President Uphams Spring Letter to Campus

Monday, February 18, 2008


This past week, TU’s Board of Trustees met to conduct the business of the university. I say “business” purposely because our trustees devote their time to planning and oversight of university operations in the areas of student life, academic affairs, financial services (budget, audit, and investment of the permanent endowment), buildings and grounds, intercollegiate athletics, technology commercialization, and fundraising. Each of their four annual gatherings begins with a series of committee meetings that are followed by a meeting of the full board.

Our 51 trustees are a remarkable group of people. Many are not TU alums, but are connected to the university by a love of education and by the knowledge that a great university and a great city go hand in hand. All are accomplished in their own fields of endeavor, and all carve out significant amounts of time from their own schedules to devote to TU. I am personally humbled by the commitment and dedication of our trustees whose work goes on mostly beneath the radar of faculty, staff, and students at the university. Without our trustees’ help, guidance and support, TU would not be moving so rapidly and dramatically toward a ranking among the top 50 national universities.

At the end of this letter, I have included the names of our current trustees. In addition to quarterly board meetings, our trustees are often on campus attending gatherings or events. If you see one of these remarkable people, please take a minute to thank them for their selfless service, for the wisdom and energy they bring to our campus, and for their overwhelming generosity that makes possible so many of the things that distinguish TU from its peers.

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Here’s some very good news: the university’s self-study prepared in response to the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges Higher Learning Commission 10-year reaccreditation visit has been completed! Writing the report was a monumental undertaking, but more important than the report’s completion is the quality of the result. All of us should take great pleasure in the story that the self-study tells about The University of Tulsa over the last 10 years. TU’s transformation from a third-tier university with a largely commuter student body to a selective, highly residential, top 100 national university is a remarkable story.

The planning and writing required to complete the self study was truly a campus-wide effort. Many, many faculty, staff, students, and trustees contributed to preparing the NCA self-study, and to telling our story in such a factual and compelling fashion. I extend my personal thanks and gratitude to all who participated in this endeavor, and especially to Vice Provost Winona Tanaka and Criterion Subcommittee Chairs, Professors James Watson, Susan Chase, Mark Buchheim, Tim Urban, and Vicki Limas, along with Chair of the Events Committee, Professor Teresa Valero, and Chair of the Resource Committee, Dr. John Bury. Their work, along with that of dozens of other TU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees can be found on WebCT under “Courses” and “Provost – NCA – Committee resources.”

As we all know, at TU everything begins with students. We have worked hard to create a national student body (54% of this year’s freshman class comes from states other than Oklahoma) and one that is increasingly able and nationally distinguished (65% of entering freshmen in the top 10% of their high school graduating class; average ACT = 27; TU ranks 12th in the nation in the number of National Merit Scholars per capita; and we are a leader in nationally competitive scholarships). We’ve also worked hard to become more selective in our admissions. This past year just 51% of those who applied to TU were admitted.

Fall to spring retention of new students has improved dramatically over the past decade. This spring nearly 97% of freshman returned for their second semester, and increasing numbers of students at all levels are maintaining continuous enrollment through graduation. Our success in student retention is reflected in current student enrollments for the spring 2008 semester. This spring we have 100 more undergraduate students on campus than this time last year, even though we admitted a smaller freshman class last fall!

The foundation of these impressive retention statistics is, of course, the work of dedicated faculty whose inspired teaching and devotion to the success of each student is truly making a difference. A deep and enduring commitment to teaching and student learning by faculty is a distinguishing characteristic of all great universities. At TU, we treasure and celebrate this rare and precious virtue. Thus, “improved student retention” at TU is first and foremost a consequence of motivated teachers who capture the interest of able and prepared students.

This remarkable quality is helping to spread the word about the substance and value of a TU education. A tangible expression of this expanding interest is seen in applications for admission from high school seniors. Applications are up 33% compared to last year at this time, and last year we received a record number of applications for admission to TU! Importantly, we again aim to admit a freshman class of about 680 students, meaning that TU’s selectivity will improve once more—possibly dropping below a 50% acceptance rate for the first time in school history.

In this group of high school applicants, 210 National Merit Semifinalists have listed TU as their school of choice—a new record. The average ACT for all admitted students is currently 28, and the geographic and racial diversity of the recruiting class continue TU’s trend to become a truly national university. Kudos to our admissions staff, and to the many faculty, staff, and student University Ambassadors who play such a vital role in telling the TU story to prospective students.

Many different offices of the university are involved in transition activities related to Gilcrease Museum. The transition of City of Tulsa and Gilcrease Museum Association employees to TU has begun. Although the employment transition will not take effect until July 1, 2008, we extend a warm welcome to our new colleagues and look forward to having them become a part of the TU Family. Similar significant efforts are involved in IT related activities, and in building a consolidated budget for the museum within TU’s Datatel system. While these “back office” functions attract little public attention, they require a lot of planning and work, and are absolutely vital to a smooth transition that will enable the Thomas Gilcrease Museum to become a new division of the university.

