Convocation 2006: Small Opportunities, Great Enterprises

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Steadman Upham, President

Remarks presented to faculty, staff, students, trustees, and friends at the Opening of School Convocation, Donald W. Reynolds Center, September 6, 2006

"Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises." - Demosthenes (384 B.C. to 322 B.C.)

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you back for the 2006-07 academic year. Over the last few years, Convocation has taken on special significance as an opportunity to review our work, take stock of our current situation, and set directions for the year ahead.

This year Convocation takes on added meaning with the dedication of Bayless Plaza – the new home of the legendary Kendall Bell. Mrs. Bernice Bayless is a 1949 alumna and the generous donor behind this major addition, which commemorates the time she and her late husband, Bob, spent at TU.

Bernice is here today for the dedication ceremony, along with members of the Bayless family and their friends. They have come a long way to be here today, and it is a pleasure to be able to introduce them.

Immediately after our Convocation, I encourage all of you to join me and the Bayless Family for the dedication of Bayless Plaza, our newest campus landmark.

As the title of my remarks suggest (and as Demosthenes noted more than two millennia ago), all undertakings of consequence begin with small actions that are part of a grander scheme. This is certainly the case with The University of Tulsa. Although our history as a university spans more than 100 years, our development as a national university began in the early 1990s with a vision of a residential campus built around a fully developed collegiate infrastructure, an outstanding faculty, and students as able and prepared as those at the best universities in the nation.

I am pleased to report to you that the vision for our great enterprise remains clear, and our careful and strategic actions are moving us closer to our goals. Today, the university is academically sound, financially stable, and making good progress on all of its goals to become a top 50 national university. Proof of my claim is seen across many different dimensions of our enterprise:

  • With the new freshman class, the Class of 2010, we have welcomed yet another group of truly outstanding students to our academic community. This class meets our enrollment goals in every way: it is geographically and ethnically diverse; it is academically accomplished (27 average ACT with 64 National Merit Scholars, 58% in top 10% of their high school class); and it contains leaders and thinkers who will distinguish themselves and the university.

  • Demand for a TU education is growing. The Class of 2010 was constituted from the largest number of applicants ever to seek entry to The University of Tulsa, 2,720 applicants for just 660 spaces.

  • Evidence of the developing quality of TU students is seen in the fact that nearly one in ten of all TU undergraduates has been recognized as a National Merit Scholar.

  • TU is also fiscally strong. Thanks to the hard work of myriad TU managers across campus, we again ended the fiscal year with a balanced budget and a small operating surplus. Our quest for greater national recognition begins with a stable fiscal foundation. Every TU employee can claim a part of this significant accomplishment, and I deeply appreciate the commitment and dedication that has made this result possible.

  • TU’s permanent endowment continues to grow. It is now nearly $820 million, and was bolstered this year by significant fundraising and double digit investment returns. TU’s endowment currently ranks 75th among the nearly 4,000 colleges and universities (top 2%).

  • Fundraising from private sources exceeded our goals this past year. This bodes very well as we enter what is called the “quiet phase” of our next capital campaign. Our Trustees are deeply engaged in securing essential early commitments that will anchor our success going into the public phase. In a moment, I will have more to say about this capital campaign, which will truly transform TU.

  • Grant getting and sponsored research continued apace, despite tight research budgets in Washington, D.C. This fact is a testament to the quality of our faculty, to the importance of their research, and to the competitiveness of their grant proposals in the peer review process.

  • We continue to attract important new friends and supporters to TU. We have recruited a number of new trustees this summer (whose names are listed in your program). These individuals have joined in support of The University of Tulsa at this crucial time because they share our enthusiasm for the vision we have developed and the path we are following. I hope you have a chance to meet our new trustees this coming year.

