‘Throwing Our Caps Over the Wall’ Convocation Speech

President Denise M. Trauth

August 26, 2003


    Good morning.
    What a wonderfully interesting and event-filled summer this has been!

  • The Spurs won the NBA championship.
  • The Redistricting Feud headed for a showdown at high noon.
  • The Texas Legislature appropriated the money we need to build a $27 million building in Round Rock that will give our University permanent facilities for the first time in that city.
  • Our student team won third place in the National Student Advertising Competition held in Los Angeles in June with the University of Nevada-Reno and Emerson in first and second places, and we were ahead of Wisconsin, Kentucky, BYU, Florida State, Tennessee and many others.         
  • We all — especially me — got goosebumps in May as we watched 500 law enforcement officers run up the pond bridges to the steps of J.C. Kellam with the ceremonial torch to officially begin Special Olympics. That was quite a weekend.
  • And finally at their meeting last week, our Board of Regents approved our naming the Science Building for Jerry and Cathy Supple, and they approved our developing a plan under which we will be able to give raises to our faculty and staff beginning in January.

And, of course, there were the important things that didn’t happen.

  • The TNRCC did not fence off the dam just before the most active weekend of the summer.
  • It didn’t rain the entire month of July like last year, with accompanying damage.
  • And although we sustained some budget cuts, they were not nearly as bad as they could have been.

One extremely good thing that happened (and a perk that goes with working in education) is that we got a break — at least a break in our routine if not a break in our workload. One cycle ends and another begins. And that gives us a chance to refocus our energy and rekindle our excitement.

    We find ourselves at the beginning of a new academic year, and that is an appropriate time to recognize those among us who have distinguished themselves in teaching, scholarship and service.

    Susan Hawkinson, 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 mathematics faculty. Colleagues and students say that he possesses all of the attributes of an exceptional teacher, including respect and compassion for his students, a brilliant analytical mind, complete knowledge of his subject and creative ways of helping students grasp the subject. On behalf of our alumni, we are delighted to present this Teaching Award of Honor to Greg Passty.

    Each year we present two presidential awards for outstanding teaching, two for outstanding scholarly and creative activity and two for outstanding service. One award in each category goes to a faculty member at the assistant professor or instructor/lecturer level and one at the associate or full professor level.

    The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who have earned the affection and respect of students and fellow faculty and have helped to build our reputation as a friendly campus whose faculty genuinely care for students. Please join me in honoring Craig Hanks, associate professor of philosophy, and Terence McCabe, assistant professor of mathematics.

We also are honoring two faculty this morning for their scholarly and creative activity. Both have made significant contributions to their disciplines and to society in general, and both have used their scholarship and creativity to enrich their own teaching and their students’ classroom experience.

    We are very pleased this morning to award the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activity to Don Olson, professor of physics, and Nico Schuler, assistant professor of music.

    We call on our faculty to serve as well as to teach and conduct scholarly research. The Presidential Award for Excellence in Service is given to faculty who are examples to our entire community for their willingness to go the extra mile with students, colleagues and the community. This year we honor Byron Augustin, professor of geography, and Linette Watkins, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

    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 William Stone, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of criminal justice, to come forward to assist in giving the Everett 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 Terence McCabe, assistant professor of mathematics, and Mayur Mehta, chair of the Department of Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods.

    Our other Faculty Senate nominee went on to win the Piper Award last spring. The Piper Foundation has made an excellent choice in our opinion. This English professor says he cannot imagine doing anything other than teaching. He gives credit for the award to his students who demand the best of him and his colleagues who inspire him. I am delighted to present our 12th faculty member to be named a Minnie Stevens Piper Professor — Paul Cohen.

    Even though he has already been honored at an earlier presentation luncheon, we want to recognize today a faculty member who has been named distinguished professor emeritus by the Board of Regents of the Texas State University System. He served 39 years as an outstanding teacher, scientist, scholar and active member of the San Marcos community. Please help me show our appreciation to Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Billy Yager.

