President Upham's Remarks - Convocation 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for Convocation. Our theme today comes from George Bernard Shaw, who wrote, "I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."

In this case, "belonging" is not about ownership, but about kinship. It is not that our neighbors have a special claim on us, but that we feel a special connection to them. I will say more about this connection in a few minutes.

There is a great deal happening right now, both at TU and in Tulsa. Today I will focus on four key areas:

  • Our financial picture, which remains stable but constrained...
  • Campus development, which will see ongoing activity this year...
  • Our academic profile, which continues to diversify and strengthen...
  • And our commitment to service, which has brought us to a new threshold of opportunity right here in our own neighborhood.


First, finances.

The budgetary measures that I announced last February were designed to reduce costs while preserving educational quality for our students and protecting the jobs of our employees. Today, I am happy to report that these measures are making a real difference. The Friday afternoon furlough that we observed during June and July returned more than half a million dollars to our operating account.

In addition – thanks to the slowdown in hiring, we have eliminated 33 staff positions since January 1. We expect this attrition, along with reduced overtime, to save an additional $2 million in payroll expenditures this year. I want to thank each and every one you for your solidarity and sacrifice, and to congratulate you on the meaningful contribution you have made to our stability. The financial markets have given us some small relief, as well. Since last February, the self-managed portion of our endowment has recovered 14% in value.

I am grateful not only for that, but also for the privileged territory that TU occupies in the larger scheme of things. As a private university, we do not depend on state funding, and as a school with a moderate endowment, we are not overly reliant on investment earnings. Other universities, including some of the nation's most recognized names, have been hit much, much harder. In following the Chronicle of Higher Education and in speaking to other university presidents this fall, I have learned of 40% budget cuts... massive layoffs of faculty and staff... and furloughs of up to 40 work days per employee.

So, although the observation "It could be worse" is often cold comfort, in this case I believe it is a very welcome piece of news. These bright spots are important, but we must recognize that challenges will continue for the next several years. The overall economy remains feeble. And even once it begins to recover, the effects of the downturn will remain with us for three additional years because of the way our endowment income is calculated.

Realistically, we will remain in a belt-tightening mode for the foreseeable future, with continued salary and hiring freezes. I know this is disappointing news, but the path we have begun is serving us well. Prudent action is to stay the course until the University’s finances are fully restored. On behalf of our deans, vice presidents, and our Board of Trustees, I thank you for your patience.


Despite financial challenges, I can report several items of good news – made possible by our many generous donors. After months of work, the renovation of McFarlin Library is complete. This evening, we will dedicate the Pauline M. Walter Academic Technology Center. This handsome facility consolidates our library computer labs and will be open around the clock for students. The renovation also has allowed us to restore four reading rooms, add a café, and update the foyer.

We also are moving forward with construction of the Roxana Rozsa and Robert Eugene Lorton Performance Center. This new 78,000 square-foot facility will redraw the horizons for our music, performing arts, and film studies programs at TU. We are deeply grateful to lead donors Roxana and Bob Lorton... to our other donors... and to the George Kaiser Family Foundation for generous financial support.

lorton performing arts center

We are also within sight of our fundraising goal for two new engineering buildings. Rayzor Hall will house our programs in computer science and electrical engineering, and another building will house our programs in petroleum and mechanical engineering. Although funding commitments have progressed well, it will take several years for gift payments to accumulate so that construction can begin.

engineering complex

Our main campus is not our only developing front, however.

Thanks to the George Kaiser Family Foundation, TU will help shape revitalization of the downtown Brady District. The anchor of this effort is renovating the old Mathews Warehouse Building at the corner of Brady Street and Cincinnati Avenue. TU will lease 20,400 square feet on three floors of this building. We are developing plans to move select studio art programs there, along with arts education and life-long learning programs. I look forward to sharing more with you as these plans progress.

brady district

The Mathews Building represents the leading edge of a new chapter in TU development and community integration. I am working now with deans and other administrators, trustees, and community partners to outline a new long-range facilities master plan. The previous plan -- which has guided campus development for the past 20 years -- is essentially complete.

We are now looking at opportunities to build from established footprints throughout Tulsa. This more distributed approach will help us embed learning and service in the daily life of the Tulsa community. Ideas are still taking shape, so watch for forums to discuss our next facilities master plan in the coming months.


My third topic today is our academic profile, which remains strong.

This fall, we have 702 freshmen on campus, including 76 National Merit Scholars. Two-thirds of our freshmen graduated in the top ten percent of their high school senior class, and more than half are from outside Oklahoma.

As Provost Blais noted earlier, we also welcome 16 new faculty members to the TU family this fall, as well as 3 visiting professors. They represent a variety of academic disciplines and bring impressive credentials and energy. Hiring new faculty is a luxury that very few universities enjoy right now, so we count ourselves uniquely fortunate to have this opportunity.

This year we take advantage of the synergy between TU and Gilcrease Museum by introducing a master’s program in Museum Science and Management. This interdisciplinary program is rigorous, diversified, and perfectly tailored to aspiring museum administrators. I would like to thank and congratulate all those who helped develop this unique offering.

Internationalization is a priority here at TU. Over recent years, we have seen good progress, with the addition of three new language instructional programs, expansion of our international business offerings, and record participation in Study Abroad.

