President Denise M. Trauth named one of Texas’ Most Influential Women
Since becoming president of Texas State University-San Marcos in 2002, Dr. Denise M. Trauth has guided the university through a sea of changes — the creation of Texas State’s Round Rock Higher Education Center, construction of a new building for the business college, a new engineering school and plans for a new nursing school, the launch of a new campus tradition called Common Experience, multi-million dollar construction projects, hefty increases in faculty and student numbers, and even a new name for the university.
Just the ninth president in Texas State’s 105-year history, Trauth has become a leader in higher education in Texas. In 2008, Texas Diversity magazine placed her on their list of the Most Powerful and Influential Women in Texas.
“While I normally don’t take these kinds of lists too seriously,” Trauth says, “I do share the strong commitment of the Texas Diversity Council to create more inclusive workplaces. So I am honored to be included on this list and will continue to try to use whatever influence I have in the best interest of Texas State University.”
The Road to Texas Trauth came to Texas State from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she was provost. She is a journalist by training, which she began by writing for her high school newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she grew up as one of seven sisters. After graduating from high school she attended the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, where she majored in English because they didn’t have a journalism program. She completed a journalism minor and wrote for the school newspaper.
After graduating, Trauth taught high school English and journalism in Michigan for two years. She enrolled in Ohio State, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism, and then entered the doctoral program in mass communication at the University of Iowa. At Iowa she met another doctoral student, John Huffman. Trauth and Huffman married in 1973, and they have authored numerous publications together since, particularly in the areas of mass communication and telecommunications law and policy and First Amendment issues. They have two adult daughters.
Trauth’s route to Texas State took her to both the University of Tulsa and Bowling Green State, where she worked before she joined the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1993. She served initially as dean of the graduate school and in 1997 she was named provost. In 2002, she arrived on the Texas State campus.
“The river was certainly one of the things that impressed me when I set foot on this campus the first time,” she later said. “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 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.”
What’s in a Name? An early event in Trauth’s Texas State career was changing the name of the university from Southwest Texas State University, an effort initiated by Associated Student Government. Both Trauth and her predecessor, Jerome Supple, favored the change, saying that “Southwest” sounded more like the name of a small, regional college rather than a major university. While the name change was not universally popular, it went into effect September 1, 2003.
“Although not everyone in our university community supports or agrees with the actions of the Texas Legislature, it is incumbent upon us that we seize this opportunity with a renewed sense of optimism,” Trauth said of the name change in her fall 2003 convocation. “Our new name embodies and makes manifest the prestige that we have long possessed, a prestige that was perhaps unknown to some.”
Common Experience In 2004, Trauth announced an initiative designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation across the campus. “Early on, the vision was to connect entering students to a shared conversation,” Trauth says, “but it quickly grew to include upper-level classes, student support services, campus activities, performing arts and the San Marcos schools and community.”
That first year’s Common Experience theme was “Hatred” with the summer reading book Night by Elie Weisel. Subsequent themes have been “Courage,” “Protest and Dissent,” and “The Water Planet.” The 2008-2009 theme is “Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ” in honor of the university’s most famous graduate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.
“The intentional connecting of many facets of university life is the kind of project that a small private liberal arts college might take on,” Trauth says of Texas State’s Common Experience, “but we cannot find evidence of a large public university ever having undertaken something so ambitious and encompassing.”
Growth and Progress In 2009, Texas State was one of 11 universities nationwide to be recognized by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Education Trust as a model for Hispanic student success in higher education. Also during Trauth’s tenure, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Texas State in the top tier of master's universities in the 15-state Western Region of the United States for four consecutive years.
With 2008 being the centennial of Lyndon Johnson’s birth, the former U.S. president was on the university president’s mind at her fall 2008 convocation.
“Lyndon Johnson was proud of this campus when he graduated from here in 1930,” Trauth said. “He was proud of his alma mater when he returned in 1965, and he was proud of it when he visited here in 1973, six days before he died. I know those of you gathered here today would make him even more proud of what Texas State University has become.”
She compared faculty and student numbers to those of LBJ’s time.
“In the late 1920s, there were approximately 2,000 students enrolled, most from Central Texas communities,” she said. “This year we anticipate an enrollment of at least 28,600 students, and they will be from all over Texas, the United States and the globe. The students of LBJ’s college years were taught by 73 faculty members while Texas State will start the 2008-2009 year with nearly 1,000 full-time faculty members.”
The campus is changing to accommodate enrollment. “In all, 28 Campus Master Plan projects with a total value of nearly $670 million are in the programming, design or construction phases of development,” Trauth says.
Trauth evokes both Lyndon Johnson and the university’s name when she looks toward the future.
“We are living up to our middle name recognizing Texas State University’s role as a public university,” she says. “Lyndon Johnson championed education as a public good. Like him, we believe that it is the role of society to make available to every citizen as much education as that citizen desires. We take seriously our charge for meeting the needs of the state’s citizens.”