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Fall Convocation 2015

Fall Convocation Speech
President Denise M. Trauth
Strahan Coliseum
August 21, 2015
9 a.m.

Thank you, Gene, and good morning to all of you.

I hope your summer has been happy and productive, and that it has given you renewed energy to begin the next academic year.  

I want to start by thanking the university community for its exceptional response in the wake of the devastating floods over Memorial Day weekend, which impacted hundreds of people in our Bobcat family.

As many of you know, the floods resulted in the tragic loss of several lives and millions of dollars in property damage.

And some of our faculty, staff, and students were among those who suffered substantial damage.

We know that Bobcats take care of their own, and it was heartening to see that hundreds within the university community gave their time, energy, and money to help fellow Bobcats in distress.

Our volunteers cleaned homes, cleared debris, cooked or delivered meals, collected or distributed clothing, moved furniture to storage locations, or even helped with legal issues and counseling services.

The university provided emergency housing for more than 200 faculty, staff, and students -- and their families -- at Bobcat Village.

And our extended Bobcat family donated money to help those impacted by the floods.

It was indeed a moving, unified effort in assisting our own at such a challenging time.

And it was a wonderful reminder of the impact Bobcats have on this community.

Now, turning to the issue of the state of the university we had another solid year of extraordinary progress in 2014-15, and we topped it off with a real shot in the arm from the 84th Texas Legislature, which authorized campus construction bonds that will help us build two priority buildings; increased our research funding due to our restricted research expenditures and our Emerging Research University status; and increased our formula funding due to enrollment growth.  

This fall, we are poised to begin a master’s program in engineering and another in health information management; we distributed merit pool raises in 2014 and are doing so again this year; and we are primed for an 18th consecutive year of  record enrollment.

We also made some solid headway in our goal to become eligible for the Texas National Research University Fund, but we’ll get to all of that in a moment.

As has been our tradition at convocation, I’d like to first focus on recognizing our many outstanding faculty and staff, as it is their commitment to excellence that helps set our pace for strong growth and academic achievement.

Indeed, your collective efforts make this an amazing university.
 

*    *    *
 

Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, research and creative activities, and service.

This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who are passionate about their fields and convey that excitement to their students.

Please join me in honoring:

Ann Burnette, associate professor of communication studies, and

David Nolan, senior lecturer of mass communication.

We also are honoring two faculty members this morning for their scholarly activities.

Both have made significant contributions to their disciplines and to the intellectual life of the university.

They are examples of Texas State’s commitment to research, scholarship, and creative activity as part of the teaching and learning experience.

We are pleased to present the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities to:

Caitlin Gabor, professor of biology, and

Ziliang Zong, assistant professor of computer science.

We ask 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.

Please join me as we honor:

Steven Beebe, Regents’ and University Distinguished Professor of communication studies, and

Dora Lopez, clinical lecturer in radiation therapy.

Each year, we recognize one faculty member with the Presidential Seminar Award.

Recipients then share their research or creative activity with their peers.

The 2015 honoree is being recognized for her superlative research, scholarship, and current contributions to her discipline.

The next Presidential Seminar will be presented by Carmen Westerberg, assistant professor of psychology.

Andrae Turner, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, 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 an associate professor of curriculum and instruction. 

He has received numerous scholarship and service awards, and has been an active leader in state and national organizations.

On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Russ Hodges.

Each year, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation selects up to 15 Texas professors who have made a special impact on their students and the community.

I am pleased to announce that among this year’s recipients of the Piper Professor Award is:

Vedaraman Sriraman University Distinguished Professor of engineering technology.

Sriraman is our 21st Piper Professor, and we will hold a reception in his honor on September 22nd.

Our Faculty Senate chooses from among its colleagues recipients of the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Awards.

I would like Michel Conroy, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of Art to come forward to present this year’s award.

Everette Swinney Award recipients are chosen on the basis of their dedication to the teaching profession, their influence on the lives of students, and their contributions to the university as a whole.

They have combined their commitment to teaching with strong records of research and creative achievement, service, and mentoring peers and students.

These awards are named for a beloved retired faculty member and longtime chair of the Faculty Senate.

With great pleasure, we present these Everette Swinney Teaching Awards to:

Mary Ellen Cavitt, professor of music,

Shirley Ogletree, professor of psychology, and

Vedaraman Sriraman, University Distinguished Professor of engineering technology.

