‘Doing the Right Thing’ Convocation Speech

President Denise M. Trauth
August 23, 2005

Welcome back. I hope you have had a good summer and are geared up for another wonderful school year.

For those of you who have been gone this summer, we missed you and you missed an eventful summer. Our American Advertising Federation student team was named the best in the country at the national contest in June in Nashville, topping such competitors as second-place University of Virginia and third-place Loyola University of New Orleans. The AAF team has advanced to nationals 10 out of the last 16 years, and was also first in 1990. This summer our University Chorale conducted a European performance tour. The Public Relations Student Society of America placed second in the nation in June and will pick up their award in Miami in September. Our Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team tied for fifth place in the nation at their national competition in Kansas City in late May, and McCoy College Dean Denise Smart was named “most supportive dean in America.” Our SIFE team has placed in the top 20 for nine straight years. Our Board of Regents approved our Campus Master Plan and were quite impressed with our efforts. And then, of course, there was the legislature, which is always interesting.

With others in the community we celebrated with the Spurs as they claimed another NBA title, we sweated together with the citizens of San Marcos in 100-plus heat for our 25th annual Fourth of July celebration and, yes, we shopped at Cabela’s when it opened in June.

And now we are ready for another year. The marching band is tuning up. The football, soccer and volleyball teams are practicing hard. The bookstore is selling record numbers of textbooks. Residence halls are welcoming more on-campus students than ever before.

Fall is in the air. At least the fall semester is; we won’t start unpacking our parkas just yet.

As we begin the fall semester, it is fitting that we honor some of the exemplary faculty and staff among us for outstanding teaching, scholarship and service.

Brad Koenig, 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 marketing faculty. She is a long-time mentor of our Students in Free Enterprise team, and those alumni and others remember her as their champion. On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Vicki West.

Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, for outstanding scholarship and creative activity and for outstanding service. This year’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching goes to an individual who has helped Texas State earn its reputation as a student-friendly place where teaching is a consuming passion. He exemplifies our commitment to undergraduate education as “the heart of what we do” and to graduate education as “a means of intellectual growth and professional development.” Please join me in honoring James Housefield, associate professor of art and design.

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 exemplify our commitment to research, scholarship and creative activity as “fundamental sources of new knowledge and as expressions of the human spirit.” We are very pleased to award the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activity to Timothy Mottet of communication studies and Caitlin Gabor 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 “resource for personal, educational, cultural, and economic development.” This year we honor Paula Williamson of biology and Wayne Kraemer of communication studies.
Each year the Faculty Senate chooses two or three colleagues as our campus nominees for the Minnie Stevens Piper Award, which recognizes outstanding college teachers in the State of Texas. These faculty 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. I want to ask Bill Stone, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of criminal justice, to come forward to assist in giving the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Awards.

Our first two awards go to faculty who have combined their commitment to teaching with exemplary records of creative achievement, service and mentoring their peers and students. It is with sincere pleasure today that we present these awards to Kenneth Margerison, professor of history, and Steven Wilson, professor of English.

Our other Faculty Senate nominee went on to win the Piper Award last spring. He says he probably gets more out of teaching than his students. He loves being around them and they know it. He has explored the world himself and urges his students to experience the wonders of the world for themselves. I am delighted to present our 14th faculty member to be named a Minnie Stevens Piper Professor – Byron Augustin.

We want to include in our introduction this morning the 2005 Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Please help us congratulate Jacque Allbright, head purchasing clerk.

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 Jaime Chahin and Marilynn Olson.

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Congratulations to all of you who received awards today. You represent this extraordinary educational community beautifully.

I think sometimes we begin to take for granted the quality of our faculty and staff. We forget how exceptional they are and need to remind ourselves.

