President's Letter to the TU Community

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Steadman Upham, President

Dear Colleague,

"The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies." So wrote Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863 in his Thanksgiving message to the nation. The unsuspecting reader could never realize from Lincoln’s optimistic assessment that 1863 was a year that witnessed the most horrific battles of the Civil War--Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Vicksburg Campaign, the bombardment of Fort Wagner and the siege of Charleston Harbor.

I find in Lincoln’s Thanksgiving message of 1863 an optimism that continues to set Americans apart from the rest of the world. Lincoln could have focused on the crushing loss of life within a divided country, but instead he chose to emphasize the reasons even a divided America remained strong: the continued development of agriculture, industry, and trade; unprecedented population growth in the states; westward extension of the country’s borders; and peaceful coexistence with other nations.

I begin my fall message to you in this way because I believe that optimism is among the most essential ingredients for achievement and success. Lincoln’s optimism in the face of America’s darkest hour is an extreme example, but it provides all of us with a motif for the attainment of our goals. Believing in the best possible outcome and focusing on the most hopeful aspects of a situation have a positive affect on one’s performance. This is one of the fundamental principles identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the psychology of optimal performance (see Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, HarperCollins, 1996 among other works). Csikszentmihalyi has shown persuasively how a positive psychological outlook dramatically influences behavior and outcomes when it is combined with talent, preparation, and hard work. I believe it follows that when the people in an organization are positive and optimistic about the future that it powerfully structures and influences the nature of organizational performance. At TU, we have abundant talent, are fully prepared for teaching and research, and work hard to deliver the highest quality education. But we are different than many universities because we also share a genuine optimism about our collective future.

As 2005 draws to a close, we have many reasons to be positive and optimistic about The University of Tulsa and the strength and resilience of our academic community:

  • We have outstanding students who continue to out-perform their peers across the nation, and we are on track to recruit yet another class of high achieving and socially engaged young adults. Our new campus visitation program for prospective students and high school counselors is underway. Reactions of those involved in the program have been extremely positive. While it is too soon to know precisely what the impact of this new program will be on fall 2006 enrollments, we have every reason to be optimistic that this new program will help us solidify our recruiting of high ability students.

  • Campus committees are hard at work on the initiatives I outlined in my fall convocation address, as well as those identified by the Faculty Senate in their annual work plan.

  • Provost Blais has convened a faculty committee to review the Tulsa Curriculum. In conjunction with this review, mapping of the curriculum continues in preparation for TU’s ten-year reaccreditation visit from the North Central Association.
  • Another group of faculty is looking at TU’s commitment to internationalization.
  • The Senate’s Equal Access and Opportunity Committee is evaluating TU’s hiring policies as they pertain to diversifying our faculty ranks.
  • The NCAA Certification Committee is hard at work preparing the university’s self study in preparation for a site visit from the NCAA this spring.
  • The Long Range Parking Committee has made significant progress on the development of a parking plan for TU’s future.
  • The ad hoc Library Budget Allocation Committee is continuing its review of McFarlin Library’s finances.
  • TU’s administration continues to work with the Board of Trustees to outline the framework for a major new fundraising campaign.
    Each of these groups will be making recommendations this spring that can form the basis of campus discussion and decision-making. Given the hard work and visionary approaches of these groups, all of us have ample reason to be optimistic that each will return with solid recommendations and plans that will help to improve and strengthen the university.
  • After several months of negotiations with contractors, we are finally ready to begin construction on Collins Hall (TU’s new student services building) and the Case Athletic Complex at Skelly Stadium. Dramatically rising steel and cement prices coupled with the increased cost of nearly everything have made these negotiations especially long and difficult. Kudos to our Board of Trustees chairman, Fulton Collins, and to new trustee, Michael Case, for their direct and positive involvement in this process. The university has selected Nabholz Construction to build both buildings. Importantly, private funds have been committed to cover the full cost of construction. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I am optimistic that earth will move in January 2006 to begin construction.

  • The makeover of the McFarlin "U" is nearing completion. Dramatic new walkways and lighting have transformed this beautiful and historic part of our campus. In early December, 70 new oak trees will be planted on the "U" setting the stage for the long term enjoyment of the "U" for many new generations of TU students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and visitors. Benches and seating areas will following, making the "U" a perfect place to gather for conversation and fellowship, especially with a cup of Starbucks from the new food venue in the Collins Fitness Center!

  • The construction of Bayless Plaza on the south side of Tyrrell Hall remains on schedule. Demolition of this area has been inconvenient for everyone who inhabits the south side of campus. I want to thank you for your patience and forbearance as this work continues. The parking lot to the west of Westby Hall will reopen in January, but construction of the plaza itself will continue well into the spring. Although the parking lot will reopen, it remains unclear to me just how useful it will be while Collins Hall is under construction. Hence, I encourage your ongoing patience and good cheer about the construction disorder. It too shall pass, and the results will be something quite remarkable and inspiring.

  • Despite both expected and unexpected revenue shortfalls during the fall term, we remain on track to balance the university’s annual operating budget. Notices will be going out shortly to deans, department heads, and budget managers about the strategies we need to follow to achieve this result. Balancing our annual operating budget is a prerequisite for institutional stability. With a balanced budget we can plan for regular salary increases, and we can maintain funding for programs and initiatives. I remain optimistic about our financial future, despite our tight current budget. Our goals in this area remain a balanced budget, annual salary increases, investment in strategic new initiatives, and modest growth of operating revenues. All of these are achievable in our current operating environment.

  • Discussions continue with the Board of Trustees about the feasibility of undertaking a capital campaign. Ambitious fundraising plans for both endowment and capital projects are being discussed. In January, board chairman Fulton Collins will be sharing the board’s perspectives on a capital campaign with the Faculty Senate. He will collect feedback from this key faculty group in advance of the Trustee Retreat that will be held in Oklahoma City in February. I remain optimistic that we will gain approval to undertake this transforming fundraising effort.

  • I am pleased to report that the spirit of the TU Family is alive and thriving. This fall, thanks to the coordinated effort of Student Association, the TU Alumni Association, and Athletics, we enjoyed near record attendance at TU football games. Home games were punctuated by active tailgate gatherings, live music, family fun, and lots of good food. The "Wear Blue" campaign has been a huge success, and is carrying forward into basketball season. The Golden Hurricane football team sits atop the Western Division of Conference USA as sole champions. The team will play for the conference championship on December 3rd against Central Florida University in Orlando, Florida. Our football team is also bowl bound (the bowl to be determined by the outcome of the C-USA championship game). These are truly major accomplishments for our first year in Conference USA. Congratulations to Coach Kragthorpe, his staff, and members of the football team for representing The University of Tulsa so well on the national stage. Kudos also for all of our other fall sport athletes who distinguish themselves in both the classroom and on the field of play.

  • Athletics also occupied my attention as we conducted a thorough national search for a new director of athletics. In early November, we welcomed Lawrence "Bubba" Cunningham to TU to assume this position. He comes to us after serving four years as AD at Ball State University, and 16 years in athletic administration at Notre Dame. Please join me in extending the hand of friendship to Bubba, his wife Tina, and their four children as they join the TU Family.

The remaining accomplishments of our faculty and students are far too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say that TU has enjoyed "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies" this year. Our, current position, our circumstances, our energy, and our vision to boost TU into the top 50 national universities are cause for us to be truly optimistic about the future of The University of Tulsa. I believe that our optimism and energy, along with our talent, preparation, and hard work, are major reasons why we continue to experience unprecedented success. As we near completion of the fall 2005 term, let me say thanks to you for making all of this possible.