President's State of the University Message, Convocation 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Once again it is my pleasure to report that The University of Tulsa is academically and financially healthy and progressing steadily toward its goals. The signs of TU’s strength are broadly evident, from our expanding research enterprise to the ongoing development of our residential campus. We continue to advance our vision for a 21st century education rooted in global perspectives and interdisciplinary inquiry. And our healthy financial picture features a balanced budget, increased giving, and a growing endowment approaching $1 billion.

It is immensely rewarding to see sure and steady progress year by year, as The University of Tulsa cements its standing among the nation’s very best universities. From our place as a third-tier institution a few short years ago, we have now risen into the Top 100 and are moving toward our ultimate berth within the exclusive ranks of the Top 50. With respect to our progress in the rankings, I note that our apparent drop from 88th to 91st in U.S. News and World Report does not represent an actual setback. Our overall relative position in the field has not changed, but because of the way ranking ties are reported, the numbers fall out slightly differently this year.

I am able to report such good news because of the fixed focus and sustained efforts of the entire TU community. Our Trustees; faculty, administrators and staff; students; alumni, donors and friends exemplify a remarkable persistence of purpose. Day by day, their commitment to our Finest 50 vision brings The University of Tulsa closer to that goal.

Over the past year, TU has made great strides in developing places, perspectives, programs and people. These advances have been substantial, and just as importantly, they have been coordinated around our long-term vision.

First and most visibly, progress is unmistakable as we move forward with our plan to create a vibrant residential campus – a place where learning is not just a classroom activity, but a community ethic.

We completed nearly 400 new student apartments and townhomes this year, bringing campus residency to an all-time high approaching 70 percent. This new record is no accident; since 2001, we have added more than half a million square feet of student apartment space – the equivalent of nearly nine football fields of market-quality housing for our students.

Our plans do not stop at living space, however. Work is continuing on schedule for a two-story addition to McFarlin Library, which will consolidate the library’s computing resources and restore reading room space. This year, we also have improved campus utilities by completing deployment of a campus-wide wireless network, and by adding an emergency broadcast system across campus. In addition, development of our definitive campus “front door” along Eleventh Street is progressing. With the completion of Collins Hall, the new student apartments, and the new Case Athletic Complex, work will now commence on other projects including the Genave King Rogers Fountain, the Chapman Commons, and Tucker Drive. These projects are expected to be complete by fall 2008 and will considerably improve our campus presence along 11th Street.

As we continue to develop our campus, we also are cultivating new perspectives that transcend physical and disciplinary borders. In keeping with the opportunities of the 21st century, the themes of globalization, interdisciplinary scholarship and service increasingly inform our teaching and research mission.

This June, Provost Roger Blais led a TU delegation on a 10-day trip to China; as a result we signed three memoranda of understanding with Chinese universities, opening the path for further development. We have also made marked progress in expanding our foreign language offerings. Last year we added Chinese, Portuguese and Hebrew, and we’re continuing to build on this foundation. And student participation in international study programs has steadily increased, including more than 100 students who traveled overseas during the past academic year. We are making progress towards our interim goal of 20 percent participation, and remain committed to an ultimate vision of every undergraduate student having a study-abroad experience.

Just as we are encouraging global perspectives, we also are pursuing opportunities for interdisciplinary research. This important strategic perspective will create new potential for funded research and will strengthen both graduate and undergraduate programs. Based on innovative plans from the colleges, this year TU introduces six new institutes focusing on nanotechnology; alternative energy; information security; bioinformatics and computational biology; biochemical and psychological study of individual differences; and trauma, abuse and neglect. These interdisciplinary collaborations will be fertile ground for coordinating efforts across TU in pursuit of leading-edge research.

Our interdisciplinary expansion comes at an opportune moment in the growth of our overall research program. Over the past decade, funding for research and sponsored programs at TU has doubled, and today, our faculty are managing more than $50 million in externally sponsored projects. This outside funding includes both public and private sources.

Of course, research and scholarship find their deepest meaning within a framework of service, and this is a third vital perspective that shapes our development. We are very excited to be working with Tulsa Community College in the Partners In Progress program. Through this collaboration, we are bringing recipients of the Tulsa Achieves Scholarship onto campus, where they can have a traditional residential experience and sample TU courses as they complete their TCC coursework. Our first Partners In Progress scholars are on campus this fall, and we look forward to their continued and successful membership in our campus community.

