Fall Convocation 2018
Forging a Culture of Innovation and Inclusion
President Denise M. Trauth
Strahan Arena in the University Events Center
August 24, 2018
Good morning! Well, it happened again! It was 2 a.m. and I was on an escalator at the Indianapolis airport headed to baggage claim. I was carrying my Texas State bag and because I had landed eight hours later than my original 6 p.m. arrival time, I was in something of a mental fog. So I was startled when the woman behind me on the escalator asked if I was from Texas State. Yes, when I least expected it, I met another alum. She graduated in 2007. And was she happy with the education she received! It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and she went on and on about how great her experience had been. Literally, the world is full of happy Bobcats and even in a mental fog, it’s gratifying to meet them. Thank you for enabling that happiness and for joining me today for this important tradition.
At the start of each academic year, we gather to reflect on the past year and look forward to what’s ahead. But before we do, I’d like to honor our truly exceptional faculty and staff. As I look out at this group, I see inspirational teachers, innovative researchers, devoted staff and kind mentors. You all have collectively set Texas State University on its positive trajectory, pushing us to higher and higher levels of excellence.
Each year, The Texas State University System Board of Regents honors professors who have achieved excellence in teaching and research, while demonstrating an unwavering dedication to their students, university and community. This year, Texas State is proud to have another of our faculty members named a Regents’ Professor: Gary Beall, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
The Board of Regents also recognizes exceptional teachers with the Regents' Teacher Award. Regents' Teachers are selected based on their outstanding performance as educators, contributions to the development of courses, and use of innovative teaching methods. I’m proud we have two Regents’ Teachers honorees this year: Debra Feakes, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who could not be with us today; and David Nolan, associate professor of practice in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Each year, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation selects up to fifteen 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: Steven Beebe, Regents’ Professor and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication Studies.
This morning, we also are recognizing two University Distinguished Professors whose careers in teaching, research, and service have been exemplary and recognized at the state, national, and international levels. Please help me congratulate our new University Distinguished Professors: John Blair, professor in the Department of English; and Lawrence Estaville, professor in the Department of Geography.
For their years of outstanding teaching, research, and service at Texas State, eleven retired faculty members have been named Distinguished Professors Emeriti, and we recognize them today. Our honorees here with us are: Steven Beebe, Regents’ Professor and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies; Mark Busby, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English; Nancy Chavkin, Regents’ Professor and University Distinguished Professor Emerita of Social Work; Dennis Dunn, Regents’ Professor and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History; Steven Furney, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Health and Human Performance; Patricia Pattison, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Finance and Economics; and Philip Salem, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies. Several Distinguished Professors Emeriti could not be with us today. They are Paul Cohen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English; Harvey Ginsburg, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology; Nancy Grayson, Distinguished Professor Emerita of English; and James Petersen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography.
Each year, we recognize one faculty member with the Presidential Seminar Award. Recipients then share their research or creative activity with their peers. The 2018 honoree is being recognized for her superlative scholarship and contributions to her discipline. The next Presidential Seminar will be presented by Ana Carrillo Baer, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
We are honoring two faculty members with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative 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. Join me in congratulating: Duane Knudson, professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance; and Christopher Rhodes, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to three individuals who are passionate about their fields and convey that excitement to their students. Please join me in honoring: Cynthia Gonzales, associate professor in the School of Music; Stephanie Dailey, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies; and Mayumi Moriuchi, senior lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages.
We also 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: Gwynne Ash, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction; and James Price, senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Cindy Williams, First Vice 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 a clinical professor in the Department of History who demonstrates passion, innovation and expertise in the classroom. On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Patricia Lynn Denton.
Our Faculty Senate chooses from among its colleagues recipients of the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Excellence in Teaching Awards. I would like Alex White, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor in the Department of Mathematics, to come forward to present with me this year’s awards. 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. These awards are named for a beloved deceased faculty member and longtime chair of the Faculty Senate. With great pleasure, we present these Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Excellence in Teaching Awards to: Steven Beebe, Regents’ Professor and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication Studies; David Nolan, Regents’ Teacher and associate professor of practice in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Cindy Royal, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Today we also honor faculty and staff members for dedication to the pursuit and celebration of inclusion and diversity. Recipients of the Excellence in Diversity Award are: Rafael Cordero Junior, grant director for Upward Bound; Skyller Walkes, interim director of the Office of Disability Services; and Olga Wilson, senior lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
We want to introduce this year’s winners of the Mariel Muir Excellence in 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: Bahram Asiabanpour, associate professor in the Ingram School of Engineering; and Rachael Weldon-Caron, grant director for Educational Talent Search.
