President Upham's Remarks - Convocation 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good morning, and welcome to The University of Tulsa's 2010 Convocation.

Each year, after the first flurry of back-to-school activity has settled, we like to gather to reflect on the coming academic year and on the current state of the university.

At this time last year, I was outlining plans for a challenging year – one that would be marked by resource constraints and austerity policies. Today, with another challenging year ahead, I draw my theme from the Catholic writer Walter Elliott, who observed, "Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another."


We find ourselves in the starting blocks once again, with many things to accomplish and also many limits on our operating budget.

But, just as our prudence and creativity bridged the gap last year, I am confident that TU has everything it needs to keep moving forward this year.

Our financial picture remains one of mixed news – fundamentally solid, but currently constrained.

We do have several strengths working in our favor. Most importantly, TU is financially stable. Although our endowment is exposed to market losses, we are fortunate not to rely on other volatile sources of funding.

Most notably, as a private university, we are not affected by state cuts to education. And we are not dependent on federal stimulus dollars, which are beginning to expire.

Also, our workforce is intact as we continue to avoid layoffs, though smaller than in recent years because we have shrunk through attrition.

And we have, for now, lifted our staff hiring moratorium, which is bringing some staffing relief to our units.

After the salary policies and summer furlough days of 2009, we were even able to fund a modest merit raise pool for this year – allowing us to recognize the good work being done by so many of our employees.

Our fundraising is at an all-time high as we wrap up our Embrace the Future Campaign. This year alone, we had $43 million in gift income. I will return to this point later.

And our faculty generated a record $22 million in sponsored research funding.

Unfortunately, however, financial challenges persist. The overall economy remains weak. Volatility in the investment market is hampering our earnings. Our enrollment, while stable, is not growing – reflecting the ongoing financial constraints and concerns that face college-bound families. And, finally, key goods and services are becoming more expensive.

This chart shows the total value of our endowment over the past eight years. After reaching a peak value of $971 million in late 2007, the endowment fell to a low point of $628 million in early 2009. Since then, the value has been rebounding somewhat but has recently dipped again. At the end of June, the total value was $707 million.

These investment declines translate into a loss to our annual operating budget of $13.2 million, which represents about two months of our payroll. That is a considerable gap to close, but thanks to your careful efforts we have been able to control costs and maintain a balanced budget.

The volatility of the market produces large swings in our investment returns. As we saw in the previous chart, 2009 brought a good rebound, with a 16.6 percent return on our portfolio that exceeded our benchmark rate of 12.5 percent. But as of June this year, our portfolio had lost 4.3 percent of its 2010 starting value.

Fortunately, our policy for drawing on endowment earnings helps us cope with these drastic swings.

This graphic illustrates how the University translates investment returns into operating cash.

Each quarter, any earnings generated by our endowment go into a holding fund. And each quarter, we draw from that fund based on an average of the previous 12 quarters' performance. That rolling average is represented here by the green area. As quarters roll into and out of the average, our quarterly payout fluctuates.

This earnings structure is helpful in that it evens out the impact of any sudden downturns. But the down side is that those downturns will remain in our average for three years.

So today, even though the investment market has recovered from its lowest point, we are still carrying several bad quarters in our average. Late 2008 and early 2009 were especially weak, but at this time next year, those quarters will start dropping out of our formula.

We have to hope, of course, that the market doesn't experience another major setback between now and then.

So, what is the bottom line? For now, it is what you would expect: We have a very tight budget this year with no latitude.

On top of this picture, we have had slightly smaller than expected freshman enrollments, and the investment markets have been jittery over recent weeks.

In response to these developments, our administrative team has agreed to make some defensive policy adjustments.

While we do not foresee any budget cuts or layoffs, I have placed a temporary moratorium on the creation of new positions and on faculty hires. We will continue to backfill existing staff positions for now, especially since we are still carrying quite a few staff vacancies from our last moratorium.

I know this is not welcome news, but I believe this is the most prudent course given our latest information.

Even as we face a challenging environment, it's worth remembering that we remain very fortunate compared to many in higher education. Public universities have been hit hard by cuts in state support, and other private schools have suffered catastrophic endowment losses. Layoffs, furloughs, and program cancellations have been in the headlines for the past several months. We can take comfort in the fact that we don't face that level of disruption.

