The State of the University

Friday, September 09, 2005

Steadman Upham, President

Remarks delivered to the faculty, staff, students, and friends of The University of Tulsa at University Convocation, Donald W. Reynolds Center, September 7, 2005

It is a great pleasure for me to address you this afternoon at the beginning of the 2005-06 academic year. Today we celebrate the university’s commitment to scholarship and service by receiving the Honor Institution award from the Truman Scholarship Foundation. This award is a tribute not only to the outstanding TU students who have received Truman Scholarships over the years, but to each and every employee of The University of Tulsa whose work has contributed to the development and coherence of our academic community.

Our community conceives of teaching, research, and scholarship as historically connected to the broader society. Thus, the idea of service to that society follows logically as one of our core values. I would like to thank Dr. Louis Blair, Executive Director of the Truman Foundation, and Senator George Mitchell for being with us today to help us recognize and celebrate this unique and important feature of our academic environment.

The themes of scholarship and service to society frame our gathering this afternoon. These values stem from the strong belief of our faculty that the life of the mind must be connected to a broader world of actions and interests. Herman Melville may have put it best when he wrote that, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”

So it is with the teaching, research, and service we do at The University of Tulsa. We see it in the values we transmit to our students, in the work our students do in our city and region, in the technology we transfer to industry and government, in the consultation and pro bono services we provide to the elderly, the indigent, and infirm. Our actions do “run as causes” and return to us as improvements in the quality of life for those in Tulsa and beyond.

These ideas frame my remarks today, which emphasize the need to see our work at the university in a more holistic manner. This year we can advance the University significantly if we will take a broad, integrated view. I will say more about those opportunities in a moment.

Fiscally sound, academically strong

But first, more generally, I am pleased to report that the university is fiscally sound and academically strong. We ended last year with a balanced budget, thanks to your hard work. Each TU employee is responsible for this important result, and I want to personally thank you. Because of your discipline, we enter this fiscal year in a much stronger position.

TU’s endowment — both the TU and Chapman Trust portions — grew at an exceptionally healthy pace. Our permanent endowment now stands at more than $780 million, a record amount for TU. Research funding from grants and contracts nearly topped $18 million, while our faculty submitted 277 new research proposals, auguring well for additional years of higher funding.

We also had a very successful year in private fundraising, bringing in more than $16 million. Importantly, alumni giving increased for the 6th straight year. More than 25% of TU’s undergraduate alumni made a contribution to the university this past year, up from just 11% a few years ago.

I attribute this increase in part to the development of a national alumni organization, but I also want to acknowledge the hard work of our Advancement staff, our national alumni president, Charles Monroe, and Tulsa Chapter president Ryan Rex. Our eight alumni chapters will be joined by two new chapters very shortly. I look forward to inaugurating new chapters in Chicago and Washington, D.C. in the next few weeks, bringing our national alumni network to 10 active chapters.

You may have noticed several physical changes on campus that have occurred over the summer. We have enhanced the security of our parking lots and campus perimeter, improved lighting in key areas of campus, repaired significant portions of the underground pipeline systems that bring heating and cooling to our buildings, and built a “bridge” between the College of Law and ACAC.

“The U” is getting a makeover as part of TU’s ongoing master plan improvements, and we have begun construction of Bayless Plaza.

Groundbreaking on our new student services building, to be known as Collins Hall, and on the Case Athletic Complex at Skelly Stadium will commence shortly. Each of these latter projects constitutes the first phase of building our new “front door” to the university.

Because of construction, parking will be a challenge on campus until these and other improvements have been completed. I urge your patience, but I also believe it is time to contemplate a longer term plan for campus parking. A fully-developed parking plan with a graduated fee structure can improve parking availability and provide for ongoing maintenance and security. In the weeks ahead, I will be working with the Parking Office and with representatives of the faculty, staff, and student leadership to initiate a parking planning process.

Class of 2009

The Class of 2009 has arrived — 640 freshmen from 33 states and 20 other countries. I’m pleased to report that the Class of 2009 is the most academically prepared and qualified group of students ever to matriculate at the university. Eighty-two of our first-year students are National Merit Scholars — that is better than one in eight freshmen — and the class has an average ACT score of 27 (up one point over last year), and an average SAT score of 1240 (up 20 points over last year). Nearly two-thirds of our new freshmen finished in the top 10% of their high school class.

Four initiatives

These metrics are certainly a cause for celebration, but our work in improving the quality of our students and the selectivity of our admissions process is far from done. In fact, I see this year’s numbers as a signal that we are just holding our own in the feverish competition among elite colleges and universities for outstanding students, and simply holding our own is not enough. As we face new opportunities and stiff competition for the students of the 21st century, we must focus on cementing TU’s place as one of the nation’s top 50 doctoral universities.

To achieve this goal, we must excel at enrolling highly motivated students and educating them for a rapidly changing, increasingly complex and progressively interdependent world. Each of us in some way supports that purpose, and it is here that we should develop a broad, holistic understanding of what is at stake and what we can do.

Immediately, however, the next round of University development will focus on four vital areas: enrollment goals, curricular review, internationalization, and library priorities.

First, enrollment goals. To reach our freshman class size and selectivity goals, we need to convert many more prospective student inquiries into enrollments. Making gains in this process, known as improving “yield” in the terminology of college admissions officers, is a must for TU to move up.

