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President Trauth's 2007 Fall Convocation speech

President Trauth delivers the fall 2007 convocation address
 

‘Reflecting on Our Past, Charting Our Future’

Fall Convocation Speech

President Denise M. Trauth

August 21, 2007

 

Good morning, and welcome to this exciting new year. We are members of a fortunate profession that renews itself every fall, and in important ways we begin again every year.

Last year set a high bar for good things, so this year has its work cut out for it. The year included major gifts of $5 million from Bruce and Gloria Ingram that will lay the foundation for our engineering school and $6 million from St. David’s Community Health Foundation that will jumpstart our nursing school. We dedicated McCoy Hall and a statue of a young Lyndon Johnson. Among people who came to lecture were Isabel Allende, Karl Rove and Edward James Olmos. The chair of our Department of History, Frank de la Teja, was named the first historian of the State of Texas. Kathleen Peirce in creative writing became only the second Texas State faculty member ever to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. We made major strides in academics, planning, student services and fund raising. While we welcome new people who will be important to Texas State’s future, we also remember those to whom we said goodbye in the last year – among them Roy Mitte in January and Lady Bird Johnson just last month.

The legislative session came to a close in May, and Texas State did well. We received the funding for the Undergraduate Academic Building here in San Marcos and the nursing building in Round Rock. We got the additional $2 million we needed to start the nursing program, and $3 million for our School Safety Center.

And just last week, the Board of Regents met and named three of our faculty members Regents Professors. This is a new designation, competitively awarded to full professors at Texas State University System schools. To present these today is our system chancellor, Charles Matthews.

Thank you, Charles.

We also want to honor others among our faculty for outstanding teaching, research and service.

Justin Edmondson, president of the Alumni Association, will help make our next presentation. Each year the Alumni Association recognizes an outstanding teacher with its Teaching Award of Honor. Today’s honoree is a member of the geography faculty. He is a walking example to his students that they can become what they dream of being. He has made a lasting impression on his former students. On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Brock Brown.

Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, for outstanding research and creative activity and for outstanding service. This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who have shown a remarkable 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 James Pohl, professor of history, and Anadelia Romo, assistant professor of history.

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 David Butler, professor of geography and Timothy Bonner, associate professor of biology.

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 Steven Furney, professor of health, physical education and recreation, and Teri Evans-Palmer, senior lecturer in art and design.

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 Mary Ann Stutts, professor of marketing, and Steve Wilson, professor of English.

Our other Faculty Senate nominee went on to win the Piper Award last spring. He says he teaches in order to share his passion for art and its history, to remind other people of the beauty in the world and to make room for beauty in their own lives. In 2006 he began a three-year position as our NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, and he was featured in the PBS series “State of Tomorrow” this spring. I am delighted to present our 15th faculty member to be named a Minnie Stevens Piper Professor – James Housefield.

For their years of outstanding teaching and creative work at Texas State, four retired faculty were named Distinguished Professors Emeriti by the Texas State University System Board of Regents in May and we recognize them today. Our honorees are:

Gary Carman, Distinguished Professor of Finance and Economics Emeritus;

Wilbon Davis, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science Emeritus;

Joan Hays, Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Dance Emerita;

and Robert Northcutt, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Emeritus.

We want to include in our introductions this morning the 2007 Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Please help us congratulate Roxana Weaver, supervisor in Human Resources.

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 Mary Brennan, professor of history, and Jen Beck, director of retention management and planning. 

This will be the fourth year that we have engaged in a campuswide Common Experience, in which we examine a central theme by asking our freshmen to read a selected text and by focusing our classroom discussion, invited speakers and arts on that theme. This year’s topic is “The Water Planet: A River Runs Through Us,” and the central text is Goodbye to a River, John Graves’ classic narrative  inspired by a canoe trip on the Brazos River.

It’s a good theme, partly because rivers and universities have much in common. Rivers feed a variety of plants and animals along their banks. They bring together a diverse system of streams and creeks that flow into a larger system of seas and oceans. They change their environment. Rivers and universities are a source of life and inspiration. And they both require our stewardship.

The river was certainly one of the things that impressed me when I set foot on this campus the first time five years ago. It was hot, and I remember how refreshing the water looked. All kinds of people were using the river and its banks. It was obviously a major part of the university and the community.

