Town Hall - January 15, 2021

Town Hall
January 15, 2021
Featuring Provost Dr. Gene Bourgeois, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Emilio Carranco, and VPUA Dr. Barbara Breier

Thank you, Barbara, and thank you all for joining us today. We have several updates to share about how we’re preparing to keep our university community healthy and safe this spring semester. This Town Hall is one of many processes we are using to stay connected and engaged with you throughout the year. I find Town Halls a very effective forum. The questions and concerns you shared during our last Town Hall on November 23, guided us as we finalized our plans for the spring semester, developed our mass vaccination plan, and strengthened our COVID-19 communication strategies. Before we go into details about the spring semester, I want to take a moment to address the turbulent times we are facing as a nation.

In his 1963 address to the United Nations General Assembly, our distinguished alumnus, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, shared sentiments that reflect how many of us are feeling today. During his address to the Assembly, which took place less than one month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he said: “The United States of America, sobered by tragedy, united in sorrow, renewed in spirit, faces the New Year determined that world peace, civil rights, and human welfare become not an illusion but a reality.” As a nation and a university community, we are confronted with similar issues and emotions today.  For nearly a year, I have talked about the three crises that we are facing simultaneously -- the pandemic, a weak economy, and an ongoing fight for social and racial justice.  Today, I sadly add political turmoil to that list.

It is naïve to think these challenges have not followed us into the new year. But, I am confident that we will confront these issues together, united by our core values and determined to renew our spirit. In that same speech to the U-N Assembly, President Johnson spoke of hope, saying “we must not let grief turn us away from hope.” Despite the challenges in front of us, I remain hopeful because of you and because of our students. And, I believe that institutions of higher education serve as beacons of hope because we have a critical role to play in healing our nation. In an op-ed published this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Brian Rosenberg, president emeritus of Macalester College in Minnesota, and president in residence of the Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote: “We need more people to attend college not chiefly because our economy demands it, but because our democracy depends on it.”

What we do here at Texas State matters. It has the power to help our students, communities, state, and country not only recover, but be stronger than ever before.The educational experience we provide gives our students the tools to live and thrive in a world that has changed dramatically over the last year. It teaches them to seek, recognize, and value truth. It prepares them for the jobs our society, workforce, and economy need. It challenges them to question their own ideas and beliefs, and consider those of others. And, the degrees they earn and knowledge they gain will make them more resilient during times of economic upheaval. Also, as an emerging research university, the work we do addresses some of the most pressing issues and opportunities our society faces now, and will face in the future, from climate change to artificial intelligence.

Further, I am so proud -- and you should be too -- that we have tripled the funding available for freshman assured scholarships next fall. And, we continue to raise funds for the Bobcats to Bobcats scholarship to support incoming freshmen. More than ever, we are committed to reducing the financial barriers that keep students from attending college. Higher education is truly a higher calling – and you prove that every day. I have seen you go to heroic efforts to serve our students, take care of each other, and keep Texas State moving forward. We are having this Town Hall today so you can carry out this calling in the safest environment possible.

You’ve been tireless in preparing for the spring semester, moving classes online when appropriate, and getting our campuses ready for students to return. The State talks a lot about “essential” employees. Honestly, I don’t think they know how essential you truly are. But I do. You are essential to the future of our students and our nation. Together we can honor President Johnson’s quest to “make world peace, civil rights, and human welfare become not an illusion, but a reality.” On behalf of myself and my cabinet, thank you for your hard work, dedication, and continued flexibility. I look forward to answering questions you may have at the end of this Town Hall. Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce Dr. Gene Bourgeois, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

We have covered a lot of ground today. Thank you for your time and for your valuable input.  I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you throughout the semester. I know there will be more questions. We will continue to share COVID-19 related information with our university community on a regular basis through several communication platforms, including the Roadmap, update emails from Dr. Emilio Carranco, the Texas State Connections email, direct updates for supervisors, and of course, more virtual Town Halls. Before we say goodbye today, I want to thank you for sharing this higher calling with me. There is not another group of people I would choose to be with on this journey. Yes, we will meet the challenges ahead and do what it takes to finish the academic year strong. But, we will also do our part to strengthen our nation. We have many reasons to be hopeful, and to be “renewed in spirit.” Stay safe and well.