    We also want to include in our introductions this morning the 2003 Staff Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month. Please help us congratulate Kim Porterfield.

    And I’d like to introduce to you 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. Our late dean of science for whom this award is named would be extremely proud of Agnes Dreibrodt, senior administrative assistant in the Graduate College, and Dennis Elam, lecturer in the Department of Accounting.

I congratulate all of these outstanding faculty and staff. SWT is truly blessed to have all of you. Thank you.

*    *    *
As we begin this academic year, we are an extremely healthy university. We have the highest enrollment ever for this institution: approximately 26,500. Our full-time faculty has reached 662. And at $216 million, the budget of the University is the largest it has ever been. We are beginning our sixth doctoral program this fall, we have a freshman class who met the highest academic standards ever set by this university, and the number of our minority students this fall will have grown by more than 200 over last year’s 6,450 when registration is complete.

And as of September 1, we have a new name. In June, our Faculty Senate endorsed the name change, thus joining the student government association in supporting the move to Texas State University. I believe that the Faculty Senate vote reflected the sentiments of the majority of our faculty. However, I know that some percentage of our faculty, staff, and students were not in favor of this change. Both those who supported the change to Texas State University and those who were against it took those positions out of a great loyalty and affection for our university. The position I took on this issue last year was born out of respect for a big, complex university that I was just getting to know and couldn’t begin to understand in a few short months. Although the timing on this name change was not what we had originally anticipated, we now must look at the future, not the past. Although not everyone in our University community supports or agrees with the actions of the Texas Legislature, it is incumbent upon us that we seize this opportunity with a renewed sense of optimism. Our reputation as a first-rate educational institution is longstanding. We have a strong and noble history. In truth, what has changed is a tiny piece of this university – its label. Is the label important? Absolutely. But ultimately a label, and particularly a label placed on a university, cannot signify more than the underlying reality. The name Texas State University cannot cause us to be more prestigious than our academic programs warrant. However, our new name does embody and make manifest the prestige that we have long possessed, a prestige that was perhaps unknown to some without a connection to our University.

On September 9 we will celebrate one hundred years of the university’s operation. Seventeen faculty members opened Old Main’s doors to 303 students on September 9, 1903, and we will celebrate that milestone with a ceremony on the steps of Old Main at 2 in the afternoon. We know it will be warm, so the ceremony will be brief but meaningful. We invite all of you who are not in class at the time to be with us.

My commitment to you is the same as it was last year when I stood before you for the first time: I will work every single day to strengthen and broaden both our reputation and the enterprises that give life to our reputation. Regardless of which side of this name change debate you joined, I hope that you will share my commitment to our 100-year-old institution that we all love.

As you know, we as a community have spent the last year taking a hard look at our planning process and taking the first steps down the road of a revised process. One of the most important elements of this endeavor that we accomplished during the last eight months is a review of our mission statement. We began with a fairly new statement – one that was written in 1998 as we prepared for our reaccreditation by SACS – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Using our current statement as a starting point for discussion, last February I sent a letter to members of the university community inviting all academic and administrative units to be a part of the mission statement review. The process provided the opportunity for faculty and staff to meet with others in their unit to have conversations and answer questions about what kind of mission statement best represents our university identity. This feedback was an important initial step in revising our mission statement to reflect a meaningful picture of our priorities and direction. 

During our summer planning retreat that included the members of my Cabinet, the deans and the chair of the Faculty Senate, we distilled all of the materials generated by the campus community throughout this process. We concluded that our revised mission and core values statements, statements that reflect our identity and guide us as we plan for the next five years, should include the following elements: public, student centered, doctoral, premiere, and diverse. A special task force was appointed to review statements reflecting these elements and mold them into a straightforward mission statement supported by our core values. A first draft is now ready for review by the campus community via our planning website.