And finally, for the last award of the morning, let us honor the 2018 Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Join me in congratulating Jennifer Beck, director of Retention Management and Planning. Let’s give all of these outstanding faculty and staff members one more round of applause.
Before I begin reviewing the last year and envisioning what 2018-19 will bring, we must pause to mourn. Five weeks have passed since the fatal apartment fire at Iconic Village apartments. It was a terrible tragedy that claimed the lives of four Texas State students and one community member. We mourn the loss of these lives and send our deepest condolences to their families and friends. Additionally, 200 people were affected by the fire and one of them is in the hospital in critical condition. We are appreciative of the City of San Marcos, the federal and state agencies, community groups and university departments that helped those affected by the fire. Many people sent their well wishes and donated to emergency funds. The tragedy reminded us of how precious life is and how grateful we should be for what we have. One of the things we have is a resilient and compassionate Bobcat community. So, now let us join in a moment of silence in honor of all affected by the fire.
The title of my presentation today is “Forging a Culture of Innovation and Inclusion.” You will notice that the word culture is singular -- one culture that fosters both innovation and inclusion. Innovation is grounded in promoting a multiplicity of voices, perspectives, and experiences. And genuine inclusion across this diversity requires innovative approaches. But before I get to the specifics of these two forces, I want to review the successes of the last year. We’re building new dimensions of the Texas State culture on an extraordinarily strong base.
We remain a very popular destination for freshmen. This fall we will have the university’s largest freshman class in our history. Currently we have 6,165 freshmen registered for classes, and I want to thank all of those in Enrollment Management and across the university who made this happen.
This past year we began to implement the University Master Plan, a blueprint that will guide us through 2027 as we add new buildings, renovate existing ones, and strategically utilize every square foot of space available on this campus, on the Round Rock Campus and at STAR Park. 2017-18 was a monumental year for construction. We are opening three new facilities worth about a quarter of a billion dollars -- this building, the University Events Center, and Ingram Hall in San Marcos; and Willow Hall in Round Rock. These new facilities represent more than 300,000 square feet of new space -- which is by far the largest amount of space added in a single year.
Willow Hall, dedicated in May, is the new home for the departments of communication disorders, physical therapy, and respiratory care. The facility includes state-of-the-art clinics, student-centered work spaces and research labs. Bruce and Gloria Ingram Hall, our newest engineering and science building, will welcome students next week. It’s now the university’s largest academic building and includes spaces for biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, and the Materials Science, Engineering, and Commercialization doctoral program. It will be dedicated on November 8. As you can see, the University Events Center is almost complete -- and we’ve bid farewell to the infamous wall that never should have been there in the first place. In this expanded facility, we have much more space for commencement ceremonies and athletic events, and the opportunity for other special events like concerts. As we renovated and expanded this facility, we’ve moved athletics out of Jowers and are turning over the vacated space to academics. This building will be rededicated on October 6.
Other significant renovation projects are in the works. The LBJ Student Center is undergoing a major expansion that will be complete in 2020, enlarged to include a new lobby, an additional ballroom, conference rooms, spaces for student gatherings, study spaces, and a new multi-cultural area. Also, the Alumni Association will move into the expanded LBJ Center and share space with Undergraduate Admissions in the Alumni and Future Students Welcome Center. We are transforming the Alkek Library into a truly modern, technology-focused learning space. We opened the Archive and Research Center at STAR Park last fall to make room for these improvements. To date, we have moved over 250,000 items from the Library into the ARC. This will make room for the expansion of the Wittliff Gallery. We will double the amount of Wittliff exhibit space, which eventually will occupy the entire 7th floor of the Library. To meet the growing need for student housing, a new residence hall complex will be constructed. The Hilltop Housing Complex will include about 1,000 beds.
However, our Facilities Department isn’t exclusively focused on building new facilities. They work hard to maintain and update our existing facilities. In fact, there are over 200 current improvement projects ongoing at both campuses.