I was reminded of this fact during the summer, when I visited with a couple who have decided to give us a substantial amount of money for scholarships. They were from East Texas. They were not alumni. They had no real ties to Texas State University. But they had read articles about us in the Austin American-Statesman. They wanted to give scholarships to a university that mentors students well, one that is committed to the success of its students, particularly first-generation students. They had read that Texas State does the right thing when it comes to students. And we will receive the gift, and our students will be the beneficiaries.

In looking back on the last academic year, we see a year packed with doing many right things for our students, as well as for our university, our community and our alumni.

One of our biggest accomplishments was completion of the Campus Master Plan. You received an executive summary of the plan as you entered the auditorium today. This plan is the result of more than a year of hard work. It is built on the strategic plan, which we completed last year. The final Campus Master Plan document is stunning; it includes a 10-year plan that we can use for the coming decade and a “full build-out” alternative that gives suggestions for the next 50 years.
I found this process to be inclusive, rewarding and extremely well done, and Nancy Nusbaum deserves our thanks for her leadership of this process. I am not alone in praising the Campus Master Plan process, either: When we presented it to the Board of Regents for approval in May, they applauded! I have never seen them applaud anything like this before! They were understandably impressed. I invite you to visit the plan website for more information.

In April, the Coordinating Board gave us planning authority for four more Ph.D.s – criminal justice, computer science, mathematics and mathematics education. Receiving this planning authority is the final step in the development of our strategic plan and, frankly, indicates the Coordinating Board’s approval of the work we have done with our other Ph.D.s. We have never gotten the go-ahead to plan for more than two doctorates at once, but this time we received authority for four.

These doctorates, added to the six others we now offer, will have a transformational effect on our university. And, lest you think this effect might be negative for our undergraduate students, let me share some information with you. During the past year, we had a consulting firm look at our tuition pricing and our appeal to prospective freshman students, in order to guide us in setting tuition levels in this deregulated environment. Among their findings were some surprises, and one surprise was that prospective students – that is to say, ones who seek to attend Texas State – want to go to a research university. These are prospective freshmen who seem to be far removed from the level of doctoral instruction, and yet they made it clear that they want to attend a big university that offers Ph.D.s. These four new doctorates that we received authority for this spring will change the perception of Texas State among our peers, our prospective faculty, the general public and even ourselves.

And, now let me turn to the legislative session. Some disappointments, but one thing that worked beautifully was our interaction with our legislators, and I want to thank Patrick Rose and Jeff Wentworth for representing Texas State so effectively on the floor of the House and the Senate. It was also gratifying to work with four Texas State alumni in the legislature and with a number of Texas State alumni who are in key staff positions.

I mentioned last year that during this legislative session we would pursue Tuition Revenue Bond authority for our highest priority projects, and that’s what we did. We identified four projects – an Undergraduate Academic Center, a second building in Round Rock, a Fine Arts and Communication Center and $46 million for infrastructure and repairs – and all four were considered for legislation in the House and Senate. As the session progressed, the Undergraduate Center and the Round Rock building remained in both House and Senate versions of bills that went to the Conference Committee. As you probably remember hearing on the news, the Conference Committee negotiations broke down and no Tuition Revenue Bond projects were approved for the entire State of Texas. So our university was hardly alone. Bonding authority for about $1.1 billion of higher education construction was left on the table. Subsequently, the governor called two special sessions, and if the public school finance issue had been solved in one of them, then TRBs may have had a chance. But that was not the case. The second special session ended Friday with no action on public school finance or our TRBs.

The legislature also did not give raises to higher education employees. While some state workers did receive salary increases from the Legislature, higher education workers did not. However, I am happy to say that we did find money within our own university budget to give our own faculty and staff salary increases that averaged 3%.

