alumni and friends of the university working in five task forces to address the following three strategies:

* First: Case and public relations strategies that will identify key selling points of the university and articulate the needs for giving and then recommend public relations strategies to communicate this case;
* Second: An individual, corporate and foundations prospect strategy that will develop criteria for rating and ranking prospects and match donor interests to campaign needs and gift opportunities; and
* Third: A gift policy and recognition strategy to develop working guidelines for recognition, tiered giving levels and appropriate recognition societies and naming opportunities and ongoing acknowledgement and appreciation of top-tier donors.

We have staff in place to do this. We are already raising more private money than ever in the past, in excess of $14 million during this year alone. Our volunteers are enthusiastic. We are ready.

But let me stress: Although we will set a monetary goal, a capital campaign is really not about money. It’s about a vision for the university and a belief that we can fulfill that vision. People don’t give to institutions because they need the money. We give because we believe in the institution and believe that our gift can make a difference to the success of that organization.

The three pillars of the capital campaign will be construction of a Performing Arts Center to be located across from the Theatre Center, which will make the arts more accessible to the community; athletics, with needs being identified through a strategic plan now being developed that will position our athletics programs to rival our peers across the nation; and, most importantly, academic excellence and research. Currently we are 11th among the 35 public universities in Texas in research expenditures. With our new doctoral programs and growth among the research agendas of all of our faculty, I see no reason why we should not be able to rise to eighth place and move into the emerging research university group of state universities in Texas.

As many of you know, the vast majority of universities across the nation that are the size of Texas State already have established themselves as emerging research universities. Until now, we have been an exception. What truly excites me about our direction is that we bring with us a strong tradition of dedication to teaching and a clear focus on undergraduate education. We excel in these areas. Pursuing a stronger research agenda can only add to the richness of our teaching and the quality of education we bring to our students. We in the university community know this. And we now know that our potential students know this. Let me explain:

Largely as a result of tuition deregulation, a couple of years ago we hired the Art and Science Group to conduct an undergraduate positioning and pricing study for us. We wanted to know how we were perceived -- our value -- among high school students and transfer students who were considering Texas State and other schools. This was a thorough study: Results were based on 943 initial interviews and 500 final interviews with undergraduate inquirers from Texas who met the admissions qualifications for fall 2004, and 908 initial and 497 final interviews with admitted undergraduate applicants from Texas. These were real students we followed to find out why they applied, where else they applied, where they finally went and why. One of the findings surprised us. It showed that these students -- 18 year olds -- wanted large, public universities, and they wanted research/doctoral universities. These brand-new freshmen would probably have no direct contact with research, but they wanted to know that their university had it. The study also showed that our main competition for undergraduate students was U.T., A&M and Texas Tech.

So with all we have been talking about this morning, you might say we are working to turn Texas State University into the university that our undergraduates want it to be. There is much progress, but at the same time there is much to do. We are determined to be as good as we can be and to have people see us as the great university we are. That takes work.

We have an incredible year ahead of us. We’ll dedicate McCoy Hall at Homecoming in October. Soccer has begun, volleyball starts this weekend and the football season kicks off next weekend. I urge all of you to get involved in our athletics programs. They are exciting and a lot of fun. Get your season football tickets now, if you haven’t already, because you don’t want to be left out when the stadium sells out. That was a new problem last year, and we wound up with some disappointed -- and frankly surprised -- Bobcat fans who could not get into the games. You don’t want to be one of those.

John and I are looking forward to the LBJ Picnic on Friday and hope to see you there.

I also want to invite you to an unveiling. On September 14 we will unveil a statue of Lyndon Johnson that is a gift from our students. The students voted the money from their student service fee to pay for this life-sized statue of a young LBJ, when he was about 20 years old, as he may have looked walking through the Quad as a student. Lyndon Johnson was a member of the Class of 1930; as we know, he went on to become the 36th president of the United States, making our university the only Texas college to have graduated a United States president. He was a visionary when it came to the benefits of education. The plaque that accompanies the statue contains a quote from Johnson that we might keep in mind as we begin another academic year together. It reads “Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination.” I welcome you to this new year as we endeavor to lead these young minds in their discovery of the adventure of higher education.

Thank you.