President Upham's Fall Letter to Campus

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This past weekend, Peggy and I had the delightful experience of watching a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center sponsored by our very own KWGS. Garrison Keillor was a masterful emcee, and I found myself uplifted by his folksy charm, slightly ribald humor, and the inspirational folk and country music that are cornerstones of this legendary show. Being uplifted was good, and a welcome respite from the unsettled feeling I have had over the past many weeks because of the constant bad news stemming from the meltdown of the global credit markets.

Bad news is unsettling, and in the midst of it we sometimes forget that uncertainty about the future is a constant in our lives. Economic calamity or not, we need to remember at times like this that today is just as uncertain as yesterday, and a thousand yesterdays before that. And tomorrow will give rise to new uncertainties heretofore unconsidered.

I begin my fall letter to the campus community this way because I want you to know that The University of Tulsa remains very much on track despite the appalling economic news of the past few months. We have always managed through uncertainty to pursue our goals, and we will continue to do so now as we move forward.

It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there. At The University of Tulsa we know where we are going and which road we are on. And our path is charted to make sure we arrive at our intended destination. Our path includes financial stability, academic excellence, a devotion to our campus community and the City of Tulsa, and a strong and deep ambition to be nationally and internationally competitive in everything we do.

So despite the disturbing economic changes in our external environment, the road we are on is well marked, and our destination remains to become a top 50 national university of prominence and distinction. Importantly, we continue to make progress toward this goal on all fronts. Here are 10 reasons why I remain very optimistic about TU’s future:

1. Enrollment remains robust. Demand for a TU education has never been higher. This year, only 42% of the undergraduate applicants to TU were granted admission. Despite this increased selectivity, we have more than 3,000 undergraduates currently enrolled for the first time since the early 1990s. Importantly, recruiting events and campus visits for prospective students this fall have the highest participation in the university’s history.

2. The academic ability of our student body has never been better. This year’s freshman class had an average ACT score of 28 and contained 77 national merit scholars (one in 9). Importantly, two thirds of our new freshman graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes. One in ten of all TU students is now a National Merit Scholar, and TU’s record of securing nationally competitive scholarships compares with that of the finest colleges and universities in the country.

3. TU has become a residential campus. The strategic expansion of student housing over the past two years has achieved the stated objective of creating a truly residential college environment. Nearly 75% of TU students now reside on campus, and our residence halls and apartments are at 100% capacity. Student organizations are flourishing, and every night of the week there are speakers, musical and theatre performances, art exhibitions, club activities, and/or sporting events to enjoy. The increased energy on campus as a result of our new demography is palpable.

4. Fundraising is at record levels. This past year TU raised $40.8 million from outside sources to support building projects, scholarships, endowed chairs, academic programs, and athletics. This new level of fundraising surpasses last year’s record of more than $31 million. The generosity of our friends and supporters is truly inspiring and an essential ingredient of the university’s long-term success.

5. Alumni support and involvement have never been stronger. TU now boasts 10 active alumni chapters around the country. In addition, 15 new alumni clubs have been formed, and two more are in the organizing phase. The National Alumni Board, working in conjunction with the Office of Advancement, has been instrumental in expanding alumni financial support. More than one quarter of all TU alumni made a financial contribution to support the university this past year. Never wanting to rest on its laurels, the National Alumni Board has set an ambitious but achievable goal of 35% alumni support in the future.

6. TU’s operating budget is stable, sound, and balanced. The university closed the fiscal year with another balanced budget, something that has become so routine at TU that it’s almost taken for granted. But balanced budgets are the wellspring of financial stability and a requirement for moving forward on all of our strategic goals. More importantly, over the past several years, TU has been able to establish prudent operating reserves and a strong cash position that provide a cushion against unexpected economic circumstances.

7. TU has hired well in the faculty ranks. This past year, we welcomed 19 new tenure-track faculty to The University of Tulsa. In addition, 13 new applied, clinical, or visiting faculty also joined the university. Taken together this new group of 32 represents nearly 10% of TU’s total core faculty. Our new colleagues have degrees from the finest universities in the world and bring a wealth of teaching, research, and scholarly expertise to TU.

8. All of TU’s major building and renovation projects have been completed on budget. The massive amount of construction that TU has undertaken over the past five years is nearing completion. The last on-going major project is the expansion of McFarlin Library, and it will be completed after the first of the new year. Each of these projects has been brought to completion on budget, and private fundraising has covered the full share of construction costs on all of these projects except the new student apartments, which are financed through long-term bonds.

9. The TU - Gilcrease Museum partnership is off and running at top speed. The management transition bringing Gilcrease Museum into the TU Family is complete. Thanks to the hard work of many, all business systems at the museum have been integrated into Datatel, personnel transitions are final, and aggressive planning for collaboration between our museum and academic departments is underway. Dr. Duane King, TU vice president for museum affairs and Gilcrease executive director, has begun a strategic planning process to identify initiatives and directions for the next several years. I am pleased to report that under Duane’s leadership, attendance and new memberships at Gilcrease have set records since the transition was finalized on June 30, 2008. Private fundraising for Gilcrease has also greatly exceeded expectations.

10. Men’s and women’s fall NCAA Division I sports are achieving distinction once again. Volleyball along with men’s and women’s golf, cross country, soccer, and tennis have experienced notable triumphs, with individual performances on each team ranking among the very best in Conference USA and the nation. And in case you’ve missed the games at the renovated Chapman Stadium, you should know that TU has a pretty good football team this year! The football team’s athleticism, tenacity, and style of play have brought a national ranking to the program for the first time in nearly 20 years. Go TU!!!

I could list many more reasons that demonstrate The University of Tulsa’s progress, despite turbulent external economic conditions. We are prepared to deal with uncertainty, and we will continue to look for opportunities to advance. Until credit markets stabilize, however, some new initiatives like construction of the Lorton Performance Center, will be slowed down. We will also adopt a cautious posture as we look at program and workforce needs. But none of our strategic objectives has changed, and none of our goals has been modified. To the contrary, we will continue to make steady progress going forward on all of the university’s strategic initiatives.

I wish you the very best as we head into the second half of the fall semester, toward Thanksgiving, and the Holiday break.