We did receive a modicum of good news in other legislative areas, though, in general appropriations and HEAF – the Higher Education Assistance Fund -- appropriations. Our HEAF money will see a temporary reduction from $14.4 to $13.1 million a year in 2006 and 2007, but in 2008 it will be increased to $19.8 million a year. This money will be used to fund such projects as the renovation of Derrick Hall and the addition to the Family and Consumer Sciences Building. That’s good news. And, thanks to a re-figuring of the funding formula, based mainly on real costs and our growth, our general appropriation was increased 9.6% to $152.7 million for the biennium. This new money will be used to fund such things as hiring additional faculty and staff and implementing new academic programs like our four Ph.D.s. And that’s good news.
The Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation endowed the Honors Program with a half million-dollar gift this spring. A separate gift from the Mittes will fund four annual scholarships for $25,000 each to be called the Mitte Laureate Scholars.
For the second straight year, our athletic program captured the Southland Conference Commissioner's Cup; we shared first place this year with Sam Houston. The trophy is awarded to the Southland university with the best over-all men’s and women’s sports programs. Texas State won the Southland Conference Women’s All-Sports Trophy for the fifth straight year, with volleyball and soccer winning conference championships.

And as of this year, we have a uniform university ring. This is something that Alumni Relations and Student Affairs have wanted for a long time, and the name change seemed to present the perfect opportunity. Until now, students nearing graduation could purchase any number of ring designs. This year a faculty-staff-student committee decided on one design, unveiling it in March. And along with the new ring came a presentation ceremony. We wanted to make a big deal out of students’ receiving their rings. Because the ceremony was new, we thought about 50 students might want to go through some kind of ceremony. So we planned a nice event on the third floor of Old Main. The RSVPs for the event grew, and we moved it to the front steps of Old Main. It grew some more, and we moved it to Evans. It grew some more, and we finally moved it to Strahan Coliseum. In all, more than 400 students showed up to get their rings in front of family and friends in a very dignified ceremony, and it was a great way to start a new tradition. And it was yet another example of the pride that our students feel toward Texas State.

We also named the first Round Rock building for the Avery family who gave us the land it sits on, we added “engineering” to the name of the Technology Department, we renamed the Mass Comm Department the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, we implemented a new computer information system, and we signed a simplified transfer agreements with San Antonio College and Austin Community College, two of our large community college partners.

    And we will continue to do more right things for our students this academic year.

    The Avery Building at Round Rock opens tomorrow. The Round Rock staff as well as our people in facilities have done a marvelous job pushing this project to completion in record time. We plan to dedicate the building in May when the Board of Regents is scheduled to meet in San Marcos.

    This campus’ McCoy Hall will open during the spring semester. This will be fabulous new space for our Emmett and Miriam McCoy College of Business Administration.

    Our student retention rate continues to be in the 76 to 77% range, and that is very good. We always want to do better, of course, and a number of faculty and staff have been exploring ways to bring that percentage even higher. Several new initiatives will be launched this year, and one of the most far-reaching and ambitious is the PAWS Alert system, or Positive Action With Students Alert. This will allow all faculty and staff to watch for clues that students may need help. Individual faculty and staff can alert this system when students have poor attendance or a bad grade on a first test, or if they know of something else that might cause students to drop out – trouble at home, an illness, financial problems. This web-based system will allow us to submit concerns about students in a confidential manner to the vice president for student affairs, who will activate a web of liaisons across campus. You will receive more information about this system early in the fall.

    This fall and spring we will be conducting searches for two vice presidents, the vice president for student affairs and the vice president for university advancement. Both search committees have been named and are beginning their work. We expect to bring finalists to campus in the spring. We are indebted to Joanne Smith and T.Cay Rowe for stepping in as interim vice presidents.

We will have several causes for celebration this year. The tenth anniversary of the Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award will be in October, celebrating 10 years of honoring an author and an illustrator every year for their contributions to the understanding of Mexican-American culture. We are grateful, too, that the award bears the name of a Texas State distinguished alumnus.

We will also be planning for a major celebration beginning in the Fall of 2006 when we will celebrate 100 years of Hispanic presence on campus with a number of events, commemorating the enrollment of the first Hispanic student at Southwest Texas State Normal School in 1906.