Let me take a couple of minutes to clarify what I think each of these elements embodies. First, public. Although our funding from the State of Texas is not what we would like it to be, we are, in fact, a public university, and as such we exist to serve the public. As we make choices about the academic programs we offer, as we consider alternatives for the services in which we engage, as we contemplate adding new programs that can impact the future economy of Texas, as we think about the optimal size of our campuses in San Marcos and Round Rock we must constantly ask ourselves, is this what the State of Texas needs from our university? We cannot just look inwardly for the answers to these questions. We must look out across this whole vast state to get the answers. Doing so will assist us in making the right choices as we prioritize our initiatives.

We must remember, too, that as a public institution, it is our responsibility to educate future citizens. To instill in our students the importance of meaningful service to the community, Dr. Oren Renick is chairing a Service-Learning Team that is working to incorporate civic engagement into the curriculum.

The second element of our mission is student-centered. When we say that we are a student-centered university, we mean that teaching and learning are our core enterprises — particularly on the undergraduate level. But we also mean much more than that. As we work to create and maintain a student-centered learning environment, we embrace the core values of Texas State University— core values that you have reaffirmed through your feedback to revise our university mission statement.

We believe that an exceptional undergraduate experience is at the heart of what we do and educate our undergraduate students so that they will be equipped for the life-long pursuit of academic excellence. We believe that a diversity of people and ideas, a spirit of inclusiveness and a sense of community are fundamental conditions for teaching and learning. This value motivates us to create an atmosphere that fosters the development of the potential of every individual in our diverse community. We value engaged teaching and learning based on dialog, student involvement and the free exchange of ideas. This leads us to interact with our students in ways that teach them honesty, integrity, diligence, courage, compassion, fairness and respect. All this defines a student-centered university.

The third element of our mission is doctoral. In 1994 Southwest Texas made the decision to seek its first Ph.D. program. In making that decision, we did not just decide to offer one or two or three doctoral programs. We made the decision to become a doctoral-granting institution. Lots of universities in this country offer two or three doctoral programs – usually all in one college. That’s an appropriate mission and, in fact, the Carnegie Foundation which classifies all universities in this country, recognized that mission with a special classification. But that’s not what this university chose to become. We chose to go down a road that would gradually add doctoral programs across the university. We now have them in three colleges and via our planning process we will create criteria to determine what the next two or three doctoral programs should be. Implicit in being a doctoral university is the requirement that our faculty are engaged in scholarly, creative and research activities.

I can best communicate why faculty at a doctoral university engage in research by quoting from one of our students. In May, the New York Times ran an article about our creative writing program. Among all the nice things that the article said about our MFA, there was this quotation from one of our students: “[T]he thing that is so cool about Southwest Texas is the faculty all are writing, all are publishing. They’re right there, in the same struggle – they’re working writers.” When that young man said “[t]hey’re right there, in the same struggle,” he captured the integration of teaching and scholarly work that characterizes a university and particularly a doctoral university. All of our faculty and students are in the same struggle. We are all here to create an environment that supports the intellectual development of our students, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge, new creative works, new ways of understanding the world around us.

The fourth element of our mission is premiere. When we call ourselves a premiere institution of higher education, what we are really referring to is our continuous pursuit of excellence in everything that we do. The pursuit of excellence is almost always local. A university as big as ours doesn’t pursue excellence at the macro level. We pursue excellence through the choices we make every day to challenge our students in the classroom, to conduct research that seeks answers to important questions, to design extra curricular activities that support our students’ retention and success. We pursue excellence through the choices we make every day to maintain a physical environment that reflects the high quality of our teaching and learning, to promote and advance all of the exciting components of the University, and to build an infrastructure that allows us to deliver services in the most efficient manner.

We also pursue excellence when we streamline processes so as to reduce bureaucracy and redundancy, when we hold ourselves to the most stringent ethical standards, when we work across reporting lines in order to get the best solution to a thorny problem. These are all manifestations of an excellent, a premiere university. Excellence is about choices —  what we can do and what we cannot do— and we continue to make the choices every single day that result in a premiere university.