Last year we also implemented our University Plan. In accordance with it, we continue to add new undergraduate and graduate degree programs to meet workforce demand. Growing our graduate degree programs is an important part of our plan as we transition into a national research university. Last month, we received approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to begin a Ph.D. in applied anthropology. This is a significant achievement, as it’s our 12th Ph.D. among our 14 doctoral programs. This fall we’ll begin enrolling students in this new Ph.D., as well as in the new distance learning Executive Master of Healthcare Administration program, benefitting healthcare professionals already working in the field. Also this fall, we begin enrolling students in the master’s degree in integrated agricultural sciences and an undergraduate minor in Latino Studies. Two additional master’s degrees were approved last week by our Board of Regents: a master’s in data analytics and information systems, and a master’s in marketing research and analysis. Both will begin in January. Next fall, we’ll launch a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. As the first in Texas with a holistic emphasis on technology-enhanced infrastructure, this engineering program will further amplify our impact on the Texas Innovation Corridor, which I’ll discuss in a moment. We will also begin an undergraduate minor in African American Studies next fall. During the last academic year, we launched a Ph.D. in computer science, a master’s in leadership and administration in nursing, and a master’s degree in respiratory care.
As most of you know, the big overarching goal of Texas State is to become eligible for the National Research University Fund, and over the last year we made great progress. There are metrics we must meet before we can access this Fund. Let me tell you about five of these. Number one: I’m pleased to announce that our endowment has topped $200 million -- which means we are more than half-way to our goal of $400 million. This is an incredible achievement! Number two: We increased our restricted research expenditures. In fiscal year 2017, we had more than $33 million in restricted research expenditures. This was up almost 10 percent over fiscal 2016. Our restricted research expenditures this current fiscal year through July 31 have topped $30 million, which is 8.1 percent higher than they were at that point last fiscal year. Number three: We consistently exceed the required graduation rates for doctoral and master’s degrees -- the metric that measures high quality graduate education. Texas State awarded 41 doctor of philosophy degrees last year, which is 20 percent of our goal of awarding 200 Ph.D.s a year. Number four: Our freshman class last year attained the goal of 50 percent of the class coming from the top quartile of their high school classes. And Number five: A final goal in the NRUF plan is to receive an invitation to join the Association of Research Libraries. According to the association’s most recent Library Investment Index report, Texas State improved its likelihood of being accepted into the association by moving up eight positions when comparing us to the 125 existing members.
Of the many accolades I’m proud to share with you today, I am most inspired by the achievements of our students. Allow me to tell you about just a few that demonstrate their breadth and excellence.
- In athletics, the Bobcats won our first Sun Belt Conference softball regular season and tournament championship in the same year.
- The women’s track and field team took home the triple crown with conference championships in cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
- Nearly 900 Texas State students studied abroad last year, traveling to almost every continent on earth.
- On one of those trips, seniors studying clinical laboratory science completed their general rotation in Peru, performing community health screenings for children and families. This service-learning program is one of the first of its kind in the nation.
- For the first time ever, eight of our 16 athletic teams had a perfect Academic Progress Rate. Their scores place them in the very top of their sport in NCAA Division I.
- Dozens of undergrads, grad students and volunteers joined together to form Bobcat Bounty – the university’s first student-run, on-campus food pantry. In its first semester, the team distributed more than twelve-hundred bags of groceries, led by the nutrition and foods program.
- Our speech and debate team won the Pi Kappa Delta Division I National Championship, beating 81other university teams. It was our team’s second national championship.
- An interdisciplinary student team beat out finalists from Johns Hopkins and Duke University to win a national competition hosted by Shell Energy. Their award-winning research applied blockchain technology to local solar grids.
- A health education student earned the Etta Sigma Gamma Nation “Health Education Major of the Year Award” from the Society for Public Health Educators.
- Eight business students competed at the 2018 Global Asset Management Education Forum in New York City and won first place in the Fixed Income Division for their investment strategy presentation.
- A delegation from Texas State’s Model Organization of American States won numerous awards in the national competition, representing the nations of Brazil, Panama, and Costa Rica.
- A team of graduate students was named a finalist in the Collegiate Inventors Competition for their invention of an absorbent that can help treat contaminated water.
- An international studies student became the university’s first ever graduate-level recipient of a Critical Language Scholarship, an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program funded by the U.S. Department of State. She is currently studying Mandarin in China.
- A Texas State multi-disciplinary team was selected out of 700 applicants from around the world to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition. Our team showcased new battery technology they developed and faced off against teams from Harvard, MIT, and Yale.
- And the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awarded one of our graduate theatre students first place in directing. It was our theatre department’s twelfth national champion honored by the Kennedy Center.
Our students have brought home countless other awards -- too many to mention. I hope you glean from this that our students excel, due in large part to the support and instruction they receive from you.