Although we aren't "made of money" right now, we are made of strong stuff. We proved that last year, and we will underscore it this year with a continued emphasis on efficiency, effective practices, and patience.


Our efforts continue to be rewarded with good news on the enrollment front.

We welcomed 188 new graduate students this fall, including 3 Fulbright Scholars and 55 international students representing 18 nations.

I'm also pleased to report that the College of Law has welcomed a record-setting class, with the highest overall undergraduate GPA distribution in memory.

In addition, our first-year law students are 40% female, and 32% minority students – contributing essential diversity to our community.

The middle 50% of our incoming law students scored between 152 and 158 on the LSAT, continuing the excellent trend of improvement that we have seen over the past 10 years.

In 2000, the middle half of our class, that is, excluding the top quarter and the bottom quarter, scored between 143 and 152. You can see how those scores have steadily improved year over year, until 152 now represents the 25th percentile of test scores, with our middle half scoring above that, up to 158.

Congratulations to Dean Janet Levit and her hard-working team on this continued improvement and on a stellar recruiting year.

At the undergraduate level, we enrolled 674 new freshmen, with a strong average ACT of 29, up one point from last year. 74% of these students graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes, which again is up 5% from last year. We were quite selective this year, admitting only 39% of applicants, down 5% from last year.

56% of our freshmen are from outside Oklahoma, and they represent 35 U.S. states and 19 other nations. That percentage is 5% higher than last year.

Congratulations to Vice President Roger Sorochty, Associate Vice President John Corso, Dean of Admission Earl Johnson, Director of Student Financial Services Vicki Hendrickson, and the entire Admission and Financial Aid team on bringing us another highly capable and diverse freshman class.

We go to great effort and expense to recruit the best and brightest students to TU. Once such students are here, we need to protect and nurture our investment by retaining them through to graduation. Moreover, the U.S. News ranking formula imposes an expectation for graduation rates based on initial student quality. With an average ACT score of 29 and three quarters of our freshmen coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes, our initial student quality is very high indeed. As a consequence, TU's predicted graduation rate is much higher than we are actually achieving, and we are penalized in the rankings for this deficiency.

Because of these factors, student retention remains an important focus for TU, and it is a priority that encompasses every area of our operations. Over the past decade, we have made notable progress in bringing our freshmen back for their sophomore year – a gain of 9 percentage points. This improvement reflects many coordinated efforts, including our Freshman Orientation Camp, Freshman Leadership Institute and ongoing improvements to our quality of campus life.

Over time, we expect these improvements to drive increases in our 6-year graduation rates. You can see that we have made some progress over the past decade or so, moving up to a 65% graduation rate for the fall 2004 freshman class and a projected 66% rate for the class that entered in the fall 2005. These rates are still lower than we would like, however. To help extend recent gains, last December I asked Provost Roger Blais and Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Roger Sorochty to lead a task force to study the issue of student retention and return their recommendations for increasing our performance.

They formed a 15-member group representing all areas of the University, which identified a number of promising strategies including administrative realignments, deeper collaboration with faculty, expanded engagement with parents, creative use of technology, and select staff additions. We are working to implement these now throughout the University. (It is worth noting that the staff additions were proposed and approved before we implemented our current moratorium on new positions.)


Student retention is one of several factors that determine our place in the annual U.S. News and World Report college rankings, and I'd like to turn to that topic for a moment.

In the recently released 2010 report, TU ranks 93rd out of more than 260 national doctoral universities; we are the only Oklahoma university to rank in the top 100.

Our strong position this year was upheld by gains in several rankings factors, which include the number of freshmen who graduated from high school in the top 10% of their classes, the percentage of freshmen returning for their sophomore years, and the percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students. In addition, our overall total score this year was up two points over last year's.

Some have asked why we are ranked 93rd when in recent years we have been ranked as high as 88th. It is important to note that the U.S. News rankings allow for ties, so that multiple schools may share a single ranking position. As the underlying evaluation scores change from year to year, the ties may fall out differently and create the appearance of significant change. But in material terms, our position in the pack has not changed over the last 5 years.

Let me also make the point that we focus on the U.S. News rankings because by doing so, we get better. Even with their limitations, the rankings reflect several key components of quality. We are not simply chasing a number, but improving ourselves against a worthy measuring stick.

On that point: U.S. News is one of numerous college rankings organizations, and it is worth noting that these vary widely in the factors they select to define and measure quality.