The final element of our mission statement is diversity. This has long been a value of Texas State University, and we have pursued a number of initiatives over the last several years that have helped create a more diverse environment. The two that are the most significant are our attempts to increase student diversity and to increase faculty diversity. At this summer’s planning retreat, we agreed that the highest diversity priority for the next five years is achieving the designation of a Hispanic Serving Institution. We already are 18th in the country when one looks at the number of baccalaureate degrees we award to Hispanic students, and we rank 22nd in the country in total enrollment of Hispanics. However, in order to achieve HSI designation by the federal government, we must increase our percentage of Hispanic students from our current 18 percent to 25 percent.

As one way to make progress toward this goal, this fall we will implement a revision of the Predicted Academic Success or PAS program. This program was established by SWT in 1986 as a means of taking a closer look on a case-by-case basis at students who do not meet our regular admission standards for the freshman class but who have some element in their record of accomplishments that tells us that they could probably be successful at Texas State. Prior to this fall semester, about 20 percent of our freshmen have been admitted via this program, and they have been retained at the same rate as regularly admitted students. For the freshman class of 2005 we will be using the PAS program to pay special attention to students from the poorest socio-economic school districts in Texas, reviewing their files on a case-by-case basis. We believe that using the PAS program in this way when combined with our existing need-based financial aid will result in moving us down the path toward a more diverse student body.

As a result of this summer’s Supreme Court decision in the University of Michigan cases, we believe that we can take some additional steps to continue to diversify the faculty. Vice President Gratz and the deans have been discussing this issue and I am pleased to announce that this fall we will make available a small number of new faculty lines that will be competitively awarded to departments who demonstrate an ability to use the lines to increase faculty diversity.

Now I would like to say a few words about other initiatives that will dominate this year. I think you know how fortunate I felt last August when I arrived in San Marcos to find what was essentially a very well functioning university. This is a tribute to Dr. Jerry Supple and to all of the other members of this community. Because the University was well functioning, I had the luxury that many new presidents do not have – I could devote my energy to studying Southwest Texas, getting to know the people, and determining what my short-term and long-term priorities needed to be. There are five priorities that I will share with you today. I will talk about each only briefly, but throughout the year you will hear much more.

Number one. Faculty salaries. Each year the Chronicle of Higher Education lists the average salaries at each rank for faculty from universities across the country. Although aggregated averages can be misleading if one does not look at a faculty member’s discipline, when I compared our salaries to those of faculty from schools who have the same scope of programs as Texas State, it was clear to me that our faculty are underpaid. As a result of this, I have secured the support of our Board of Regents to start what will be a multi-year process to increase our salaries. It will begin with a study that takes into account rank and discipline and uses national data as a benchmark.

This study of faculty salaries will be similar to the study of staff salaries that we do on a regular basis. For many years, we have conducted a biennial market salary study for staff employees. Every other year, Human Resources surveys the ten largest public universities and the public comprehensive universities in the state to find the base rates of their staff pay plans and what the incumbents in those positions are actually being paid. The university also purchases similar survey data that represents more than 700 employers in San Antonio and Austin and public employers along the I-35 corridor. Comparisons are then made with university salaries. Costs for meeting various levels of equity are presented to President’s Cabinet during budget planning time. Available revenues often dictate the decision of which level to choose. Through this process, over the years we have brought the base rates for new hires in our staff pay plan up to “market.” However, we remain well behind the market in terms of what we actually pay incumbent staff employees.

I need to stress in this context that there is no new money coming into the University to fund the increases we will make in faculty salaries, but the University has always had to make choices, to set priorities. I want you to know that the University leadership is committed to the reallocation of existing resources to achieve this goal, just as the University has used existing resources to adjust staff salaries.