And now let’s turn to our truly exceptional faculty. I’m proud to say that twelve members of our faculty have won the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award since 2008, including two new winners this year. We also have one winner of the prestigious PECASE Award. More than 50 of our faculty members have been named Fulbright Scholars, including the record-breaking six awards added this year. These are spectacular achievements.
Texas State has a thriving research community fueled by the expertise, creativity, and determination of our faculty. Allow me to share a few of the top research awards we earned during the last academic year.
- We received nearly $1 million out of a four-year total grant of almost $4 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement a program for pregnant and parenting adolescents.
- The U.S. Department of Education awarded Texas State $1.1 million for the second year of a five-year grant totaling $5.8 million to strengthen the STEM success pipeline.
- The National Institutes of Health training program we operate in partnership with UT Health Science Center San Antonio was renewed for 5 years with total funding of $1.2 million.
- The Texas School Safety Center received $1.4 million from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Governor’s Office to prevent school violence.
- Our Texas Justice Court Training Center received $2 million from the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas to provide training and technical assistance to Justices of the Peace, Court Personnel, and Constables statewide.
- Texas State received nearly $2.9 million from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to enhance the skills of current and future Child Protective Services workers.
- The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, or ALERRT, received $5.4 million from the Department of Justice to train officers responding to active shooter situations and other violent threats, and
- We received $3 million from NASA out of a total grant of nearly $15 million over five years to support the STEM Educator Professional Development Collaborative.
Congratulations to all of you.
As we look at the upcoming year, we have much on our agenda. I’ve already spoken about new academic programs and our construction projects. Now, allow me to highlight a few of the initiatives that enhance the student experience. We have hired a part-time Staff Attorney for Students with immigration expertise to provide legal information regarding immigration issues. Over the past year, Student Business Services has worked to streamline the processes surrounding holds placed on student accounts. The aim was simple: reduce incidents of holds and make it easier for students to resolve account issues. This is an example of how we actively search for barriers to student success, and work to eliminate them.
Expanding undergraduate research is also a priority, and that’s reflected in our ongoing SACSCOC reaffirmation work. Our Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, is focused on expanding undergraduate research. We have made good progress on it and on the compliance narratives and documentation which are due in September 2019. The on-site reaffirmation committee for SACSCOC will be here in March of 2020. All said, reaffirmation is a Herculean effort that touches every division and every faculty and staff member across the university.
Last November, I suspended activities of all fraternity and sorority chapters to enable us to complete a thorough review of the sorority and fraternity system following tragic incidents. We undertook a comprehensive review and the resulting plan outlines a number of new requirements for sororities and fraternities, including new member education; risk reduction plans; and strict regulations on alcohol and social events. The culture of these groups must align with our core values and must prioritize student safety. And a final initiative for our students that I want to highlight is developing tools to help them better understand the values and requirements inherent in the First Amendment. I’ll come back to this subject later.
Improved and strategic communication both inside and outside our university community was a top priority last year and will continue to be one. As I moved around the university, the state, and the country meeting with students and alumni last year, one of the recurring themes I heard is that they don’t feel that they receive all of the good news about the university. So this year we will develop additional strategies that enable us to share our story with a wider audience. We recently launched the Texas State Digital Newsroom to improve our news-sharing capabilities. The new website will serve as a clearinghouse for all the latest news about Texas State. Safety remains a top priority on our campuses. We have launched the Safety and Emergency Communications website, and safety posters will be updated for our classrooms. During an emergency, the new website will include all the current information available. It also includes helpful information on emergency preparedness.
And now let’s turn to the upcoming year’s Common Experience theme. As you know, each year we select an academic theme and organize events to engage everyone in our university community to share in the experience. It’s fitting that this year’s theme is Innovation, since innovation is both woven into the fabric of this institution and a continuing goal of ours. Through the Common Experience, we will engage in a year-long conversation about the ideas and possibilities that will shape the future, at Texas State and around the world. The Texas Innovation Corridor, which stretches along I-35 from Austin to San Antonio, is home to rapid growth in industry, technology, research, and economic opportunity. Texas State’s research and academic programs, as well as our faculty and student start-ups, are a catalyst for the transformation of the region. The university’s pipeline of high quality, talented graduates is also attracting new companies in targeted industries. At Texas State, we are innovating across disciplines in truly incredible ways. A few examples:
Our technology incubator at STAR Park has grown to house six clients. In the spring, STAR Park added a company that manufactures fluorescent ion indicators used in biological and medical research. Another one of our client/partner companies received the 2017 Innovation Award from the Association of University Research Parks for development of diagnostic and biological detection devices. We strive to provide our students, faculty, and staff with the tools and technology that are necessary ingredients for innovation.