But the river was definitely not the only thing that impressed me. I saw a university that also was in an enviable position academically and historically. I saw a university that fostered an environment where scholarship could flourish. I saw a university in which graduate education reinforced undergraduate education, a university where faculty and staff genuinely like the students!

Now let’s go back to 2002 and take a moment to reflect on the university then and now. It will give us a sense of accomplishment, as well as a sense of where we are going.

You may remember that when I came in 2002, we immediately began to critique and change our planning process, and by 2004 we completed a strategic plan that was to see us through 2009. Then this past academic year, you participated in another planning cycle for 2007 through 2012. You might wonder why we started one planning cycle in the middle of another one, and the answer is: good planning.

Let me explain. The 2009 plan set clear goals – not easy goals, but clear ones. We knew the goals, set many intended outcomes to meet them and kept our focus. The goals were embraced so enthusiastically by those responsible for meeting them that in many cases we were able to reach the intended outcomes sooner than we had forecast. As in all plans, some outcomes are met more quickly than others; every unit in the university is in a different place, and that’s as it should be. We will keep the same goals but have additional intended outcomes in the new plan.

Let’s look at our progress in five areas of the strategic plan.

First of all, we continue to expand the number of fulltime faculty in order to improve our student-faculty ratio. In the fall of 2002, we had 801 full-time faculty; this fall we will have 950. And the vast majority of our new hires are tenure-track.

Second, we have seen significant improvement in our goal of establishing competitive salaries for faculty and staff. Four years ago, we chose 200 public master’s and doctoral institutions across the country with which we wanted to compare faculty salaries. Our goal was to raise our salaries, in every rank and discipline, so that they were equal to or greater than the median of these schools. When we began that study, fewer than a third of our salaries were equal to the median of those schools. Last year I reported to you that 85 percent of our salaries then met that goal and 75 percent of the fulltime faculty salaries were above the median. Those figures still hold true, and we continue to seek our goal of 100 percent. We have accomplished this by committing $2.25 million to this effort, in addition to the performance and merit salary raises, which brings the total to an $8.2 million increase over four years.

As far as staff are concerned, last year we dedicated $1 million to adjust the pay plan minimums so that Texas State is competitive for comparable work. We targeted the most egregious discrepancies first. This spring we made adjustments after a thorough study that compared our salaries to those in the local market, which includes businesses and public sector employers in the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Minimum salaries of all of our local market titles are now at 96 percent or better of employers in the local market.

The Office of Human Resources will soon provide the President’s Cabinet with recommendations for pay plan minimum increases for positions in the university market comparable to those we made for the local market. University market positions are those for which we compete nationally for recruitment and retention. We are striving to make all of our staff positions competitive within the various markets in which the university competes. In addition to those staff market raises, the university has awarded performance and merit salary raises comparable to those awarded to faculty, bringing the total to $7.2 million in staff increases over four years.   

I want to stress that during these yeas, the state of Texas has not appropriated any money for faculty or staff increases. We made the decision to take these $15.4 million from our own resources.

A third area of the strategic plan I want to explore with you is our development of an Honors College. The current Mitte Honors Program offers to 700 of our brightest students personalized undergraduate and career advising, scholarship and research opportunities, interdisciplinary classes that substitute for required courses and the opportunity to complete an honors thesis with a faculty member of the student’s choice. The program involves a rich diversity in its curriculum, representing departments and schools across campus. An Honors College would take this program to another level, earning national prominence, attracting even more academically gifted students and enriching the entire university community. The Honors College would lead the university’s transformation as a center of intellectual inquiry, teaching and research. Distinguished honors programs go arm-in-arm with great public universities by combining the rich experience of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a major public university. You will hear more about this initiative as we proceed.           

The fourth area I’d like for us to look at this morning is diversity. And here again the university-and-river analogy applies. John Graves in Goodbye to a River writes, “A whole river is mountain country and hill country and flat country and swamp and delta country, is rock bottom and sand bottom and weed bottom and mud bottom, is blue, green, red, clear, brown, wide, narrow, fast, slow, clean and filthy water, is all the kinds of trees and grasses and all the breeds of animals and birds and men that pertain and have ever pertained to its changing shores, is a thousand differing things.” Diversity makes the river what it is, and so it is with the university.

