President's Letter to Campus - Spring 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Steadman Upham, President

Dear Colleagues,

It has been said that change is the egg of the phoenix. Over the past several months, all of us have had an opportunity to appreciate this fact as we have witnessed the transformation of our south campus. Collins Hall, the Case Athletic Complex, and six square blocks of new student apartments have risen from the dust of older structures. This episode of renewal gives us a compelling lesson about the distinctly human ability to create a "built environment". In fact, a few days ago, one colleague remarked dryly to me that that the shortest distance between two points at TU is "under construction."

The transformation of our landscape is a dramatic physical manifestation of change, but as Proust so aptly noted, "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." At TU, one of our principal aims is to help our students develop "new eyes" for seeing the world and for understanding their place in it. By engaging our students in the classroom, and involving them in our research and service activities, we mentor them toward the perspectives and mature views that will ultimately shape our future. In my judgment, we do this at TU as well as the finest colleges and universities.

As spring begins, I am pleased to report to you that the university is academically strong, fiscally stable, and making progress on all of its strategic goals. Fundraising is at record levels as we pursue the objectives of our capital campaign. And the theme of the campaign, "Embrace the Future" aptly captures the energy and enthusiasm we have harnessed for moving The University of Tulsa into the top 50 national doctoral universities.

While TU continues to move forward, higher education in the United States is the subject of increasing scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Congress. Concerns abound over the rising cost of a college education and student learning outcomes. The Department of Education, in particular, is pushing universities for more standardization in reporting so that consumers have a better comparative basis to evaluate college costs. The Department also wants more standardization in the measurement of student learning outcomes.

TU has a great story to tell on both of these fronts, and I believe we are in a leadership role with respect to both the value and quality of education we provide to our students. Because of this, I have invited Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to join us for our Opening of School Convocation this coming September. I want Secretary Spellings to learn first hand about the transformative nature of a TU education, and to see our spectacular campus. The Secretary has tentatively agreed to come and speak at convocation, and we are working with her staff to pick a date that fits with her very busy schedule. Secretary Spelling’s visit is an opportunity for us to showcase our teaching and research, and to highlight the significant work we are doing in the assessment of student learning.

And speaking of learning outcomes, we are again proud to celebrate the awarding of Goldwater Scholarships to three of our students. Two additional students have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, and yet another student has been named a Fulbright Scholar and will study this summer in Germany. These students’ success is a tribute not only to their own hard work and preparation, but also to the dedication and commitment of TU faculty who teach and mentor them. Kudos also are bestowed on Nona Charleston for her leadership of TU’s Nationally Competitive Scholarship Program. TU now ranks sixth in the nation among all colleges and universities in the number of Goldwater Scholars named during the last decade.

Many faculty, staff, students, and trustees have been involved over the past several months in drafting TU’s self-study for the university’s upcoming 10-year reaccreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). This work will continue over the summer months, and we are indebted to Vice Provost Winona Tanaka for her on-going leadership of this effort. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this activity, especially as it relates to the institutionalization of our assessment initiatives.

Preparing for the NCA 10 year reaccreditation visit has focused faculty and staff on evaluating our effectiveness in fulfilling our mission. I am pleased by the very broad-based effort we have mounted, and by the progress we have made in developing a draft report that tells the TU story over the last 10 years. Our story is, indeed, a remarkable one that describes the transformation of The University of Tulsa into a selective, residential institution that has moved into the ranks of the top 100 national doctoral universities. The report also sets out our plans for moving TU into the top 50 national universities over the next decade.

If reaccreditation is consuming significant amounts of our time and effort, I must say that we have very deep energy reserves since activity on so many different fronts continues unabated:

  • Vice president Dale Schoenefeld and his IT staff are in the midst of installing a new, pervasive wireless computer network that will provide TU students, faculty, and staff with full wireless computer access in all classrooms, campus apartments and dormitories, and over the extensive campus common areas covering more than 200 acres and 70 buildings. Installation of the campus-wide wireless network will be completed this summer.
  • Dean Janet Haggerty has launched the Bellwether Graduate Fellowship Program to increase the number of Ph.D. graduates each year. Bellwether Fellows are full-time doctoral students who are in the final stages of completing their Ph.D. degrees. Fellows receive a generous stipend, tuition waiver, and are provided with a student apartment during the tenure of their fellowship.
  • Several academic departments are mulling over whether to begin or add new graduate programs. I appreciate the care and diligence that is being exercised by these units as they contemplate the significant and substantial commitments of time, energy, and resources that are required to mount new graduate programs.
  • Dr. Cheryl Matherly has just returned from China (again!) and India after exploring opportunities for collaborative programs. She has also convened a China Study Group comprised of faculty from the colleges to evaluate specific options for working agreements with Chinese universities. She and Provost Blais will take a delegation of TU faculty to China this summer to formalize these agreements.
  • We have recruited five new Wellspring Professors who will join us on campus in the fall. In addition, recruitment of a dozen other faculty members is in progress to replace those who have left TU or retired.
  • The contract for the McFarlin Library addition has been let to Lowry and Hemphill Construction, a Tulsa based firm. Ground should be broken on this project during the month of April, and construction is expected to last 18 months. The McFarlin Library addition will contain state-of-the-art computer labs and meeting rooms. The full construction project includes renovation of the McFarlin reading rooms, installation of a fire suppression system to protect the collections, and a new heating, cooling, and ventilation system in the 1979 McFarlin wing. Lowry and Hemphill are well known to TU, having built the Michael D. Case Tennis Center and the new elevator and north tower on the Business Administration Hall. We look forward to working with them again on this important project.
  • The Capital Campaign Cabinet led by Bob and Roxana Lorton is working quietly, but extremely effectively in planning and fundraising. We are very much on track with our plans to raise funds for scholarships, chairs, academic programs as well as a new performing arts center and two new engineering buildings. Comprehensive fundraising totals for the campaign now exceed $135 million.
  • TU men’s basketball team finished the season with 20 wins—great job Coach Wojcik and players! Women’s basketball superstar, senior forward Jillian Robbins, was again named an All American. TU men’s and women’s tennis teams are dominating the competition, and all of our other spring sports teams (track and field, golf, softball) are competitive and in the midst of exciting seasons.

Commencement this spring will be on May 5th, and I’m pleased to announce that James Ronda, H.G. Barnard Professor of Western American History at TU will be the commencement speaker. Professor Ronda is an internationally recognized historian, and is well known for his deep and penetrating insights on the American experience. I urge you to join us in the Donald W. Reynolds Center on the morning of May 5th for this joyous celebration of student achievement.

In the meantime, I wish you the very best as you work to complete activities and projects of the spring semester, and prepare for a welcome and productive summer.