Faculty-Staff Assembly Fall, 2008 Aug. 22, 2008

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Faculty and Administrative Staff Assembly
State of the University Address
August 22, 2008

Good morning, Faculty and Administration, of Texas A&M International University.  This fall we begin the 39th year of our University. Today we summon our best angels, our wisest muses, our fondest dreams to awaken in us all the ideals and hopes that first imagined, and then built, this University on a barren Texas plain.  Custom and the unique circumstances of our profession guide the proceedings today. We have long been in the habit of coming together each year before the start of classes, to reflect upon where we have been and to imagine together where we now wish to go.

We who live and work in a university each year receive the incomparable gift of new life, a chance not to do it over, but to do it anew. Academic life stretches out in seemingly endless cycles of death and rebirth.   For us and for the students we serve, the work of previous semesters  now lies beyond reach, in the shadows.  All of value that we achieved perdures; our errors vanish before the new hopes of a new year. In his poem Vanilocuencia, (Vain Speaking), Jorge Luis Borges insists that fresh, new light bathes even the most mundane details of our lives, which suddenly can greet us with unexpected newness “como una boca no besada.”  Like lips one has yet to kiss. There are today many, many lips which await us.

The promise of new life in a new semester takes on special poignancy this year as we welcome a new administrative team. The transition has been smooth but not effortless, thanks in large part to the very effective leadership of Dr. Humberto González, who stepped forward and agreed to serve as Interim Provost.  After 29 years of unclouded and unstinted giving, of his talent and his life, to Texas A&M International University, Mr. José García will retire on August 31st, 2008.  Already hard at work is his successor, Mr. Juan Castillo—energetic, intelligent, innovative.  On August 11, after a nationwide search, Dr. Pablo Arenas became our new Provost.  One of his first orders of business is to restart the search and then appoint a new Dean of Arts and Sciences.  On August 1, Dr. Minita Ramírez became Dean of Student Success, an action which eliminates one high-level administrative position and combines into one effort all the work of recruitment, retention, and student life-student affairs. And our search for a new Dean of the College of Nursing continues with encouraging leads.  A new CFO, Provost, and three new deans.  Now is the time to think boldly, rethink carefully, and imagine together even more lofty summits. 

At this opening assembly, as we focus our thoughts first upon where we find ourselves, and then upon what now might be, I am struck by a powerful sense of awe and gratitude for the privilege of standing in this place, at this University, in this country, for the confidence placed in us—our talents and our professional promise—by the people of Texas.   Writing in 1782, Edmund Burke, in describing American independence, might have been explaining the creation of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas.

   “A great revolution has happened—a revolution made,
   not by chopping and changing of power in any of the
   existing states, but by the appearance of a new state, of a
   new species, in a new part of the globe. It has made as great
   a change in all the relations, and balances, and gravitations
   of power, as the appearance of a new planet would in the
   system of the solar world.”
 

As we chronicle our activities for the past year and devise our goals for the present one, we do so mindful of the immense evolution in sensibilities and in hope this University brings South Texas.

Thinking back over the last several years, we all can summon to mind the unexpected and abrupt changes the University has experienced.  It is no exaggeration to say that the re-accreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools turned this institution upside down. That we came through that process without even one recommendation or deficiency to address is a direct result of the Gargantuan efforts many of you selflessly put forth to meet SACS expectations and demands.

And now that is all behind us. We have in place assessment plans and assessment procedures for courses and programs, elaborate mechanisms to show how we use the data our assessments produce, formal procedures to demonstrate that all our activities relate directly to our strategic plan, external and internal reviews of policies, procedures, and programs.