Our student body is becoming more diverse. In the last five years, African American enrollment has increased 7.5 percent, to 1,379 last fall. In that same time period, Hispanic enrollment has grown by 25 percent, to 5,671. As of last fall, African Americans and Hispanics made up 26 percent of the student body.

As the student body is becoming more diverse, so is the faculty. Of the 171 new tenure-track hires in the last three years, 40 percent have been ethnic minorities. Sixteen percent have been Hispanic and 10 percent African American. Forty-four percent of the 171 new hires are women.

We expect to reach HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) status by 2012. That means that 25 percent of our students will be Hispanic. We have talked about this for a long time, but still occasionally I am asked, “So why is becoming HSI important?” Let me briefly say that it is important because Hispanics are the future of Texas. Our state is already a minority majority state; that is, more of our citizens are ethnic minorities than are Anglos. Very soon, as early as the year 2025, most Texans will be Hispanic.

And Texas faces an economic crisis because of the low percentage of its citizens who are finishing high school and going to college. Only 80 percent of Texans 25 or older have finished high school. This puts us behind every state except Mississippi. While 81 percent of Anglo Texans and 83 percent of black Texans have finished high school, only 55 percent of Hispanic Texans have. In higher education, the gap is even wider: 27 percent of Anglo Texans have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 18 percent of black Texans and 10 percent of Hispanic Texans.

To compete in the global marketplace, we must have educated citizens. The Legislature realized this and set off alarms in the year 2000 by adopting the Coordinating Board’s Closing the Gaps initiative. Among other things, that plan called for Texas to add by 2015 a half million more students to post-secondary education. That meant attracting half again as many students to college. As if the goal were not ambitious enough at 500,000 more students, because of changing demographics in Texas, the number was raised to 630,000 a couple of years ago. The alarms were raised because Texas was doing so poorly in sending students to college compared to other states. Thirty-two percent of Texas ninth graders completed high school and entered college, as compared to 54 percent in New Jersey, 49 percent in Illinois, 44 percent New York and 43 percent in California.

Because we must attract more Texans to college, and because most of those Texans will be Hispanic, it is vitally important that we increase our numbers of Hispanic students. I do want to emphasize, however, that this is not simply an economic matter. It is also a quality-of-life matter for millions of Texans.

We want to serve Hispanic students because it’s the right thing to do, not only for our Hispanic students, but for all of our students. We owe it to our students to provide for them a diverse learning environment that will prepare them for the world in which they will live and work. Once on our campus, when he was talking about literature of minority authors, John Graves noted, “When we read the work of writers like … Rolando Hinojosa-Smith or Americo Paredes, we are compelled to modify in some degree our view of ourselves and the world around us. We are broadened. Our literature is thus still performing the functions of shaping us as people and furnishing us with resonance.” A diverse learning community does this, too.

The final area in our strategic plan that I will discuss is our doctoral programs. We are continuing to expand our programs as we have always done – by building on our strengths and meeting the needs of the Texas workforce.

The Coordinating Board approved a seventh doctorate for us in July – the Doctor of Physical Therapy – and students will begin that program next summer. We expect that our proposed Ph.D.s in mathematics and in mathematics education will receive final approval from the Coordinating Board in October. The Ph.D. in criminal justice has received preliminary authority from the Coordinating Board, and three others are in internal development – one in materials science and engineering, one in computer science, and one in developmental education.

Closely aligned with growth of our doctoral programs is development of the university’s culture of research.

Our faculty continue to do amazing research projects and creative work that reflect well on the university in a broad range of fields. I am amazed at the diversity of fields and the quality of output. Just for example: Ron Walter is studying “dead zones” in seas around the world to see why marine life is dying. Michelle Toews and Karen Brown help teenage parents become better parents. Walt Trybula works with nano-materials, some of them 3,000 times smaller than a human hair. Joy Pollock’s latest book was about prisons and prisoners. Jerry Melbye studies mummies in Mexico, and Christina Conlee, headless skeletons in Peru. Maureen Keeley researches conversations with dying individuals. James LeSage looks at the impact of new home buyers’ preferences on urban sprawl. Brenda Scheuermann explores ways of keeping peace in the classroom. Cynthia Gonzales and her chorus recorded a CD that was nominated for two Grammys. Greg Marshall researches sleep patterns of football players. Bob Pankey researches walking problems of amputees. Don Olson and Russell Doescher, along with our Mitte Honors students, found night rainbows in Yosemite. Chad Thomas, Tim Bonner and Bobby Whiteside recently published their guide to freshwater fish in Texas.