There are many more indicators of achievement that illustrate TU’s progress and development as a national university. Like those listed above, each one involves the planning, concerted actions, and hard work of many TU faculty, students, staff, and trustees. And therein lies our genius. Our resolution to succeed in each of our daily activities has a profound cumulative effect on the overall development of the university. As John Gardner cogently reminds us, excellence comes from doing ordinary things extraordinarily well on a sustained basis in accordance with a larger plan of action. Our collective work is changing TU, and we should all be very proud of these accomplishments.

The coming academic year promises to be challenging, but it also affords us many new opportunities for our great enterprise:

  • This fall, we will be visited by a team of faculty and administrators from other universities that has been assembled by the NCAA. This group will come to TU in October to review all aspects of the university’s performance in its 18 NCAA Division I-A men’s and women’s athletic programs. Thanks to the hard work of Vice Provost Winona Tanaka and Senior Woman’s Administrator Crista Troester, along with a committee of TU faculty, administrators, and trustees , we are well prepared for our compliance review.

  • This fall we also embark in earnest as a university to prepare for our decennial reaccreditation from the North-Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). If you recall, Provost Blais convened several ad hoc committees last year to study and review both the Tulsa Curriculum and TU’s efforts in international education. The committees worked diligently over several months, and produced very useful reports with important recommendations. These reports now form the basis of our approach to reaccreditation from NCA.

Provost Blais is organizing the efforts of faculty and staff, and an NCA accreditation committee has been formed to draft TU’s self-study. Once again, we are indebted to Vice Provost Winona Tanaka for heading this committee and taking a leadership role in this crucial activity. Provost Blais will be communicating with the campus community about the several initiatives underway to provide data for our self-study.

  • Searches for as many as 20 faculty positions and the dean of McFarlin Library are currently underway, or will be underway shortly. Nine of these positions are new Wellspring Professorships designed to broaden, strengthen, and diversify our faculty. Searching for this many new faculty at once is a rare opportunity. The challenge we face in faculty hiring is not just to fill the positions, but to fill them with scholars who are more accomplished that we are, whose passion and dedication for teaching and research exceed our own, and who are eager to become active and contributing members of our academic community and the broader TU Family.

  • Campus construction will continue and, as we have discussed before, will present on-going and new challenges as our grounds are reconfigured. We are building 398 new one- and two-bedroom student apartments; the new front entrance is underway, and both Collins Hall and the Case Athletic Center are showing signs of substantial progress. Patience is the watchword as these projects continue.

  • The Golden Hurricane bicycle program has gotten off to a flying start with many positive comments and genuine enthusiasm by students. A major purpose of the bicycle program is to facilitate movement of people on campus while keeping cars stationary and in peripheral parking lots. We are developing a pedestrian campus, and our adjustment to this change will require new patterns of behavior, as well as new systems and policies.

  • The report from the Long Range Parking Planning Committee along with a summary of the extensive comments from faculty, students, and staff collected last spring on Vista WebCT have been delivered to the Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees. The trustees, aided by members of the administration, will be working this year on designating parking lots, establishing fees and policies, and putting in place the infrastructure that will enable TU to inaugurate its new parking plan in the fall of 2007.

  • We are in the process of implementing a new campus shuttle system. Three shuttles have been purchased and will begin operating on campus shortly. I am hopeful this program will help to ease the parking crunch we are all feeling.

I could continue to list the various challenges and opportunities that face us this year, but I want to focus my remaining remarks on two particular issues that are vital to our advancement as a top 50 national university.

The first issue is the state of doctoral education at TU. At the present time, TU is producing the minimum number of new doctoral degrees each year required for classification as a doctoral university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Being classified as a doctoral institution by the Carnegie Foundation is essential because it is this classification that serves as the basis for all other national rankings and comparisons. If The University of Tulsa is to be compared with the finest universities in the land, then TU must remain solidly in the ranks of national doctoral universities. At the moment, TU is too close to the lower limit of required annual doctoral degree production, and immediate action is required to increase the size, number, and productivity of doctoral programs TU.