The second initiative is the search for a university provost. Last May I appointed a search committee that will assist me in selecting a provost for Texas State. This committee, which is being chaired by Dr. Gene Bourgeois, chair of the Department of History, has developed ads for this position that will begin running shortly after September 1. The search committee plans to have candidates on campus in early spring for interviews that will include all sectors of the University, as well as our off-campus constituents. I am very impressed with the quality of the committee’s work to date and am grateful for their willingness to spend time and energy on this project.

Number three. Review of administrators. One of the reasons why American higher education is so strong is that we engage in an extraordinary amount of peer review across many sectors of our universities. Peer review is fundamental to the concept of shared governance, a bedrock principle of American higher education. This year we will begin looking at several parts of the peer review process we conduct at Texas State University. This will include review of our tenure and promotion document, a document that has been essentially unchanged since 1995. It will also include studying the appointment and terms of department chairs, and finally the method we use to assess deans and the provost.

Number four. As I indicated earlier, we have spent the last 12 months critiquing our current planning process, designing a revised one, and putting processes like mission review in place prior to kicking off a new round of planning. Engaging in this new round of planning will constitute a major undertaking for this academic year. Embedded in the planning process will be many important initiatives. To name a few: development of a diversity plan, identification of the next doctoral programs that the University will offer, and determination of how we will offer student services at our new Round Rock campus when it opens in fall 2005.

Our fifth and final initiative is master planning. A campus master plan is typically viewed as a document that emphasizes buildings, landscape and the infrastructure of the campus. In reality, it is the vision, mission and the Academic Plan that drive all of these other elements. On August 31, 2005, we close the book on the 1996-2005 Campus Master Plan. The construction of the Business Building, the renovation of the Education Building and the construction of the Student Health Center will finish out this plan.

The Campus Master Plan process for the next plan — the one covering 2006 to 2015 — will be done in two phases. Beginning this fall semester through May, the Facilities Committee and other volunteers will be reviewing the Academic Plan and soliciting ideas to help prepare the development of the new plan. You may be asked to complete a web-based survey on the campus environment and our facilities in October, or you may be involved in campus meetings where your input will be sought in November.

Phase Two will begin with the appointment of a planning consultant by the Board of Regents at the May 2004 meeting and ending with the approval of the Campus Master Plan in May 2005.

The process will be strongly participatory and continuous and one that will be very visible, providing you several opportunities to express your concerns and needs, in person or via e-mail from an established Campus Master Plan website.

That sums up the initiatives that will dominate this year. As we think of the agenda that lies in front of us, I am reminded of a story that the Irish playwright Patrick O’Connor tells about himself as a young boy. The story involves childhood games, a cherished tweed cap, and the determination to follow through once a decision is made. The story provides a nice metaphor for the point in the evolution of Texas State University where we are today, and so I would like to close with it.

As a youngster in the countryside of Ireland, O’Connor and his boyhood friends would pass a summer afternoon in a neighbor’s orchard, eating the fruit that was in abundance around them, giving little thought to the fact that the fruit belonged to someone else. Little thought, that is, until the orchard owner discovered the young thieves. Once discovered, the boys set out running with the owner in chase. In no time at all, the boys encountered a major obstacle – a beautiful stone wall surrounding the orchard that was just about as tall as the boys.

There was only a moment for making a decision that would be the difference between capture and escape. Having decided what to do, Patrick O’Connor took off his cherished tweed cap – the only tweed cap he was likely to own for sometime – and threw it over the wall. Having done this, he had no choice but to follow the cap and climb the wall.

Collectively, we at Texas State University have thrown our caps over the wall. On the other side of the wall is a university that looks different – broader in scope of programs, more influential, better recognized as premiere, and certainly more of a challenge for all of us. But, we’ve made our choices. So, up we go, over the wall together! It’s a bold adventure with exciting possibilities.

Thank you for your kind attention and best wishes for a wonderful year.