President Upham's Spring Letter to the Campus

Friday, April 17, 2009

From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night.

Billy Collins “Books” (2006)

I open my spring letter to our campus community with these words from Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, for two reasons. First, Mr. Collins recently visited The University of Tulsa as a Presidential Lecturer. His poetry readings and interaction with TU students reminded us why Mr. Collins is such a compelling spokesman for our time. He is unmatched in his poetic wit, humor, and flair for turning everyday events into philosophical explorations:

A choir of authors murmuring inside their books
Along the unlit, alphabetical shelves
Giovani Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
Each one stitched into his own private coat
Together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.

The second reason I begin with Billy Collins’ poem about the “humming library” is that work on our own McFarlin Library is finally complete. The Pauline Walter Digital Resource Center is now open around the clock; the coffee shop will soon be serving flavorful coffee and snacks; and new study spaces and renovated reading rooms beckon students to quiet contemplation. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to visit McFarlin Library to enjoy these new campus resources.

This spring has seen several significant advances for the university’s people and programs. We have a new web site, thanks to the hard work of many on campus over the past 20-plus months. The project entailed thousands of hours of planning and design; changes to our web infrastructure, architecture, content, and governance processes; and the migration of more than 25,000 individual content items touching every aspect of our university. TU’s web presence is an important point of first contact for many constituents, and this update will serve us well for several years. I offer my personal thanks and gratitude to the tenacious staffs of University Relations and Information Services and to the others who helped complete this project so successfully.

While we have slowed our hiring because of economic conditions, I’m pleased to report that we will welcome as many as 20 new faculty members in 15 academic departments next fall. With enrollments continuing to trend upward, we need these positions to maintain the depth, breadth, and quality of the Tulsa Curriculum. Fortunately, because so few universities are hiring this year, we enjoy a favorable market. I appreciate the hard work of the academic deans, department chairs, and faculty who recruited these outstanding new faculty to TU. Budget conditions permitting, we will continue to selectively recruit faculty in the coming academic year.

This spring, TU students have continued to distinguish themselves on the national stage. Caitlin Clancy, a mechanical engineering junior; and Anne Gambrel, an engineering physics sophomore; have received Goldwater Scholarships, and juniors Matthew Behlmann and Erin Stranford received honorable mention for this prestigious award. Mechanical engineering junior Maria Holland has received a Udall Scholarship, and Nathan Brooks, electrical engineering and computer science senior, is the recipient of a prized National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. These award competitions pit TU students against the very best students from other universities in the country. Only 75 Udall Scholarships are awarded each year in the United States, and only 300 Goldwater Scholars are named annually. These statistics confirm what we have long known: that TU students are among the nation’s most talented and focused young scholars.

Talent, hard-work, and drive are not unique to our students. These qualities are broadly evident throughout our entire campus community. Please join me in congratulating the following colleagues on their successes:

  • Three faculty members have been honored with the TU Outstanding Teacher Award. They are Professor Chuck Adams in the College of Law, Professor Laura Stevens in the Department of English, and Professor Leslie Thompson in the Department of Petroleum Engineering. Among a TU faculty already known for their commitment to students, receiving the Outstanding Teacher Award is a high honor indeed.
  • Since 1960, energy industry professionals seeking the latest exploration and production knowledge have turned to TU’s Petroleum Abstracts. In June, Dr. Tom Burchfield and the Petroleum Abstracts staff will publish their 1,000,000th abstract.
  • External research funding to date is running nearly a million dollars ahead of last year, and the number of proposals submitted by TU faculty is 30% ahead of last year.
  • A record 113 TU students presented scholarly papers and/or posters at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Southwestern & Rocky Mountain Division. TU hosted the event.
  • Also this year, a record 15% of TU students are studying abroad, surpassing the goal of 10% we set in 2005. Our ultimate goal should be to match the 40% participation rates at the country’s finest universities, and this is a good start. Kudos to the staff in the Center for Global Education for providing leadership in this strategic area.
  • In this tough economy, we consider ourselves fortunate that annual fundraising is down a slight 5%. Even more inspiring is the fact that alumni participation remains up. As of mid-April, the number of alumni making contributions to TU was up by 20% over last year. This increase included nearly 300 first-time alumni donors.
  • Major gifts to TU continue to come in, bringing the total raised in our comprehensive “Embrace the Future” campaign to nearly $300,000,000 since 2005.
  • Funding is not the only new “green” on campus. TU’s tree planting initiative continues, with the addition of nearly 300 trees this spring. Over the last decade, we have planted more than 2,300 trees on campus.
  • Gilcrease Museum has had an impressive eight months of operation under TU’s management umbrella. During this time, Gilcrease Museum has:
    • Boosted membership to an all-time high;
    • Hosted a record number of visitors;
    • Reopened the conservation laboratory;
    • Inaugurated a visiting scholars program;
    • Developed an expanded exhibition schedule, including two major new exhibitions that will feature the art of Joseph Henry Sharp and Charles M. Russell;
    • Narrowed the candidate field in a national search for a senior curator; and
    • Partnered with several academic departments and the Graduate School to develop a proposal for a new interdisciplinary Master of Science degree in Museum Science and Management.
  • TU student athletes continue to demonstrate the heart of champions by winning conference championships, earning access to post season play, and achieving high academic honors.
    • The men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament and posted an impressive 25-win season;
    • Men’s tennis player Arnau Bruges earned the #1 nationwide seed this season, a first for TU Tennis;
    • With five more TU student-athletes named to the Conference USA All-Academic Teams this spring, our total for the year is 12, with more announcements pending from the conference office. Congratulations to First Team honorees John Beattie (Men’s Cross Country, Business Administration junior), Moton Hopkins (Football, Marketing senior), Thalia Diaz-Barriga (Women’s Tennis, Marketing senior), Arnau Brugues (Men’s Tennis, Business Administration senior), Steven Idlet (Men’s Basketball, History freshman), David Johnson, Football, Exercise Sports Science/Education senior), Rob Laird (Men’s Golf, Finance senior), Sam Mitchell (Men’s Basketball, Accounting senior), Dawn Nagazina (Women’s Cross Country, Chemical Engineering senior), Zach Nulisch (Men’s Soccer, Management sophomore), Rachel Robinson (Women’s Soccer, Chemistry senior); congratulations also to Second Team honorees Alex Becker (Women’s Cross Country, Elementary Education senior) and Kendall Harclerode (Women’s Soccer, Biology senior).
    • C-USA honored Women’s Basketball player Teka Brooks with the Spirit of Service Award for her volunteer work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters;
    • In addition, TU Athletics earned C-USA’s “Let’s SAAC Hunger Program” Cup for collecting nearly 8,400 pounds of food for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma;
    • We also hosted the C-USA Women’s Golf Championship, and are set to host the C-USA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May;
    • TU remains highly competitive in all spring sports. Our Track, Tennis, Softball, Golf and Rowing programs are poised to bring strong national recognition to the university.

Smaller campus construction projects are in full swing, including additional stretches of the campus pedestrian system, a new roof on Lorton Hall, and replacement of chill water lines all over campus. Grading, street realignment, and utility relocation are also underway on the east side of campus in preparation for construction of the Lorton Performance Center (LPC).

Speaking of the Lorton Performance Center, I am happy to announce that the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) has agreed to provide bridge funding for construction of the LPC while donors fulfill their gift pledges over the next few years. As gifts come in, TU will repay the GKFF in full. This most generous arrangement makes it possible for TU to begin construction of the LPC immediately following the completion of site work in August 2009. All of us at TU owe another enormous “thank you” to George Kaiser and the trustees of the GKFF.

Finally, I close with a report on the enrollment outlook for Fall 2009. The incoming freshman class appears to be TU’s most qualified group ever, with an average ACT score of 29 as of this writing. Every indication is that the class will feature as many as 70 National Merit Scholars among a group of 680-700, and that some 65% of freshmen will have graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. More than half will come from outside the state of Oklahoma. Enrolling this new class in its entirety is the next strategic goal for the university.

While the fiscal challenges I outlined in February remain, our strategies to address revenue shortfalls are working. We will end the current year on budget, and if fall 2009 enrollment goals are met, we are poised to meet budget expectations in 2009-10. While the next few years will be very challenging, we remain well positioned to make progress on our academic goals. I thank you for bringing your full talent and dedication to our mission, and I look forward to working with you as we continue to move TU forward as one of the nation’s best and most ambitious universities.


David Hamby