To carry this momentum more broadly throughout the University, we have joined the Internationalization Lab program sponsored by the American Council on Education. Dr. Cheryl Matherly and Prof. Bryan Tapp co-chair our Internationalization Steering Committee, which I have asked to investigate four topics:

  1. Strategies to develop a cohesive overall approach to internationalizing our curriculum...
  2. Ways to build participation in study abroad...
  3. Opportunities to expand strategic international partnerships, and...
  4. Strategies for recruiting international students.

The committee has 13 members, representing all four colleges and other administrative units. I want to thank them for their valuable work, and I call upon each member of the TU community to work with Bryan and Cheryl to support this important initiative.

I would also like to take a moment to congratulate and recognize a particular office here on campus.

Our Petroleum Abstracts group compiles and disseminates knowledge for the petroleum industry. Petroleum Abstracts was established in 1960, and over the summer they published their one-millionth bulletin entry. Please join me in a round of applause for Director Tom Birchfield and his prolific team.


Service is the fourth and final area I will address today – because it is at the heart of our university.

Without question, the economic strain of the past year has brought with it much worry. During times of stress, the ideals of service may be overshadowed by the instincts of survival. In tough times, it would be easy to become preoccupied with ourselves, and less attuned to the impact that hard times are having on those around us.

Though understandable, that sort of defensive reaction absolutely goes against the dynamic, outward-facing TU spirit. The TU spirit is fundamentally optimistic – focused on possibilities, individual growth, shared achievement, and the privilege of service.

TU has a long, proud history of service to Tulsa that dates back to 1907, when Kendall College was brought here as an engine of commercial growth and cultural enrichment.

Today, our students, faculty and staff continue to give generously of themselves: supporting the United Way, providing food and clothing to relief agencies, volunteering with youth organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, serving in places of worship and helping in myriad other ways.

Most of our service activities are coordinated through the Office of University and Community Engagement, which is headquartered in Holmes Student Center. This office is directed by Mike Mills, who does a wonderful job matching community needs and TU resources. Thanks to a generous grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, we recently expanded the office’s Student Volunteer Center and added a volunteer coordinator position.

These new resources come at an important time. Today, I am pleased to announce a new service initiative that redoubles our commitment to the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood. In the spirit of "acting locally," the True Blue Neighbors Initiative calls each of us to become more involved in the lives of our Kendall-Whittier neighbors.

Earlier this year, as we worked through our own budget cuts here at TU, we realized that our constraints were surely very manageable compared to the extra demands placed on our Kendall-Whittier neighbors. In response, our vice presidents and deans stepped forward with funding squeezed from their own budgets and resolved that this was going to be an outstanding year for the TU-Kendall-Whittier partnership.

I am especially pleased to present True Blue Neighbors not only as a worthy idea, but as a program that is already under way. You may have seen in the news last month that TU provided 1,000 fully stocked backpacks for the students of Kendall-Whittier Elementary School. The school welcomed us for a distribution rally, where athletes from our soccer and volleyball programs personally delivered the bags to students.

Last summer, we also were able to provide scholarships and transportation for a number of at-risk students to attend day camp at Turner Park. In addition, Gilcrease Museum provided the venue and event support for the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood Association annual fundraising dinner last week.

Later this fall, we will make a gift to the Kendall-Whittier Emergency Food Pantry, which operates out of the University United Methodist Church just across the street from Helmerich Hall. The pantry has been providing about 2,700 meals a month for neighborhood families. Our support will fund an additional 1,000 meals per month for the next 12 months.

On a larger scale, we also have begun talking with the George Kaiser Family Foundation about redeveloping a section of property near West Park to expand services and housing options for our neighbors.

By far, however, the bulk of True Blue Neighbors' impact will come from YOU.

Our conversations with neighborhood groups have identified many needs within our neighborhood -- including home winterization and basic maintenance, adult tutoring, and help with after-school activities. Most of these needs are straightforward and easy to meet with the investment of one or two hours a week.

Your vice presidents, deans and I understand that time is often the most precious resource. So if you have the necessary skills and are willing to help, the University will grant you up to 8 hours of paid volunteer leave each month – subject to the approval of your unit leadership.

The detailed leave policy is available through the Human Resources office and web page, but in general there are three steps:

First, review the current list of True Blue Neighbors projects. This list is available in person and online through the Office of University and Community Engagement.

Second, complete the "Request for Community Service Leave" form, available through the Human Resources office and web page. Projects must be approved by your supervisor and unit vice president.

Third, once you have completed your service, report your hours on your time sheet as "Other – Community Service."

The Kendall-Whittier community has been our home since 1907, so I encourage you to join this important initiative. It is a wonderful way to become part of our rich history and part of our exciting future – one project at a time.

In a very real way, all of our pursuits here at the University point naturally toward service. The knowledge we acquire, the skills we develop, and the character we shape ask to be put to meaningful use. It is by taking these assets back to the community that we most fully unlock their value.

And if we, like Shaw, see ourselves as "belonging to the community," we won’t just be willing to do that, but also will count ourselves privileged to do that.

I look forward to working with you this year as we put that vision into action.

Thank you. Godspeed.

David Hamby