These slides will be difficult to see, but down the left side are various college rankings organizations. From the top, we have U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, Forbes, Kiplinger, The Times Higher Education – QS World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, which does not track TU.

Down the right side are 30 different factors that go into these organizations' rankings formulas. These include everything from instructional spending per student to the number of alumni serving in the Peace Corps.

Taken together, these various rankings approaches resemble an old telephone switchboard.

In fact, only 9 of the 30 factors – the ones here in yellow – are shared by two or more rankings surveys. The other 21 are unique to one survey.

Here at TU, we think the U.S. News survey is the most comprehensive and representative of the overall quality of an institution. Here are the factors U.S. News uses, along with the relative weights they are given in the rankings formula.

Undergraduate academic reputation, at 22.5%, is the single most determinate factor; unfortunately, it's also quite subjective and is based on surveys of college and university administrators. This year, however, U.S. News also began incorporating survey responses from high school guidance counselors, so it will be interesting to see how that input affects scores over time.

Graduation and freshman retention count for 20% of the score.

Faculty resources count 20%.

Admissions selectivity counts 15%, and this is an area where TU has made solid gains in recent years, as we have admitted a lower percentage of applicants. Financial resources counts 10%.

Graduation rate performance counts 7.5%.

And the percentage of alumni who make financial gifts to the university counts 5%. This measures only the percentage of alumni who give, and not the amounts given, so one of our messages to alumni is that they can make a significant difference to our ranking position by making a gift of any size.


With budgets constrained as they are, we are fortunate that our remarkably dedicated donors have underwritten a generous capital budget for vital campus improvements.

The Lorton Performance Center is steaming ahead, and at this stage of construction, the most impressive progress is happening inside.

lorton performing arts center under constructionMany of the spaces are starting to take recognizable shape.

Here you see the main auditorium, with the stage and balcony.

This image is a view from the stage, which you see is quite large, with ample catwalk and rigging space overhead.

This image is one of the Lorton Center's two recital and practice halls, which will be the ideal size for intimate solo or small ensemble performances.

This image shows the second floor overlooking the atrium below, and you can see the impressive oval set into the ceiling.

Our studio classrooms will offer plenty of space for instruction.

We're also extremely excited that construction has begun on our engineering complex – which will be a quantum leap for our science and technology infrastructure.

engineering complex under construction

This site plan shows the existing Keplinger Hall at the upper right, and the Allen Chapman Activity Center on the left. Just southeast of ACAC, we have begun construction of J. Newton Rayzor Hall – the new home of our Computer Science and Electrical Engineering programs. Due east of Rayzor is the future Stephenson Hall – which will be the new home of our Petroleum and Mechanical Engineering programs. We are holding off work on Stephenson Hall as we continue to raise funds.

Connecting all four buildings will be Samson Plaza, a generous gift from the Schusterman Family that will bring our plaza aesthetic to that quadrant of campus in a big, bold way.

This illustration gives you a taste of the finished space, which will be unmistakably TU. You can see that Samson Plaza will feature our second major campus fountain.

Scholarship doesn't happen on an empty stomach, so we were especially pleased to complete a total remodel this summer of what used to be our Twin Towers cafeteria. Now, with a new layout, serving stations, furnishings, and décor, the Pat Case Dining Center is an unequivocal hit with students. An outdoor patio, eight-screen video wall, Wi-Fi computer connectivity and cell phone charging stations complete the package.

pat case dining center at fisher hallWe're deeply grateful to Pat and Mike Case for stepping forward to bring us yet another first-class facility. It was an especially nice touch that Mike announced the gift as a birthday present to Pat last spring at a party for friends and family here at TU, and we had the pleasure of welcoming them back to campus for a dedication event earlier this month.

In addition to completing the dining center renovation, we have also refurbished the former Twin Towers residence halls, giving them a much needed face lift with new carpet and paint.

We are especially pleased to re-name what was formerly known as Twin West; that refurbished building is now known as Fisher Hall, in honor of TU alumnus and longtime Trustee Bill Fisher. Bill's leadership is visible everywhere on campus. As chairman of our Buildings and Grounds Committee, he has overseen the standards and styles that have brought such stunning harmony to our development over the past two decades.

fisher hall renovationsAs a buzzing hub of campus life, Fisher Hall is a fitting tribute to Bill and his vision.