What wonderful variety! No wonder Texas State is such an interesting place.

Research and development expenditures are another important factor in moving our university forward. Our research expenditures have remained essentially flat over the last five years. To help facilitate developing our faculty’s research potential, we have launched two programs I’d like to tell you about this morning.

One is the creation of the Joann Cole Mitte Faculty Grant for Excellence that we announced this summer. This award is $25,000 and will be given every year to a faculty member to promote his or her research efforts. All associate and full professors were invited to apply, and the recipient will be announced in early fall.

The second is a new Faculty Development Program that will award a significant amount of money, about $20,000 each, to five faculty members every year to pursue their research during professional development leaves. The program will be competitive and will require very little paperwork beyond that called for in applying for the professional development leave itself. Provost Moore will be appointing a faculty committee soon to develop the guidelines for this program and determine the process for making the awards.      

These two initiatives are in addition to the $1.2 million we began to set aside annually two years ago as start-up research funds for new faculty. We are not there yet, but we will continue to work to establish a culture of research.  

Of course, the strategic plan is not our only plan. We also have a master plan. You know that by the construction fences and re-routed traffic. The campus itself is changing. With funding approved by the Legislature in May, design on both the Undergraduate Academic Building on this campus and the nursing building in Round Rock is progressing, and construction should begin on both next fall. The Speck Street Parking Garage will be rising soon near the water tower. Also on that side of campus, the addition to the Student Recreation Center and the renovation of the campus utility plant in the basement of Harris Dining Hall are under way.

As the first step in our Campus Master Plan’s commitment of “gray to green,” Concho Street between Moon Street and LBJ – the portion of the street separating Falls and Sterry from Butler and Lantana -- is going away, to be replaced by green space. Construction begins next month on that transformation. The fifth floor of the Roy F. Mitte Technology and Physics Building will be finished out for engineering classes during the coming academic year. Another major project that begins in the next few weeks is the North LBJ Bus Loop, which will give us an enhanced north entry to the central Quad of campus. It will involve major excavation of the hill along North LBJ, widening LBJ at that point so that it becomes two-way and installing pedestrian walkways and bus shelters.  It also means that the upper floors of the Pleasant Street Parking Garage will close temporarily until the project is finished next summer. Construction will also begin soon north of the Student Center on a series of major projects that will change the face of campus along Sessom and Student Center Drive with student housing for 600, a parking garage for 900 cars, relocation of Tomas Rivera Drive and a major expansion of the CoGen Plant.

In all, 18 Campus Master Plan projects with a total value of $240 million are under way in one form or another. The Office of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction maintains a very informative website if you want details on these projects and others.

One “construction” project you may not see, but one that could benefit you is the new computer networking system that has allowed virtually the whole campus – indoors and outdoors -- to be a Wi-Fi hot spot. The network was finished this summer using state-of-the-art Cisco Wireless Mesh technology and will be secure, with optional encrypted service for users who need advanced security. This new system provides campuswide wireless internet access for laptop computers, tablet PCs and PDAs. We can also use it other ways, including radio tracking of equipment, downloading data into computers in police cars, and making desktop phone numbers mobile across campus.

Texas State is among the earliest adopters of this technology. Cisco says that only about 5 percent of universities across the country use it so far.

This summer the President’s Cabinet spent time preparing for our SACS reaffirmation. As you probably know, this SACS review comes every 10 years, and the homework for it is intense and comprehensive. This time around, there is a new component, a Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP. Under the former SACS system, schools had to demonstrate compliance with a series of “must” statements that more or less focused on the past. The QEP is designed to further long-term institutional improvement, allowing schools to look to the future more than the past to determine their own needs and plan how to meet them. The QEP will focus on one topic, and it must be a topic that improves student learning. In the coming academic year, we will appoint a team, co-chaired by the director of academic development and assessment, Beth Wuest, and an appointed faculty member. That team -- representing faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members -- will research possible topics and suggest a focus. The following year, depending on the topic chosen, another team will take over to develop the plan around that topic to be implemented between 2010 and 2015 after it is approved by a SACS site visit in 2010.