It is a fact that our recruiting of prospective new students is dramatically improved if we are able to have them visit campus as they are making their decision. They see our beautiful physical setting, meet faculty, staff, and students, and are able to visualize themselves as TU students.

In a time of increasing competition for outstanding students, we need to have more such students visit TU during the recruiting period. To this end, I have asked Vice President Roger Sorochty to develop an aggressive plan to promote and facilitate campus visits for many more of our applicants.

I believe this initiative will help us increase the yield from our admissions process, especially for those students whom we are most eager to bring into the TU Family.

When prospective students visit campus, we must make sure that they have a positive experience. Because TU’s Student Ambassadors are often our best recruiters, I also am asking Vice President Sorochty to expand the reach and activities of this program. At the same time, we need to be sure that our faculty and staff are available to prospective students and their parents to answer their questions and put a real face on what I like to call the TU Experience.

A second priority in our push for top-50 standing is curricular review. The liberal arts remain the core of the TU undergraduate experience, and the leading edge of this experience is the Tulsa Curriculum. This nationally recognized model has served students well over the years, and has brought distinction to The University of Tulsa.

I believe that the model of the Tulsa Curriculum of core, general curricula, and area of concentration remains a useful construct, but we are now more than 20 years into this on-going experiment. Time has brought changes in program and course offerings, in technology, and in the world at large. Consequently, I believe it is time to assess how we are doing with the Tulsa Curriculum, to take a thorough look at the blocks especially, and to make whatever adjustments might be necessary.

As you know, we are already engaged in mapping the curriculum this year under the guidance of the Provost’s Office in preparation for our ten-year reaccreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. A natural outgrowth of this activity is to take the next step and assess the Tulsa Curriculum to see if it continues to present the content, perspectives, balance, and values that we say it does. Are internationalization and its multifarious effects adequately treated? Are we providing enough opportunities for students to become scientifically literate? Are the historical perspectives we impart deep enough while being balanced and adequately nuanced? Is the curriculum consistent with our mission statement?

I believe this “tune up” of the Tulsa Curriculum is timely and strategic, and I have asked the provost to take the lead in working with faculty leadership on this important project.

Third, as we earn our place among top U.S. universities, we should revisit the international aspects of the TU education. One of the most effective ways to expose our students to a changing and interdependent world is for them to study abroad for at least a semester. Yet a shockingly small number of TU students take advantage of study abroad opportunities — just over 10 percent of our undergraduates.

If we aim to move up in the ranks of elite colleges and universities, we must boost participation in study abroad programs. We must trade parochial inhibitions for expanded advising and curricula aligned with this important objective. We should focus immediately on doubling the number of students studying abroad for a semester or more.

I have visited many high schools and spoken with hundreds of prospective students during the past year. One of the most frequently asked questions from the highest achieving of this group is about study abroad opportunities at TU. If we intend to attract the best and the brightest students, we must address this deficiency in the TU Experience.

I hasten to add that integrating study abroad opportunities with the Tulsa Curriculum will also entail examining foreign language competencies of our students, seeking out faculty teaching and research opportunities abroad, attending to curricular internationalization at home, and continuing to recruit international students from as broad a range of countries as possible.

This brings me to the fourth current initiative in our bid for top-50 standing, which is McFarlin Library. In many ways, the Tulsa Curriculum and the TU Experience are anchored to McFarlin Library, the literal and symbolic heart and soul of our campus. Through good planning and excellent stewardship, McFarlin Library has become one of the finest libraries in our region. Built from a love of the book, McFarlin Library is an academic resource of which we can all be proud.

McFarlin Library, however, faces new and significant challenges. Libraries are evolving very rapidly in the face of digitization and electronic media. At the same time, the cost of serials and periodicals has skyrocketed, along with the cost of scholarly books and monographs.

Library budgets around the country, even at the best funded libraries, have been stretched thin by escalating costs. McFarlin Library is experiencing these impacts, although wise management from Vice Provost and CIO Dale Schoenefeld and Library Director Francine Fisk has allowed us to keep pace. I am concerned, however, about our ability to keep pace going forward.

While we budget adequately for McFarlin on a per-student basis, there are many competing demands for each dollar allocated to the library. I believe it is time to take a step back from our current allocation scheme to analyze and discuss how we are spending the McFarlin Library budget.

To this end, I have asked Provost Blais to assemble a working group composed of Vice Provost Schoenefeld, Director Fisk, Faculty Senate President Bob Howard, and members of the Library Committee to begin a review of the budget allocation to McFarlin Library. Their review will be reported and discussed in the Faculty Senate.

I am hopeful that this discussion will provide the appropriate guidance to Provost Blais and me about structuring future allocations to McFarlin Library so that they will continue to benefit the largest number of our students and faculty.

Over the coming months, we will have many opportunities to address the factors that ultimately will put TU into the ranks of the top 50 U.S. doctoral universities. The initiatives I have mentioned today — enrollment goals, curricular review, internationalization, and library priorities — give us a good agenda for the coming academic year. By doing this work and by keeping our efforts focused on preparing our students for the new world of the 21st century, we will move forward together.

As we advance, The University of Tulsa is fortunate to have the essential support and encouragement of a large group of alumni, supporters, and friends. This group sustains us with its energy, ideas, enthusiasm, and generosity. I conclude this address by publicly thanking this group, especially the trustees of The University of Tulsa, for their unwavering loyalty and encouragement.