We all fully understand and can respond to the fundamental, twin questions that a culture of accountability poses to American higher education: What have your students learned?  How can you show that they have learned it?  We begin now the second year of a five-year plan to expand our sponsored research, having already seen a fine upswing in grant writing and grant getting.  Thanks to our Faculty Senate’s excellent work, we have embedded post-tenure review in the annual review process, eliminating the need for separate rounds of data-gathering and scrutiny. We have initiated on many fronts a campaign to join technology more thoroughly to  teaching, increasing significantly the number of courses delivered with technological support.  Better use of technology has enabled us to plan a schedule mindful of available resources, in some classes increasing enrollment where appropriate, conserving resources to protect small enrollments often indispensable for a reasonable outcome. All these efforts, issues, and concerns will come to nest in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, to be inaugurated this year.

Resources:

And now that fundamental and essential question I know all of you are waiting to hear answered: How did we fare last year in resources?  What new funding streams have sprung up?  Where are we in our quest for both state and private support?  First, we grew! The job each of you accomplishes every day made successful the devoted efforts of our enrollment management team.  Second, Senator Zaffirini secured in the 2007 session a Special Item for Faculty Enhancement, providing $2,000,000 for the biennium, making possible merit pools for each year.  Third, we also received three Tuition Revenue Bonds—one to complete the fine arts theater, one to build a student success building where the sidewalk ends in the Lamar Bruni Vergara Garden, and one to finish the perimeter road on the south side of campus, a total of more than $37,000,000.  All projects have passed through the design phase, were approved by the Board of Regents on August 1, 2008, and are ready to begin. 

New spaces, as we all know, expand our horizons.  The new theater allows us to add drama to our academic inventory.  In addition, a group of citizens have formed the Laredo Theater Guild.  Modeled upon existing agreements with the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Laredo Philharmonic Chorale, the Theater Guild will assist us develop and  support the production of a first-class offering in drama, first season beginning in the fall of 2009.  And as a glimpse of what is to come, that group is presenting this week Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” a play of startling relevance to the swirls of national politics.

Our own partnerships with the community and with private philanthropy have prospered greatly during this past year.  The figures are truly inspiring.  At the end of June, 2007, we had raised $2.8 million; at the end of June, 2008, that figure had risen to $7 million. In addition to that $7 million, we hold now another $7 million in pledges, many of which will soon be complete. Among these gifts is a plan, approved by the Lamar Bruni Vergara trustees, to provide an additional $600,000 per year for graduate scholarships for five years, a total of $3,000,000.  This gift will for five years more than double our present return from the same trustees’ $10,000,000 endowment for the Graduate School.  The D.D. Hachar Trust has provided an additional $100,000 for this year’s honors program, and an additional $100,000 for next year’s program, and an additional $250,000 for general scholarship support.

This year saw the creation of the A.R. Sánchez, Jr. School of Business, part of a plan by Mr. Sánchez to move this business school to the front ranks of American education.  In addition to a $10,000,000 gift to the School’s endowment fund, the Sánchez family has established a $10,000,000 program for matching gifts. When complete, this gift will bring a total of  $30,000,000 in endowed funds for our School of Business. In addition, the Sánchez family funded both the trading room, with its dramatic, Bloomberg ticker,  and the new high-tech classroom on the first floor of the Western Hemispheric Trade Center.  And of course the Sánchez lecture series and Sánchez Scholars continue for the entire University. The Annual Fund continues to grow, increasing from $2.8 million in 2007 to more than $3 million in 2008. 

Two important movements are afoot in the Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library.  First, in mid-September, we will open a Starbucks Café on the first floor.  And later in the year, I hope we can finish a project to glass in the sallyport which divides the building, creating a fine new art gallery and bringing the entire library under one door.  This will mean that as diverse administrative office relocate to new facilities such as the Student Success building, our librarians can baptize increasingly large sections of Killam for library use.