The QEP does not replace compliance certification. This is still part of the review and will be overseen by a leadership team composed of Provost Perry Moore, SACS liaison Cathy Flueriet, Vice President for Finance and Support Services Bill Nance, a faculty member to be named and me. This team will be expanded later to include the whole President’s Cabinet, plus other faculty and staff as our research broadens.

We will need the expertise, representation and time of many of you in this SACS process. But I assure you that it is invigorating and rewarding and time well spent that will make Texas State a better place for our colleagues and our growing student body.

And our student body is growing. Enrollment increased by 10 percent between 2002 and 2006. Last fall our enrollment was 27,485, and we expect more than 28,000 this fall. In that same time period, the freshman class expanded by 11 percent to 3,010 and the transfer class by 21 percent to 2,977. The quality of the freshman class has also increased, as indicated by a 32-point increase in our mean SAT score. Our freshman retention rate has remained among the top six public Texas institutions at 76.3 percent, and likewise our six-year graduation rate ranks among the top six publics in the state. We are justifiably proud of these retention and graduation rates!

We are currently in the final stages of our strategic plan for athletics. That plan will guide us in recruiting and graduating student-athletes who meet the university’s academic mission and the new academic requirements of the NCAA. This plan will also direct us in increasing community, faculty, staff and student involvement at athletics events, in winning games and matches and in raising outside revenue.

We are proud of our student-athletes. The fall and spring semesters were the two highest semesters in our history for student-athlete grade point averages. Our football team had the highest GPA in Division I in Texas. And our graduation rate for student                                                                                                                                                                                                                   athletes is the best in NCAA Division I in Texas. Our women’s teams also won the Southland Conference women’s all-sports trophy for the seventh straight year.

And we hope you will notice new scoreboards at the football field, in Strahan Coliseum and at the baseball and softball fields, as well as new message centers in front of Strahan and on the backside of the new football scoreboard.

This past year, we recorded some notable private gifts. The $5 million Ingram gift will benefit our engineering school, which is being named the Bruce and Gloria Ingram School of Engineering. The $6 million gift from St. David’s Community Health Foundation, along with the $2 million from the Legislature and gifts from Scott & White and Central Texas Medical Center, will allow the university to help the state meet a critical shortage of nurses. The school will be called the St. David’s School of Nursing. Additional large gifts came from Houston oil company CEO Paul Bulmahn, who gave $1.5 million for a student trading lab in the McCoy College of Business Administration, and from Jerry and Linda Fields, who gave $1.1 million for a chair in business ethics in the McCoy College. Both Paul Bulmahn and Jerry Fields are Distinguished Alumni of Texas State.

Our private fund raising is going very well as we plan a capital campaign. Five years ago, we were raising about $9 million in private gifts; this year, private gifts will total more than $24 million. These gifts have established new endowments, been designated for bricks-and-mortar initiatives and created new schools and programs. We are experiencing phenomenal growth in endowments and, in turn, these private gifts will competitively position us to recruit the best and brightest faculty and students.

Our on-campus fund-raising will take a little different twist this fall. In October, we will kick off our Reach for the Stars campaign that benefits programs here at Texas State and the State Employee Charitable Campaign that benefits a variety of local and state organizations like United Way. This year, however, you can give to Texas State through the State Employee Charitable Campaign, and you will be supporting both campaigns. Money given to Texas State in this way goes to the Development Foundation to support a broad range of purposes, including an emergency relief fund for faculty, staff and students faced with financial hardships. Of course, you can still give through Reach for the Stars and designate your gift to the program or scholarship of your choice.

We have talked quite a bit this morning about growth, about change – the same themes that enrich much of our Common Experience text, Goodbye to a River. I want to close with a quote from it. John Graves writes, “Sunshine and warm water seem to me to have full meaning only when they come after winter’s bite; green is not so green if it doesn’t follow the months of brown and gray….Without the year’s changes…there is little morality.”

In the university setting, our cycle is reversed – fall is our beginning -- but the truths still hold. We are richer – greener, in the words of John Graves -- because we begin again.

This will be a wonderful year, and I invite you to join me in welcoming it.