    Building on the success of last year’s Common Experience, this year’s topic will be “courage.” The book If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien, holder of our Mitte Chair in Creative Writing, will be the central text for this experience. Maya Angelou will be here in September and Spike Lee in March to help us discuss this topic, and a number of events and discussions are planned around this theme.

    With “courage” as our theme, this year will be an appropriate one to focus on doing the right thing. As Provost Moore indicated, I have appointed Debbie McAlister, chair of marketing, as a Presidential Fellow to focus on strengthening our emphasis on ethics. This does not mean that we have been UNethical in the past. Certainly that is not what I am saying, but ethical standards need constant vigilance and reinforcement.

Many universities are turning their attention in this direction in these days of so many high-profile ethical failures. It seems that no area of our society is exempt. It’s not just the Enrons, Boeings and WorldComs. It’s pharmaceutical companies selling questionable drugs, it’s baseball players on steroids, it’s media fabricating stories; it’s tobacco companies, Guantanamo Bay, campaign finance. And, of course, universities have not gone unscathed. All of these situations involved college-educated people, whose behavior either exacerbated the problem or called attention to the need for solution.
We want Texas State University to be known as a university that gives its students the preparation they must have to be the citizens we need for them to be and the citizens they want to be. This is our legacy. We have been doing this for more than a hundred years, but as times change, so do the requirements of this preparation.

We owe it to ourselves and our students to nurture a culture that is forthrightly honest. We must teach our students that there is nothing that being unethical gives them that is greater than what it takes away from them. The price of unethical behavior is always too high. We need to talk about how to reinforce this culture of ethics and improve it. I welcome your participation in this dialog that will take place throughout the academic year.

Also, I welcome your participation in another dialog, as well. Let me explain.

Each summer I try to catch up on professional reading that has piled up throughout the academic year. One of the benefits that I derive from an intense focus on professional publications during a few weeks is that I can see themes that emerge across a large body of literature.

The theme that emerged during this summer’s reading involved the notion that higher education in this country is part of a social compact that exists between universities and the society we serve.

Although the notion of a compact is not necessarily new, the use of the word in the context of higher education is growing as we increasingly debate who is the main beneficiary of American higher education – the individual or the society. Is a college education a private good benefiting just the person who gets the degree, or a public good that benefits all of us? As we confront the increasing cost of going to college, and how we should pay for this cost, the way we answer this question about the main beneficiary is very important. We need to agree upon our answer.

Those of you who have heard me speak on this subject know how I answer this question. And although my answer that a college education is a public good comes from my heart, I do have data to support this position.

We have all seen the charts that show the relationship between lifetime earnings and level of educational attainment. In 2003, a male with a college diploma made $22,000 a year more than his counterpart with a high school diploma. With a master’s degree, he would earn even more, $34,000 more per year than the man with a high school diploma. That’s more than double the differential of 25 years ago.

This may seem like a private benefit. But did you know that when a company like Moody’s gives a city a bond rating, two of the factors used to calculate the rating are educational attainment and median income. A high bond rating is a public good.
We tend to focus on the relationship between educational attainment and lifetime earning power because the numbers are so dramatic. But there is also a relationship between educational attainment and public health and between educational attainment and participation in our democracy. The more educated take better care of themselves physically; they die later in life. Mortality rates for Americans aged 25 to 64 who have attended college are less than half the mortality rates for those who stopped their education at high school. Another indicator of the relationship between educational attainment and health is smoking rates. Twenty-eight percent of high school graduates smoke, while fewer than 11% of people with a college degree smoke. As far as participation in our democracy: In the 2004 presidential election, about half of the citizens with a high school diploma voted, compared to 73% of citizens with at least a bachelor’s degree.

So higher education is important to our economy, to our health and to our democracy. It is a social compact.