Last fall, another one of our professors was named Regents’ Professor by The Texas State University System Board of Regents.

Each year, the board honors professors whose performance and contributions to the educational community have been exemplary.

The 2014 recipient becomes Texas State’s tenth professor to be recognized with this award, and only the 22nd in the entire system to be so honored.

Our newest Regents’ Professor is Ian Davidson, professor of music.

Besides naming Regents’ Professors, the Board in 2013 began honoring staff members for their commitment to the university and its mission.

I’m pleased to say that this year’s recipient is the first from Texas State to be so honored.

Our inaugural Regents’ Staff Member awardee is Joe Meyer.

This morning, we are recognizing as a University Distinguished Professor one tenured professor whose career in teaching, research, and service has been exemplary and recognized at the state, national, and international levels.

Please help me congratulate our new University Distinguished Professor:

Don Olson, professor of physics.

For their years of outstanding teaching, research, and service at Texas State, three retired faculty members have been named Distinguished Professors Emeriti, and we recognize them today.

Our honorees here with us are:

Gary Aron, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology;

Priscilla Leder, Distinguished Professor Emerita of English; and

Mary Ann Stutts, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Marketing.

Today we also honor one staff member, one faculty member, and a team award for dedication to the pursuit and celebration of diversity.

Recipients of the Excellence in Diversity Award are:

Jonnie Wilson, assistant director in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion; 

Roque Mendez, professor of Psychology.

And for our team award:

Alba Melgar and Gloria Velasquez, both senior lecturers in the Department of Modern Languages.

We want to include in our introductions this morning the 2015 Employee of the Year.

He was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month.

Please help us congratulate Steven Herrera, manager of shuttle service for Transportation Services.

And we 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 mentoring our students and employees.

We are proud to recognize this morning:

Keylan Morgan, grant director for Upward Bound, and

Rodney Rohde, professor of Clinical Laboratory Science.

Let’s give all of these outstanding faculty and staff members one more round of applause.
 

*    *    *
 

John and I had a wonderful summer, the highlight of which was a trip to Washington, D.C., with one of our daughters and her family.

In that family is our youngest grandchild, Brandon, a now 12-year-old whom I referenced in a convocation speech a few years ago when he was 8.

Those of you who heard that speech may recall he thought my being president of Texas State was the same as being the governor of the State of Texas.

I quickly assured him that mine was the preferable job.

Well, Brandon is now much more mature and capable of quite complex thinking.

In fact, during our tour of the Mount Vernon estate, home of President George Washington, he was struck by the fact that Washington was a slave owner, and an aggressive one at that.

Brandon had never connected the dots that the “father” of our country owned slaves.

This was an astounding realization for him.

And for me it was a reminder that during this period of our national and state conversations about race, racial prejudice, and the meaning of symbols like the Confederate flag and Confederate statues, we should not lose sight of history -- regardless of how unpleasant it might be.

Perhaps just as importantly, it is in these times of dissension and political strife that we truly realize just how much we need one another, as we did after the Memorial Day floods.

And at this university we need each and every member of our community.

I cannot emphasize enough the extraordinary contributions each of you makes every day to keep this institution great.

We wouldn’t have the customer service we have if it weren’t for the dedicated support staff being the first point of contact.

We wouldn’t have the beautiful vistas and inviting ambience that we have without a persistent maintenance staff.

And we wouldn’t be able to engage in the impressive research we are conducting without a dedicated faculty and staff across the whole university taking on challenging workloads.

Indeed, it took the collective efforts of every single unit of this university to help us become an Emerging Research University.

To put this in a more scientific perspective, we are a healthy organism.

As we all know, all parts of an organism are integrally important to its overall vitality.

And when you consider the health of this university, it comes down to this: the fact that we have had 18 consecutive years of record enrollment growth is because our faculty and staff made that happen.

What’s also important to note here is that enrollment growth begets growth in other areas.

In terms of sheer institutional funding, nothing compares to what the university receives each year in general revenue formula funding and the attendant higher education fund or HEF formula funding.

These formulas are driven by a mix of enrollment numbers and type of academic programs that those numbers are in.

Because we have grown and because some of that growth is in formula cells that pay out at a higher rate, we begin this fall knowing that we finally are in a financial position to address some of our most pressing needs.

Let’s talk about space.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the Legislature authorized partial funding for us to build an engineering and science building for our campus here and a health professions building for Round Rock.