Addressing this imperative will be challenging because our institutional resources to support doctoral education are limited. Thus, our actions to address this problem must begin with significant dose of institutional resolve and determination as only modest new funding is available. Nevertheless, I believe that good solutions are eminently achievable.

In my view, a significant first step in improving our position as a doctoral university is to determine if our existing doctoral programs are operating at the proper capacity. Adding a few more students to each new doctoral cohort admitted to our existing doctoral programs will have a powerful effect on our degree-granting productivity. The problem, of course, is that there is a five to seven year lag time before improved doctoral productivity is evident. The Carnegie Foundation will be revising its current classification system again in five years, so the time to act on a modest expansion of our existing doctoral programs is now.

We must also examine departments that are ready to move from the master’s to the doctoral level. Doctoral programs do not have to be large to be good. In fact, my experience at Claremont Graduate University leads me to believe that some of the strongest doctoral programs are those that are small, well-defined—perhaps even niche oriented—and staffed by highly qualified faculty. If we can move a few of our master’s departments to the doctoral level, and over time have each of them graduate two to three new doctors per year, we will have taken a major step in ensuring our stability as a national doctoral university.

I have asked Provost Blais and Graduate Dean Janet Haggerty to work quickly and strategically with the Faculty Senate and the collegiate deans to address these issues. We need an action plan we can implement this current academic year.

Over the longer term, the health of our graduate programs is directly tied to the strength and vitality of our research enterprise. We do well in securing research funding for a small university, but in many cases we are not taking advantage of interdisciplinary opportunities because grant-getting at TU is largely a departmental (read disciplinary) activity. Despite the long history of successful industrial consortia in the College of Engineering and Natural Science, TU does not have a ready institutional mechanism to foster interdisciplinary collaborations that could lead to new or enhanced research opportunities.

Many universities, and especially the finest research universities, have an active institute structure to help stimulate and manage interdisciplinary research. In my experience, interdisciplinary institutes provide unparalleled opportunities for research and graduate training across the disciplines. Typically, members of an institute hold faculty appointments in an academic department, and choose their institute affiliation(s) based on their individual research interests. Graduate students who conduct research in an institute satisfy the degree requirements of their academic department through which they will earn their degrees. Thus, the institute becomes a facilitator of research by bringing scholars together from several different academic departments to focus their efforts on problems and questions of mutual interest.

We have opportunities to form such institutes along the natural lines of collaboration that have developed at TU over the years. Moreover, because of growing research capacity in information security, bioscience, engineering, entrepreneurship, women’s studies, and study of the ancient and early modern world (to name but a few), additional opportunities exist to bring faculty and students together from a wide variety of fields. It is these kinds of collaborations, coupled with our more traditional departmental based research programs, that will nurture graduate education in years to come.

To this end, I have asked Vice President Soltow and Graduate Dean Haggerty to work this academic year with faculty, department heads, and deans to identify research areas where interdisciplinary institutes might be formed. Through seed funding and other modest investments, I believe we can establish an institute structure for interdisciplinary research at TU that will help us expand research opportunities, increase funding, and provide much needed support to our graduate programs.

Earlier in my remarks, I indicated that the summer months had been filled with activity to advance TU’s capital campaign. I want to thank Bob and Roxana Lorton, our campaign co-chairs, for their tireless work these past few months to recruit a campaign cabinet of trustees and spouses, and to begin the arduous work of gaining financial commitments from donors in support of our campaign goals. I also want to thank Fulton and Susie Collins for their amazing commitment of time and energy on behalf of TU. I do not know of another university in the country than can match the quality and commitment of trustees, and especially of trustee leadership, that TU has enjoyed over the past decade. We are truly blessed by these selfless and generous gifts from our supporters.

We begin this year with innumerable small opportunities to advance our great enterprise. I am grateful for the chance to help build this wonderful university, and I am enthusiastic about working with you to make TU one of our country’s finest national universities.

Thank you.