Another of this summer's projects was a new screening wall around the Physical Plant storage yard. I'm sure you agree that this simple addition has made a huge difference to the appearance of our campus by removing an eyesore from our front door.


Community partnership has been a central theme over the past year – both in our formal policies and in our personal contacts with our neighbors.

The coming year promises continued progress on many of the important steps we took last year.

We're moving forward with the George Kaiser Family Foundation to renovate the Mathews Warehouse in the Brady District. I hope you can see in this illustration that the building will be known as the Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education – a proud title with which we are honored to be associated.

These floor plans will be too small to read, but starting from the left, the first floor will contain gallery space and a wine and cheese bar, shown in red, as well as staging and support areas. The second floor features classroom and office space for educational programs, shown in orange. And the third floor features studio space, shown in green, which will be used by our MFA students and visiting artists.

Progress on this renovation has been slower than expected, because of the building's designation as a historical structure. We've had to revise some of our plans; for example, preservation codes require us to stay with concrete floors instead of installing wood as we originally planned. We have also just learned that all our exterior signage has to be lit by external sources and not from internal lamps. We are working through design refinements now and expect to begin construction this year.

You will remember that last year, I announced plans to construct a much-needed research building on the Gilcrease Museum grounds. Just last week, Mayor Bartlett announced that we are moving forward with that plan; you probably saw the coverage in the Tulsa World.

We have more than a third of the funding raised and are developing our designs. I'm happy to note that the facility will be known as the Helmerich Research Center. We plan a few changes to the design shown in this illustration, but it gives you a good general idea of the project.

Historically, there simply hasn't been room at Gilcrease Museum to bring manuscripts and print items out of storage and make them accessible to scholars, so we're very excited that the Helmerich Research Center will help unlock the collection's tremendous untapped value.

Late last year, we announced a partnership with OU-Tulsa to address the acute health-care needs of Oklahomans.

Our state consistently ranks among the worst in the nation for health problems such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and others. Oklahoma also ranks low in access to care.

We also learned recently that on average, the residents of north Tulsa have a lifespan 14 years shorter than the residents further south.

All of these dismal statistics point to the pressing need for robust community medicine services here in our city and across the state.

We are working with OU-Tulsa now to define our partnership. Committees are studying curricular and faculty needs, facilities and budgeting, and fundraising potential.

Our Curriculum Committee has traveled to Chicago and met with accreditors from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. They are working now to define the requirements for our program and to identify creative training opportunities that will put our students in collaboration with various public health providers and agencies.

This ambitious vision will require immense funding, of course, so our Development Committee has already identified likely sources and is actively engaged in proposal writing.

Now through January, we will continue to develop the curriculum, maintain close communication with the LCME, refine our cost analyses, and pursue funding. During the first quarter of next year, we plan to sign a memorandum of understanding with OU-Tulsa that will outline our joint governance structure. We also plan to create a management trust to hold joint funds, and we will conduct our self study in the run up to accreditation.

Next summer, we plan to gather faculty in a summer development institute.

Later steps in the timeline have us submitting our self study to LCME accreditors in December 2012, leading to an LCME site visit in March 2013. Accreditation in June 2013 would give us the green light to recruit our first class, which would start in Fall 2014.

The research and brainstorming process is reaching full swing, so now is the time for any interested faculty or administrators to get involved. There are still spaces at the planning table, so please consider this an invitation to join the effort.

Internationalization is another important growth area for the University – not only in terms of establishing formally identifiable programs, but also in terms of infusing all our activities with global perspectives as we educate our students for these changing times.

Over the past year, many members of our campus community have helped TU participate in the Internalization Lab project sponsored by the American Council on Education.

Last year, we formed a steering committee, which then enlisted the help of some 80 faculty and staff, as well as members of the community. They conducted surveys and focus groups exploring our current global connections and our opportunities for growth.

The Steering Committee has submitted a preliminary report and is now working to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to make TU a more international university. Areas of interest include academic program options; strategic international and local partnerships; international student recruiting & support; administrative structure & roles; faculty incentives for innovation; staff training; hosting visiting global scholars; connecting with international alumni; the role of supportive technology; and fundraising.