I also must point out that two of our longtime supporters and partners stepped forward with very generous gifts to help fund what the Legislature did not.

Most of you know that these buildings have been high priorities for a number of years, but these construction projects are expensive and virtually impossible for us to build without state funds.

So, needless to say, we were thrilled when the Legislature authorized bonds last spring for higher education construction for the first time since 2006.

We are in the process of hiring architects and construction companies.

We expect to present design development documents to The Texas State University System Board of Regents in May 2016.

Three to six months after that, we should be ready to begin construction on both buildings.

And these projects will take about three years to complete.

During that time we will move forward on plans to relocate programs, and to launch high priority academic programs, such as civil and environmental engineering and civil and environmental engineering technology.

The new health professions building will allow us to move physical therapy, respiratory care, and communication disorders to the Round Rock Campus.

This new space will also allow those three programs to expand enrollment by about 35 percent.

And this building will put us a step closer to achieving our long-range goal of moving all units within the College of Health Professions to Round Rock.

It bears repeating that these construction projects are being built with the help of very generous donors.

Our longtime friends and multi-million dollar supporters, Drs. Bruce and Gloria Ingram and the company they founded, Ingram Readymix, gave 7.1 million dollars toward constructing and equipping research facilities for the new engineering and science building.

And the St. David’s Foundation, the organization with whom we’ve had a strong partnership for many years and which has donated more than 8 million dollars to our programs in the St. David’s School of Nursing, gave 5 million dollars toward the health professions construction project at the Round Rock Campus.

What’s more is the 5 million dollar gift from the St. David’s Foundation and 5 million dollars of the total gift from the Ingrams are eligible to be matched, dollar-for-dollar, through the Texas Research Incentive, or TRIP Program, which effectively means we realized 22.1 million dollars for these two projects.

Now, looking at the larger picture of space needs, our ongoing challenge is to methodically build new facilities, renovate older facilities, and purchase existing buildings to help us accommodate our growing student population and research activities.

Last year we purchased a building in San Marcos to support the College of Applied Arts.

And this academic year we are working toward leasing then buying a building to help the College of Liberal Arts.

Also, the Sabinal Building is undergoing a major renovation for the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

And when that project is completed in May 2016, more renovations will begin in the Joanne Cole Mitte Building.

Finally, we have begun a planning process to turn the Strahan Coliseum building into a University Events Center.

And in this renovation we will move the Department of Athletics out of Jowers, thereby creating considerably more space for the College of Education in Jowers.

We will also expand the coliseum itself so that we can accommodate many more guests at our graduation ceremonies, because as our student body grows so does attendance at graduation.

This fall, we are very likely to exceed 37,500 students.

Even before our spring semester ended, we had received in excess of 27,000 freshman applications, which was 13 percent more than we had received a year earlier.

In addition to adding academic space, another residence hall is now under construction.

When it becomes operational for fall 2016, the Moore Street project will be the third residence hall complex we’ve opened since 2012.

I should also note that, even as we build new halls, we are committed to keeping housing affordable, and maintaining the whole spectrum of price points that has historically characterized our housing options.

Two other highly visible projects underway now are the new pedestrian mall replacing Bobcat Trail and the major update to Jones Dining Hall.

STAR Park, which isn’t quite 3 years old, is undergoing an expansion that will add 16,000 square feet to the facility.

This project comes on the heels of a buildout of the last 6,000 square feet of lab and office space that was just completed this summer.

That means the research park will have gone from 14,000 square feet when it opened in November 2012 to 36,000 square feet when the expansion is completed in the summer of 2016.

And two-thirds of the most recently built space is already taken.

The park, where we grow and commercialize technology start-ups, continues to shine a light on research partnerships with our faculty. These partnerships not only benefit our university, but benefit the San Marcos area and Central Texas region.
 

*    *    *
 

Besides having new or renovated spaces to look forward to in the coming year, we have other causes for celebration.

In fact, we’ll have several noteworthy milestones to commemorate this academic year.

The first will be September 23rd, when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Alkek Library.

The celebration will kick off with a re-enactment of the 1990 symbolic move to the new building.

We also will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.

The first event to mark this occasion will be a conference on Mexican-American children’s literature on September 25th, which will be followed on September 26th with a literature fair at the San Marcos Public Library.

Another fall event will be the 10th anniversary celebration of the Round Rock Campus, which will be held on October 14th.

We also will be commemorating the 10th anniversary of that campus when we host The Texas State University System Board of Regents at its meeting on our Round Rock Campus in May.