In another community development, we are currently exploring an arrangement whereby TU would assume management of Gilcrease Museum. By connecting this world-class museum to our academic programs, we believe we can create exciting new opportunities for scholarship, extend educational outreach, and elevate the profile and reputation of Tulsa.

To help formalize TU’s commitment to community service, we also are immersing our students in service projects from the moment they step onto campus. During the week before classes began, nearly 600 members of the entering freshman class participated in volunteer activities at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School. Our students cleaned classrooms and playgrounds, painted murals, and worked with the children.

Our first-year law students also volunteered that week, working at seven area nonprofit organizations. Activities like these are essential as we promote a service perspective and encourage our students to serve early and often.

Alongside our work to develop places and perspectives, we have made definitive strides in expanding our academic programs and in supporting the people needed to make them successful. This year we added a doctoral program in Chemistry and master’s programs in Physics, Engineering Physics, and Biochemistry. We are excited about the depth these additions bring to our academic offerings.

Another significant addition this year were the Bellwether Fellowships, which provide essential housing and financial support to a select group of doctoral students during their dissertation year. By increasing support for doctoral candidates, we hope to raise our production of Ph.D.’s comfortably beyond the threshold required to maintain the coveted “national doctoral university” designation. Currently, 20 Ph.D. graduates per year are required. I am pleased to report that in the past year we graduated 31 Ph.D. recipients.

In addition to talented students, inspired faculty are essential to our teaching, research and service mission. This year we have made substantial additions to our faculty, filling four of nine new Wellspring Professorships in disciplines as diverse as film studies, law, international business, and women’s studies/history.

Through the visionary generosity of the Warren Medical Research Foundation, we also recently established an endowed chair in bioinformatics. This position will allow us to open new directions in genetic modeling and analysis, and bring us into partnership with Saint Francis Health System, which is making major investments in this promising field. Our bioinformatics endowment extends the recent support we have enjoyed for endowed chairs across the University. Over the past three years, we have been able to establish the Hazel Rogers Endowed Chair in Arts and Sciences, the Williams Endowed Chair in Petroleum Engineering, the Harry H. Rogers Endowed Chair in Engineering, the J. Bradley Oxley Endowed Chair in Business Administration, the ONEOK Endowed Professor of Business Administration, the Jonathan B. Detwiler Endowed Chair in Petroleum Engineering, the Hans Norberg Endowed Chair in Electrical Engineering, and the Helmerich Family Endowed Chair in the College of Business Administration. These positions and the generous gifts behind them will prove increasingly pivotal to our teaching and research success as we address the opportunities of 21st century technology and global development.

Our ability to attract and support talented people is also evident at the undergraduate level, where TU continues to build an extraordinary student profile with selective admissions and enviable metrics. The entering Class of 2011 brings great depth and strength to our shared mission, boasting a mean SAT score of 1260 and a mean ACT of 27. This class includes 69 National Merit Scholars, maintaining our overall ratio of one National Merit Scholar for every 10 undergraduates – one of the highest in the nation. In addition, 64% of our freshmen graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes, and a record 61 students earned International Baccalaureate designations – reflecting their academic ability and global orientation.

In all areas and endeavors, we are sustained by and indebted to the many generous friends who share our vision and our commitment to success. Again this year, our supporters have stepped forward with pivotal gifts. During the year that ended May 31, we received $32 million in gifts, with an increased alumni giving participation rate of 26 percent. In addition, the early phase of our “Embrace the Future” capital campaign is progressing, with nearly $200 million in commitments to date.

On behalf of the entire University community, I thank and commend those whose generosity continues to propel TU into a bright future of unprecedented possibilities.

We find The University of Tulsa at an historic moment during a period of dynamic growth. We are on pace to accomplish all of our major goals as we open new horizons in teaching scholarship, research and service.

There is, of course, a great deal of work remaining – and arduous work at that. As we climb higher into the ranks of the elite, each successive step requires sharper focus, greater effort, and more resources. But far from being daunted by the challenge of the ascent, we should be inspired by the prospect of the summit.

We enjoy a timely convergence of all the elements essential to success, including talented students, dedicated faculty, committed staff, and generous benefactors. We have the right plan at the right time with the right people, and a world of opportunity opening up before us.

I am convinced that the best and most exciting years in TU history lie ahead.