In an article that was published this spring, UT President Larry Faulkner discussed the social compact of American higher education and cited three movements that molded it: the land-grant movement of the 1860s, the post-World War II federal support of research, and the G.I. Bill. I would add a fourth – the Higher Education Act of 1965, a law that was signed on this campus on Nov. 8, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson.

When Lyndon Johnson signed this bill into law, he stood before the crowd in the gymnasium where the Music Building now stands and remembered how his attending our university in the mid-1920s changed his life and shaped his values. He said, “Today, then, we embark on a new adventure in learning. And it has a very special meaning to me. This is a proud moment in my life. I am proud to have a part in the beginning that this bill provides, because here a great deal began for me some 38 years ago on this campus. It was here in these surroundings that I first understood the deeper meaning of the Bible’s promise that ‘Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ Here the seeds were planted from which grew my firm conviction that for the individual, education is the path to achievement and fulfillment; for the nation, it is a path to a society that is not only free but civilized; and for the world, it is the path to peace — for it is education that places reason over force.”

President Johnson went on to reflect on how this life-changing experience at Southwest Texas State Teachers College had unfolded. President Johnson came to our campus to prepare to be a teacher. He was poor, he worked a dozen different jobs, but he still ran out of money before completing his education. And so he left Southwest Texas and took a job as a teacher in a school for Hispanic children in Cotulla. There he got some of his earliest experience in and ideas about improving people’s lives, a theme that drove his Great Society programs. As a teacher, he worked with Hispanic merchants and leaders in the town to persuade parents to become involved in a parent-teacher association, something new to that area. Together they created an after-school choir, a baseball team for boys and a volleyball team for girls. He discovered, if he had ever doubted, that these parents had the same hopes for their children that more wealthy parents do.

As he signed the Higher Education Act on this campus, he said, “I shall never forget the faces of the boys and girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American.”

Johnson must have foreseen this impact even then, in 1965 as he signed the Higher Education Act, when he said, “So when we leave here this morning, I want you to go back and say to your children and to your grandchildren and those who come after you and follow you — tell them that we have made a promise to them.”

He might have said, “Tell them that we have made a social compact with them.”

The most important contribution of the Higher Education Act of 1965 was that it opened paths to colleges and universities to young people whose families would not have predicted that they would go to college. And among these young people, the group that benefited the most dramatically is African-Americans. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Higher Education Act of 1965, 4% of African-Americans completed college. By 1984 that percentage had grown to 10 and today it is over 17%.

We are proud of the fact that the Higher Education Act was signed on our campus, and we are going to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that fact on November 8 this year. Two distinguished speakers who will be with us for this celebration are Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, who will give our LBJ Distinguished Lecture, and Luci Baines Johnson, who will speak earlier in the day.

Besides catching up on my reading, the other opportunity I had this summer was to spend time with family. At the end of July many family members were together in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. One day our activity involved white-water rafting on the Youghiogheny River. Two of my sisters and I set out on a nine and a half mile excursion. What began as an idyllic float ended as a demanding exercise. We quickly worked out the dynamics regarding who should steer and who should paddle. I was a paddler. As John Michael Montgomery says so beautifully, “Life’s a dance – sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow.”

Always looking for material for my convocation address and being in the middle of writing it during my vacation, I realized as I participated in this vigorous exercise that my sisters and I had formed a compact. We had agreed upon the importance of the final outcome – getting back to our hotel for dinner – and proceeded to work together as a team toward that end. We knew that either all three of us would make it or none of us would. That’s a compact.

And the Higher Education Act was a compact. President Johnson understood that if all Americans did not participate in the benefits of higher education, all of us would suffer. He signed the Higher Education Act because it was the right thing to do in 1965, and I believe that a celebration of this social compact is the right thing to do in 2005. I invite all of you to celebrate this historic anniversary with us.

Again, welcome back, all of you. I promise you that this year will be even more exciting than last year. I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am. Have a great year! Thank you.