Academic Programs:

Our first year program, last year mandated for all freshmen, comprises by far the largest new programmatic initiative, one that will continue to develop and grow over many more years, transforming the way we think about student success.  The outcomes from the first year show this program to be a success even in its infancy.  Much of today’s assembly will address aspects of this fine program, which includes learning communities with increased opportunities for advising, tutoring, and overall adjustment to University life.  The team which has launched this program for the benefit of all includes Sean Chadwell, Bill Riggs, Ruby Ynalvez, Eduardo Chappa-Leiva, Hayley Kazen, Verónica Martínez, Kristen Standage, Conchita Hickey. Also of note has been the strong activity in International Programs, efforts which have established a fine partnership with Fu Jen University in Taiwan.  As most of you understand, international partnerships are difficult to effect and often slow to reach fruition. But the effort is not only our own.  A large part the travel necessary to explore these possibilities has been borne by the institutions abroad seeking to work with us. 

On another front, I am happy to report that, with careful review and preparation by Dr. Ray Bachnak, Chair of the Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences,  we have a new articulation agreement with the College of Engineering in College Station.  Under this new plan, sponsored and guided by Mr. Bartell Zachry, students entering TAMIU may take all pre-engineering courses in the first two years of study here, and then transfer to College Station without loss of credit.  This initiative also calls for a summer program in College Station between the freshman and sophomore years. Mr. Zachry came to Laredo to accompany me on visits to area engineers, telling them of the program and soliciting their support.  I am happy to report that funding is now secured for this first cohort, summer of 2009.

Two new academic programs at TAMIU are part of the national effort to redefine how we structure American education. First, Early College High School admits its third cohort this year. This means that those freshmen who began two years ago will this fall enroll in our CORE courses as university freshmen.  The success of this visionary program, imagined and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, surpasses our most optimistic projections.  For the second year in a row, Early College High School in Laredo, at TAMIU,  has been the only EXEMPLARY campus in the Laredo Independent School District (LISD).  To ring the biggest bell two years in succession could not have happened without the leadership, devotion to students, cooperative effort: Dr. Patsy Uribe, former principal and now Assistant Professor in our College of Education, Dr. Humberto González, his team in the College of Education, and faculty throughout the University.  Following an assessment of Early College High School in May, we were told that Laredo’s effort ranks at the top of this program in Texas.

A second and equally fascinating initiative to break down the walls between high school and university begins on our campus this fall.  House Bill 1 in the previous legislative session mandated that all Texas high school students be given the opportunity to complete 12 hours of university credit while still in high school. Dr. Juan Lira and Dr. González spent countless hours last year to reach an agreement which would turn this mandate into reality.  Approximately 350 students from United High School, Alexander High School, and Nixon High School will enroll this fall in History 1302. Both Early College High School and the dual-enrollment initiative have required enormous faculty support, and I am grateful and proud that the energy and effort of those of you sitting in this assembly has kept Texas A&M International University at the front of the best thinking for education in Texas. We welcome to the University community Mr. Joe Cerda, newly appointed Principal of the Early College High School.

Parallel to these two crucial partnerships with LISD and United Independent School District (UISD), the State of Texas has created regional councils, P-16, charged with improving the participation and success rate of our students.  TAMIU has been designated Fiscal Agent for our local Council, created last year at a ceremony presided over by Senator Judith Zaffirini.  The partners include school districts, Laredo Community College (LCC), the business community, the Texas Workforce, the Texas Migrant Council, Webb, Zapata, and Jim Hogg counties, and a host of other interested residents of the Laredo region.  One of the important projects of this P-16 Council will be to work with LCC and the school districts to expand the reach of dual language programs in our community.  Our own College of Education has led the way in clarifying the desperate need for a dual language approach, as well as providing the crucial strategies necessary to get such a program started.   We all know, I think, that language is both our greatest asset and our most daunting challenge.  A dual language strategy, successful in communities such as our own, will soon, I hope, be the default approach to language instruction in all Laredo schools.

Athletics:

The University will, beginning in September, 2008, become a fully-vested member of the NCAA-Division II Heartland Conference.  Our acceptance as full members of NCAA is a true milestone for TAMIU; already we have heard that the Conference is appropriating funds to help supplement the high cost of travel.  This season is already off with a bang.  Last night, our soccer team, in an exhibition game against the Tecnológico Monterrey, San Luis Potosí Campus, zinged our visitors 2-0. Congratulations to Coach Arias for this fine start!  