Internationalization is a broad topic that requires broad thinking and action, and I'd like to extend special thanks and recognition to the members of our Steering Committee: Co-Chairs Cheryl Matherly and Bryan Tapp, and members Jackie Caldwell, Mark Collins, Lara Foley, John Henshaw, Janet Levit, Lamont Lindstrom, Betsy McCormick, Mike Mills, Richard Redner, Pam Smith, Mike Troilo, Bruce Willis and Holden Zhang. They are contributing key effort and thought to an area that will only increase in importance and centrality to the University's mission.

On the topic of service, I'm especially proud that so many of you have stepped up individually over the past year to expand our service to the community.

At Convocation last year, we introduced our True Blue Neighbors initiative, a comprehensive service effort to forge a closer partnership with the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood.

Our faculty, staff and students committed their time and effort to a number of True Blue projects.

These included clothing and food drives, youth mentoring, support of the food bank and the neighborhood association, beautification and clean-up projects, home weatherization, and the purchase of 1,000 fully stocked backpacks for the students of Kendall-Whittier Elementary School.

These efforts were gratefully received, and they helped hundreds of our neighbors at a time of heightened need in our community.

This year, our neighbors are facing continued tough times, so we are moving ahead with Year 2 of True Blue Neighbors. We began by increasing our commitment to neighborhood schools. We added Cleveland and Wilson Middle Schools to our school supplies project, and we will work this year to increase mentoring involvement there.

True Blue Neighbors(Photo: Two people you should know: Kathy Shelton, left, Coordinator of the Student Volunteer Center; and Mike Mills, right, Associate Dean of Students and Coordinator of University and Community Service.)

Remember that you can get up to 8 hours of paid service leave each month for True Blue Neighbors projects; we want to accommodate your work schedule and help you get out into the community.

To learn more about opportunities to help, please contact the Volunteer Center in Holmes Student Center. Kathy Shelton is the coordinator, and she can help you choose a project that fits your interests and your schedule.

Thank you, in advance, for supporting this important initiative.


We make a point of giving back to the Tulsa community because the community gives boundlessly to TU. This support includes:

  • funding for buildings, scholarships, faculty endowments, programs, and more;
  • service on our Board of Trustees or through any of our College- and department-level advisory boards;
  • connections to industry and access to internships and career placement for our students;
  • spirited support for our student-athletes;
  • and many other benefits.

This generosity has been especially evident in recent years, as we have been conducting a comprehensive fundraising campaign to position TU for the future.

We announced the final phase of the Embrace the Future Campaign earlier this year, with a special issue of our University of Tulsa Magazine.

With a total goal of $400 million, this is the most ambitious fundraising effort in TU history.

We will close the books on our campaign at the end of next June, and I am pleased to say we have enjoyed an excellent response from our donors.

Our campaign co-chairs, Bob and Roxana Lorton, and the members of our campaign cabinet have been working hard to enlist support for this pivotal initiative. Thanks to their devotion and to the truly outstanding generosity of our donors, I am excited to announce that with 9 months left in our campaign, we have surpassed our goal, with a total of $428 million raised!

Of this total, $339 million has been raised for the specific targeted line items that we announced at the outset of the campaign. Our donors have specified an additional $89.1 million for other uses that will also advance the University. It is common in fundraising that as you talk to donors, they will come forward with giving priorities that weren't anticipated in the original plan. We are very pleased with the percentage of total funds that are going to the originally identified objectives – and grateful that our donors have added good ideas of their own.

This slide is not a comprehensive breakdown, but it shows some of the major giving areas. For capital projects, which include improvements such as our Lorton Performance Center, Engineering complex, Eleventh Street front door, student apartments, and many others, we have raised just over $152 million.

For scholarship endowments, nearly $72 million.

And for faculty endowments, nearly $63 million.

The Athletics total that you see here – nearly $50 million – overlaps the other areas, such as scholarships.

You have already seen some of the results of this effort – in the ongoing physical transformation of our campus, the addition of faculty in growth areas such as international business and foreign languages, and in the increasing distinction and diversity of our student body.

It is not overstating things to say that most of the extraordinary things we get to do today, despite the weak economy, are thanks to the steadfast generosity of our donors during this campaign effort.

So let's begin this year with a balance of long-term optimism and near-term realism. Perseverance is a series of short races, one after another. This particular lap may not be the most enjoyable in some respects, but it is part of a longer course that finds us running strong, making bold progress, and positioning ourselves for a tremendous future.

Thank you!