Many innovation hubs are already built into our campuses and we are adding even more. I encourage you to check out the interactive map on the Common Experience website that showcases these hubs -- including makerspaces, innovation labs, 3D printing rooms, high-tech production studios, and an engineering composites lab. The Materials Applications Research Center is an innovation center at STAR Park. During the upcoming year, an advanced prototyping lab will be added to the MARC where companies can collaborate with students and faculty to create new products. Once complete, the new Learning Commons at Alkek Library will include high tech spaces designed to boost student collaboration and innovation. We’ll be adding a virtual reality center, geographical information systems, technology-centric collaboration spaces, and 3D printing capabilities. The Maker Space in Ingram Hall provides students state-of-the-art equipment and tools that they can use to fabricate a wide range of objects. There is also a Maker Space in the Avery Building on our Round Rock Campus. Ingram Hall houses a lab where students can get involved in renewable energy research using solar panels, wind turbines, and sensors.
An example of an organizational innovation we began two years ago is the Translational Health Research Initiative. We started this collaboration to promote health research among faculty from a range of disciplines, corporate partners, and healthcare providers. This collaborative includes academic programs from all of our colleges, working together to translate research findings into practice to improve the health of Texans. We have 225 faculty actively engaged in health research and over 80 degree programs that include health-related instruction and research opportunities. This initiative has garnered considerable support from major federal sponsors such as the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, as well as more local sponsors such as the St. David’s Foundation.
At Texas State we are able to engage in so much innovation, in part, because we are truly committed to free and open discourse, to the articulation of a multiplicity of viewpoints, and to protecting the rights of faculty to engage in popular and unpopular scholarly pursuits. In other words, we adhere to the First Amendment. This summer, John and I joined hundreds of alumni who returned to the University of Iowa to celebrate 150 years of the publication of the Daily Iowan, Iowa’s morning university newspaper. Both of us worked on the DI, as it is called, while we were doctoral students. John was the advertising manager and then publisher, and I was a section editor. Attending the conference were journalists who had gone from the DI to careers which took them in many different directions, but a common concern articulated at the panel discussions we attended was an apprehensiveness about the future of the First Amendment. This worry came from both sides: a concern that freedom of expression may be curtailed, and a concern for the ugliness the First Amendment sometimes protects. But at the end of the day, attendees agreed that the First Amendment is one of the bedrock freedoms that makes America the country that it is. And this brings me back to Texas State University.
Last November, the University Star published an opinion column titled “Your DNA is an Abomination” -- a piece that addressed the issue of racial constructs. People inside and outside our university community were upset by the fact that we protected the right of the University Star to publish this piece. I heard from many students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community leaders about the column. I’ll tell you what I told each of them: the University Star is protected by the First Amendment. The essence of a modern university is the ability to create an atmosphere where intellectual inquiry can flourish. First Amendment rights are at the heart of that inquiry. Our responsibility as educators is to encourage the debate of ideas in order for our students to become the educated, responsible, and thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.
Another way our students become educated and responsible is through Student Government. Last year, after what many considered racist posts were found in the Student Government President’s social media, student Senators attempted to impeach him. After this failed, a group of students organized a protest and ultimately a sit-in. Throughout this attempt and a second successful one, three things became clear: first, that Student Government policies and procedures were not designed to guide the organization through a contentious impeachment process. In response, a 26-member task force has been formed to undertake a systematic review of processes surrounding Student Government legislation, elections, and governing documents. Second, it became clear that some students in under-represented minority groups want the university to do more to manifest the inclusiveness we say is one of our core values. I will come back to the establishment of the Council on Inclusive Excellence in a moment. And third, it became clear that many members of our community do not fully comprehend the constitutional protection of the First Amendment. So, one of the initiatives we will undertake this year is to develop tools such as a website and programming to better enable us to understand this fundamental right.
Throughout last year, in a disturbing backdrop and undoubtedly a contributor to these student incidents, white supremacist hate groups posted abhorrent propaganda messages on our San Marcos Campus -- several times. According to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist groups have chosen universities as their battle ground. They target our campuses specifically to inflict chaos and spread fear. Over the past two years, the Anti-Defamation League has recorded 478 incidents of white supremacist propaganda appearing on college campuses. These campaigns have targeted 287 schools in nearly all 50 states. Texas and California have been hit the hardest. Although we are one of hundreds of universities affected, this hate mongering still feels deeply personal to our community.