But as much as we want our teams to win, we want even more a complete university experience for our athletes.  Newly released honors recognized by the Heartland Conference demonstrate that our athletes are indeed outstanding students.  Thirty-nine of our student-athletes, or 28% of all those who participate in the athletics program, earned Heartland Conference Academic Honors; nine of our players for GPAs of 3.5 or better, 30 for GPAs of 3.0 or better.   We are enormously proud of the work Dr. Snell and all our coaches accomplish each day for these uniquely gifted young men and women. Because of the outstanding accomplishments of our athletic program, a Laredo philanthropist has offered $500,000 in matching funds to create our first-ever athletics endowment fund.  Congratulations!

Office of Public Relations and OIT:

In addition to the ongoing service our Office of Public Relations and our Office of Information Technology (OIT) provide all of you, this year saw the unfolding of two long-awaited projects: the University’s INTRANET and our DustyALRT system.  The INTRANET is far from complete and during the coming months increasing chunks of internally significant materials, now posted on our public website, will migrate to the INTRANET.  This evolution allows us to consider additional revisions and improvements to the website, including an incremental implementation of the Luminus Content Management System and Portals environment presented several months ago. The DustyALRT System, our universal notification system, was successfully deployed this summer to alert students of a weather-prompted closure. This is a vital tool in our effort to ensure campus safety and I encourage you and your students to sign up on-line at tamiu.edu.

Our most important performance measure of all, that we grow, continues healthily at the head of the pack of A&M universities.  Our recruiters go out into this region with fire in their hearts to tell citizens of the tremendous work all of you do every day—of how faculty watch over and mentor their students even as our teachers challenge them to grow, of how student affairs provides a fine environment for personal development, of how our athletes make us proud, of how our facilities are second to none, of how our staff and administration exist solely to promote the success of our students.  The message is clear and the word it out.  We enjoy today unprecedented support and loyalty in the Laredo community. 

There are, most assuredly, complex issues we must monitor carefully in the coming year. We must live within our means, which requires a very, very careful watch of adjunct budgets, class sizes, and facilities use. We must continue our plan to consolidate administrative functions and offices wherever possible, to ensure that we are not inefficiently and wastefully duplicating our efforts. 

The new legislative session will begin in January , 2009.  We are asking for only two special items, one for faculty enhancement ($2,800,000) and one for student success, especially our first-year program ($10,000,000).  We are also requesting a tuition revenue bond of $12,000,000 to provide much-needed renovation to the library (make reading rooms of the porches on the third floor, build a small facility to allow shipping and receiving, purchasing, HR, and our University Police to vacate library space) and $25,000,000 for an all-purpose classroom building. Our legislative team remains solidly behind all we are doing, and I am confident they will continue to lead a successful effort to secure new resources.

For me, this year begins with the twin emotions of gratitude and expectation.  We have been given much; much is demanded in return.  We live in a society of great need, and we in the University are asked to construct the dialogue to address those needs. Our creation was a revolutionary act, the birth of a new planet, strikingly similar to Edmund Burke’s explanation of the birth of our nation.  Our greatest resource, beyond our beautiful buildings, beyond the robust funding, beyond the best wishes and support of our community, remains the power of unfettered inquiry, the freedom to speak and think and plan and dream as we will. Our most urgent charge: to instill in our students that life-giving freedom to think and to be.

In The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, W.E.B. DuBois describes that limitless reach of mind and spirit:

   “I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not.  Across the
   color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas,
   where smiling men and welcoming women glide in
   gilded halls.  From out the caves of evening that swing
   between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of stars,
   I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will,         
   and they come all graciously with no scorn or condescension.
   So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil.”
 
Let us this year invite our students to join us and together  “dwell above the Veil.”
 
   

 
Ray M Keck III
President / Professor of Spanish

Ray M. Keck III


President
Professor of Spanish
Texas A&M International University

 
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