Also in the fall will be the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act, which was signed by President Lyndon Johnson here at   Texas State.

This Act was transformational legislation, as it created financial aid programs that resulted in higher education access for millions of Americans.

It effectively elevated the socioeconomic status of so many people in America, giving them opportunities for better jobs and better lives.

The first event associated with the anniversary will be October 26th, and will be jointly sponsored by the university, the LBJ Presidential Library at UT Austin, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, or APLU, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU.

The event will begin with a message from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring three former secretaries of education.

This event is being held in conjunction with AASCU’s annual meeting.

So in addition to the Texas State students, faculty, and staff who will be attending, we anticipate that there will be at least 200 college and university presidents and chancellors in the audience.

This celebration will continue on November 3rd, when we will have an open house for area 8th and 9th-grade students who are interested in attending college.

We also are putting together a half-day program that includes two panel discussions on the Act to be held November 4th.

Finally, on March 31st, 2016, we are holding a Lonesome Dove cast reunion gala in Fort Worth, which will feature the vast majority of the principal cast members of the celebrated TV miniseries, which originally aired in 1989.

The proceeds of the event will benefit our Wittliff Collections.

The Wittliff Collections are the special collections of our library, and it is critical for us to cultivate opportunities to expand our special collections.

It is these collections that will help distinguish us as a research institution and contribute to our goal of being invited to become a member of the Association of Research Libraries.
 

*    *    *
 

Now, if I may change direction here for a moment.

There were two other developments related to this past legislative session that affect higher education that I want to speak about -- and one of them has been the subject of much consternation in the higher education community.

After some very impassioned debate, legislators passed a concealed carry bill that will allow licensed individuals to carry guns -- with some limitations -- in public university buildings.

There is no doubt that this new law will continue to raise emotions for those both for and against the measure, but the fact remains that it is the law of Texas.

The law doesn’t go into effect until August 1, 2016, so we have roughly a year to come up with our own implementation policy.

Of paramount importance will be the safety and welfare of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors--and we will do everything we can to preserve a safe academic environment.

While the legislation doesn’t offer specifics on where guns may be restricted, it is pretty clear guns cannot be banned altogether from instructional spaces.

So this fall we will use a broad-based, inclusive, and consultative process as we work to create policies to implement this new Campus Carry law.

This consultative process begins today.

We have created a Campus Carry website so we can hear your voice.

Go to the quick link on the Texas State homepage to access a survey that will allow you to share your thoughts and suggestions.

We want you to be a part of our Campus Carry dialogue.

The second item of interest for us in the past legislative session really wasn’t about a bill, but the fact that legislators were unable to find consensus on how to address the matter of Hazelwood legacies.

Some of you may recall that the Hazelwood Act established free tuition and fees for military veterans.

In the 2009 Legislative Session, the act was amended so that free tuition and fees could be extended to veterans’ family members.

It is important to point out that these benefits are not funded by the state--they are funded by our other students’ tuition and fee dollars.

We believe it is worthwhile to have this benefit for our veterans.

The challenge to universities, however, becomes more pronounced with each passing year because the number of family members taking advantage of this benefit grows.

Since 2009, the number of eligible individuals seeking free tuition and fees has increased dramatically year over year, and in Fiscal Year 2015, Texas State granted 15 million dollars worth of these benefits to Hazelwood applicants.

The state provides very little in the way of relief to offset those costs.

For Fiscal 2015, Texas State received 1.1 million dollars from the state to help pay this 15 million dollar Hazelwood price tag.
 

*    *    *
 

Although some legislative outcomes may be challenging for us, we should focus on the positive funding and building opportunities that arose from the last session, as they will help us advance toward our goal of becoming eligible for the National Research University Fund.

We have made solid progress in the past year in moving closer to this eligibility.

I can’t stress enough that it took extraordinary effort by all sectors of the university community to achieve this.

Keep in mind that there are several metrics we are required to meet on our path to accessing this National Research University Fund.

Among them is to consistently enroll a high-achieving freshman class.

Our best approach to meeting that is to attract more high achieving students with scholarships.

For this year’s incoming freshman class, we had 444 students accept our Achievement Scholarships, up from the 249 students who accepted them a year earlier.

Likewise, our top award, the President’s Honor Scholarship, was accepted by 44 students this year, up from the 34 who accepted one a year ago.