At last year’s convocation, I said I expected many universities -- including ours -- would continue to experience a climate of unrest. We knew there were going to be difficult moments. The debate and protests that are being experienced today in universities across America are a reflection of the larger society. America in 2018 exists in a toxic political climate. Civil discourse has given way to loud and contentious skirmishes that are exacerbated by the manipulation of social media. And this is not going to go away anytime soon. So we must deal with it. We must define ourselves and what we stand for. We must proudly proclaim who we are. Our student body looks more like our state than any of our other 9 Texas public research universities. In addition to racial diversity, diversity of thought is a hallmark of this community. Our students come to us from many backgrounds and ethnic groups; from rural and urban areas; from families that are college-educated; and from families that never had the chance to pursue higher education. And we also know that our students, faculty, and staff are spread out across the political spectrum. We stand proud of all of this diversity. And, we value inclusion, because it is inclusion that truly makes us not a collection, but a community. We protect the exchange of ideas, even when it’s uncomfortable. We treat one another with respect and integrity.
But none of that makes us immune to the divisiveness taking hold in our nation today. In fact, our values make us a target of those who seek to divide us. But all the while, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we see on the national landscape. Even as civil discourse seems to be eroding nationwide, we have the opportunity to be a leader and a unifying voice. We are uniquely positioned to innovate, to be trailblazers, and to set the bar for our peer institutions on how to build a truly inclusive climate for an incredibly diverse set of individuals. Toward that end, I have established the Council on Inclusive Excellence -- a group of faculty, students, and staff who will advise the university on how to achieve this inclusivity. In addition, we will be asking our student leaders to meet together monthly to talk about ways to unify the university, and we ask our faculty and staff to dialog with our students and hear their ideas about how to foster inclusiveness. Our focus this year is to make all members of the Texas State community feel welcome; feel that their voices are heard and know that they are valued. We will continue our efforts to foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness where civility is cultivated. That will be our innovative contribution.
Last year, the university completed a Campus Climate Survey to gather feedback from students about the climate at Texas State. The Council on Inclusive Excellence will use the survey responses to develop a list of initiatives that fosters a more inclusive climate. These new initiatives will be in addition to a wide range of programs we already have dedicated to address inclusion and diversity. There are conferences that bring students together to learn how identities impact relationships, groups, and social dynamics. There are summits for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and for students with disabilities. There are events aimed specifically at first generation students. Each new student experiences an interactive diversity presentation. And there are countless receptions, celebrations, remembrance programs, training workshops, and speaking events that touch on inclusion and diversity throughout the year. But, all this is not enough. There is more work to be done for us to build and protect an inclusive and fully supportive university.
As I reflect on the past year, I see a mix of challenges and victories, highs and lows, and I’m struck by the duality of it all. It reminds me of the Chinese philosophy that describes how seemingly contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. They may actually give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. These seemingly opposing forces form a dynamic system. While we are expanding our research, attracting top-notch faculty and students, and building high-tech facilities, we can simultaneously struggle to find the best way to express to students that each and every one of them is valued. And while a small number of students may share offensive messages with the intent to disrupt, an even greater number of students are simultaneously collaborating on innovative projects, approaching a scientific breakthrough, or winning national awards. Year after year, our student surveys show that the vast majority of graduating seniors would choose Texas State again, if given the chance. They look back on their experience here as excellent -- at rates higher than that of our peer institutions. Yes, it’s quite possible to experience these dual forces at work, in the same great institution, pushing and pulling.
Higher education is transformational not only in terms of economic mobility, but also in how we engage as citizens in a democracy -- how we engage in life itself. We have challenges to work through. But we are evolving, and that is the important thing.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Your work is important. Each one of us has a role to play in moving this university forward. But, we also must take care of ourselves in both our professional and personal lives. We all know how important is it for us to stay physically active, take time to relax, and spend quality time with loved ones. Doing these things improves our long-term productivity and our well-being. As we start this new year, I encourage you to make a commitment to take care of yourself -- mind, body, and spirit. Make your personal health -- physical and mental -- a priority. I encourage you to take advantage of the many wellness opportunities the university offers. You are invaluable not just for what you do for this university, but for the role you play in your family and in your community. You – our exceptional faculty and staff -- are our most valuable assets. Thank you for all that you do -- and I wish you all a productive new year.