The search for an executive director for Gilcrease continues. I am chairing the search for this position, and coordinating activities with a search committee comprised of TU faculty and staff, along with Gilcrease employees and former members of the Thomas Gilcrease Museum Association. As the search narrows and candidates come to campus for interviews, public notice will be given so interested members of our campus community will have an opportunity to meet the finalists and provide feedback to the search committee.

Supplementary fundraising for Gilcrease is going very well. I’m pleased to report that the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) has endowed the Gilcrease executive director’s position which will become formally known as the Thomas Gilcrease Chair. The GKFF has also made a significant five-year commitment to the Gilcrease operating budget. A similar and somewhat larger five-year commitment to Gilcrease operations has been made by Walt Helmerich. These generous gifts will enable TU to expand the Gilcrease curatorial and conservation staff, and to initiate significant new programming. The continuing generosity of Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Helmerich to TU is at once humbling and inspiring.

Funds raised for Gilcrease Museum by TU will be received by the Gilcrease Museum Management Trust (GMMT), a new nonprofit corporation established expressly for this purpose by TU. The officers of the GMMT will always be the TU board chair, TU president, and TU chief financial officer who will serve as fiduciaries of funds raised to support Gilcrease Museum. Additional fundraising for Gilcrease (and all of TU’s needs!) continues enthusiastically.

Finally and most importantly with respect to Gilcrease, academic planning that focuses on ways to integrate the spectacular resources of the museum with our academic programs and Special Collections continues. This effort is being led by Provost Blais and a committee of TU faculty. I have high hopes that the creative energy of this group will produce a number of exciting new opportunities for students and faculty.

TU’s capital campaign, “Embrace the Future,” is making significant progress. Currently, $216 million has been raised since 2005 with $140 million of this total raised for chairs, scholarships, programs, and buildings specifically identified as the campaign’s strategic objectives.

Among the most visible effects of this fundraising are the major construction projects on campus. The expansion of McFarlin Library, the renovation of H.A. Chapman Stadium, and the creation of a new “front door” for the university are projects enabled by fundraising for the capital campaign. The front door will be completed in August 2008 in time for returning students. The stadium will be ready for the first home football game in mid-September, and the library expansion is scheduled to conclude by December.

Fundraising for the new performing arts center (PAC) has gone particularly well over the last six months. It is my hope that we will be in a position to break ground on this significant new campus building in late July or early August 2008. The performing arts center will be sited on South Gary Place between 5th Place and 7th Street, with the principal entrance to the building facing Harvard Avenue. Unfortunately, this project will affect traffic circulation and, to a lesser extent parking in those areas, but all efforts will be made to minimize any disruptions. Once again, the tolerance and good humor of faculty, staff, and students will be required as we work though our newest construction episode.

Fundraising for our new engineering buildings is going more slowly than for the PAC, but we remain confident of our ability to raise money for these much needed buildings. Conversations are continuing with a number of potential donors, and I hope to have good news to report to you on these projects soon.

Let me close by saying that TU is academically strong, financially healthy, and making progress on every important project and benchmark we or others have set before us. I believe we are poised as a university to advance significantly in the rankings this coming fall. The progress we are making is a product of our focused, persistent, and collective effort. There is no more potent propellant than our united focus on our stated goals of becoming a national university of consequence and distinction that is selective in admissions, fully residential, and competitive at the highest levels in all of its endeavors.

There are many other important initiatives and projects underway that relate to our progress, but they are far too numerous to list in this letter. Each one, however, reflects the creativity, energy, and resources of members of the TU Family. And speaking of the TU Family, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who wrote, called or otherwise delivered your condolences to me during the holidays on the death of my father. Your kind comments and expressions of sympathy are greatly appreciated. They provide me with yet another tangible reason why the TU Family is the embodiment of our university, and such an important part of who we are. I thank you for all you do to make TU such a special place.

All best,

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Fulton Collins
Ellen Adelson
James Adelson
Barbara Allen
Keith E. Bailey
Michelle Beale
Sharon J. Bell
Chet Cadieux
Julian Carr
Michael D. Case
Susie Collins
Katherine Coyle
Joseph W. Craft
J. Jerry Dickman
Scott Dickman
Cy Elmburg
William F. Fisher, Jr.
Randy Foutch
E. Ann Graves
Howard E. Janzen
Thomas L. Kivisto
David L. Kyle
Dave Lawson
William Lobeck
Robert E. Lorton
Roxana Lorton
Steven J. Malcolm
Chip McElroy
Gloria Grimes McFarland
James C. McGill
Nancy Meinig
Peter C. Meinig
Mike Metcalf
Rev. Jim Miller
Charles S. Monroe
Jack Neely
Robert E. Norman
Ryan Rex
Jo Buford Siegfried
Charles C. Stephenson, Jr.
Ross Swimmer
Clifton L. Taulbert
Bill Thomas
Steve Turnbo
Steadman Upham
James W. Wallis
Bob West
James W. Wilburn
Mike Wiley
L. Duane Wilson
Richard E. Wiseley