These increases are directly linked to the fact that we had more scholarships to offer this year than we did the year before.

A second metric requires that our endowments continue to increase.

This is occurring, with a significant portion of the endowment funds earmarked for scholarships.

Counting funds from our three major endowments -- University, Development Foundation, and McCoy Foundation -- our overall endowment is now over 167 million dollars. 

And during the last two years, the number of our endowed scholarships grew 31 percent.

In order to meet a third metric, we must add to our body of high-quality, distinguished faculty.

Among them could be Guggenheim, MacArthur, or National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship winners; National Science Foundation CAREER award winners; members of the National Academies; Nobel Prize winners; and Pulitzer Prize winners.

To help attract more of these faculty, we must establish more endowed chairs and professorships.

A fourth metric arguably could be the most important. It requires that we increase our restricted research expenditures, the main source of which is derived from grants.

To be more strategic about this, we have added and will continue to add research coordinators in all seven of our colleges with faculty.  

We also have added three centrally-located research support staff members to help with pre-award, post-award, and compliance activities.

The coordinators work closely with faculty researchers to help them develop grant proposals, manage projects, and assist with budgeting, compliance, and reporting requirements.

In addition, we are enhancing staffing for the high-performance computer cluster at Texas State.

How are we funding these new research support staff?

Again, it’s new money coming to us that is derived from all the hard work we have done in the past.

The state’s biennial budget contains what is dubbed the Core Research Support Fund.

As an Emerging Research University, our share of that fund doubled over what we received in the last biennial budget.

And this kind of success feeds on itself.

Because we have enhanced support, we are projecting new institutional highs for restricted and total research expenditures for the fiscal year we are ending.

We are on track to surpass 25 million dollars in restricted research expenditures, which is about a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

And we expect total research and development expenditures will exceed 44 million dollars, which is about 10.5 percent higher than the previous year.

The last metric in our plan to become eligible for the National Research University Fund is to gain membership in the Association of Research Libraries.

Among the requirements to gain that designation is increasing library staff and enhancing our collections.

Again, because of the Core Research Support Fund, we are adding research librarians, digital media specialists, and other staff.

And we are adding research journals and databases that help enhance our research collections.

Let me reiterate that we are making good progress toward these five metrics--because of you.

I am so indebted to all of you -- and honored to be working among you -- for all that you do to make this wonderful university even better.

So let me close with one of those you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories about Texas State.

There was quite a stir on campus in late July when a large black bull unexpectedly wandered onto campus.

It’s not the kind of occurrence we are used to, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that its presence prompted an alert on our emergency notification system.

Office computers and cell phones lit up with the alert:  “WARNING, loose livestock (bull) on campus,” and students, faculty, and staff were advised to steer clear of the area around the Family and Consumer Sciences Building.

Fortunately, it wasn’t as beefy a threat as some thought it would be.

Within minutes, the wayward bull had lumbered from the area to a nearby neighborhood, where a man with a livestock trailer coaxed the docile animal on board and returned it to its rightful owner.

To say there was much hoopla over this close encounter with a bull would be an understatement.

Social media exploded with postings.

TV stations and newspapers gleefully provided images and reposted tweets and Facebook messages.

Some predictably wondered how the bull got to campus in the first place. 

Others seized on the opportunity to make a joke.

One of my favorites was “On the outside I’m a bull, but on the inside I’m a bobcat.”

But there were the conspiracy theorists, some of whom went so far as to suggest the incident was part of a nationwide movement of animals taking over because a lion was sighted in Minneapolis on the same day.

Too many people have read James Patterson’s book, Zoo.

And then, of course, there were those riddled with paranoia who thought that this bull was part of the Jade Helm military training exercise in Bastrop.

And some simply thought that this was a deliberate stunt by the university.

So let me say:

No, this was not a campaign to begin our own “Running of the Bulls” festival like the one held annually in Pamplona, Spain.

No, the bull was not a spy from the university 30 minutes to the north trying to figure out why Texas State is so popular.

And no, even though James Patterson is a donor to Texas State, we don’t subscribe to the theory that mammals have banded together to eliminate humans.

I prefer to believe it was simply one more manifestation of how wonderfully interesting it is to be part of Texas State University.

Mostly, we plan what happens.

But there are days when the unpredictable occurs.

So, may this be a year when all that is unpredictable is handled within minutes, makes you laugh, and convinces you that there is no other place like Texas State University.

Thank you for your kind attention.