State of the University Address |
Let me start with a special thank you to a very dear friend of UTSA, our Secretary of State, Hope Andrade. It is an honor and a true privilege to have you with us today. We have known each other for many, many years, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind introduction. And I want to tell the rest of you: Hope was there for the first UTSA football game, so she is a Roadrunner!
To our faculty, staff, students and community leaders, I also want to thank you for coming to hear about the great progress we are making towards becoming Tier One. I am pleased to share the very exciting things happening at UTSA, and to talk about the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for us. With our sights set on becoming Tier One, I know that we will reach our destination.
As you probably noticed during the slides shown earlier, we have a great deal to be proud of. We are moving forward with important new initiatives, and many of you are working hard to bring national recognition to UTSA through your work. Let me say thank you for all that you do for UTSA. You deserve a round of applause.
The Race Continues: Facing Challenges Head on
Today I want to share my thoughts with you about our future and our continued drive towards becoming Tier One.
I truly believe that we have a great story to tell. In the early 1970s, we started at the Koger Center, and then we moved to the 1604 Campus to an open field where roadrunners roamed. We have now become an emerging research university where tens of thousands of students are receiving access to an excellent education. Through our daily efforts, UTSA is helping transform the San Antonio community and the state of Texas, and our impact will be felt for many generations to come.
When I arrived at UTSA 12 years ago, we started charting a path for becoming a university of first choice. We increased the number of doctoral programs, built several new facilities, and greatly expanded our research efforts.
About five years ago, we firmly set our eyes on becoming a Tier One university when we developed the UTSA 2016 Strategic Plan. We believe that our students, our faculty and our community deserve a Tier One University. There are many examples across the country of the impact a Tier One University has on its community, such as Seattle and the University of Washington, and the Bay Area with Stanford and UC Berkeley.
Over the past five years, we have made significant gains towards that vision. But we have also faced many challenges, and we are facing them head on.
We all know that we are in tough economic times. Our nation and our state are experiencing challenges in all sectors, whether public or private, profit or non-profit. It’s a different economy than we have ever experienced.
Also, we have been through a tough legislative session where we received a 12 percent cut in general revenue received from the state. Yet, through careful planning and budgeting, we have been able to absorb much of this cut without disruption to student services or reductions in our teaching efforts.
At the beginning of the session, things looked pretty bleak for higher education but our local representatives went to work for us. I want to applaud our Bexar County delegation who made a heroic effort to minimize the impact for UTSA. They all stood up for San Antonio and UTSA, and I cannot begin to express my gratitude for their support.
There is no question, however, that we are feeling the impact. For example, in past years, we have benefited from tuition revenue bonds to build the facilities that we need, such as the BSE Building and the new Applied Engineering Building. But that revenue source was not available this year, so we must use different strategies for adding space on our campuses.
For many of our students, one of the greatest impacts has been the loss of about $6 million in TEXAS Grants for our campus. Fortunately, our legislators prevented it from being an even more significant reduction. But a $6 million cut is the equivalent of about twelve hundred new students not receiving awards. This loss is significant, and these cuts may keep some of our students from attending UTSA. We must find resources to provide the financial aid our students need.
We must also understand that our challenges go beyond financial resources.
An important goal in the UTSA 2016 Plan was to increase the number of doctoral programs we offer and the number of Ph.D. candidates we graduate. We recently added the Ph.D. program in Mechanical Engineering, and we have two more programs for which we expect approval in Psychology and Translational Sciences. However, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has set more stringent requirements for approval of doctoral programs that will keep us from maintaining our pace.
These challenges are obstacles to our quest for becoming Tier One. Yet, these obstacles will not divert us from our vision. We understand that this is a marathon — not a sprint. In a marathon, we must be prepared to run the long distance, overcome obstacles, climb the tough hills, and set our sights on finishing the race. Every mile counts.
About a month ago, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa delivered his vision for leading the UT System and its institutions through these challenges. In his “Framework For Advancing Excellence,” he outlines key areas that we must set our sights on, such as undergraduate student access and success, research, and excellence among faculty, administrators and staff. The Chancellor’s vision for a better educated Texas and for continuous improvement at the university level aligns with our own vision. Chancellor, we support you, just as you have supported us. And we will work to further align our strategies with your action plan.
Setting the Pace: Attributes, Accomplishments and Opportunities
As we continue to run our marathon, we know that there are certain things we must do well. I am very proud of the way that we, as an institution, have stepped up to the challenge. This is not an easy challenge. But I know that we can achieve Tier One.
From where I stand, I already see results. We are becoming more familiar with the course. We now understand what it is going to take, and we are better prepared for the challenges coming our way. Let me share some examples with you.
This fall, we have more than 31,000 students enrolled at UTSA. Our growth skyrocketed for many years and now has leveled off because of our efforts to manage enrollment. We are doing a great job of managing the growth and mix of our student body. Graduate students now make up nearly 15 percent of our total student population, which was the original goal of the 2016 Plan. This is working smart and effective.
With our increased enrollment, we now have one of the highest student-to-faculty ratios in Texas at 25 to 1. Let me take a moment to thank our faculty for carrying this exceptional load. You are doing a phenomenal job and that is why we have supported merit increases this fall to recognize your hard work. While our student-to-faculty ratio may be considered a model of efficiency to some, it is not the model I want. My goal is to reduce this ratio to 20 to 1 in the coming years. As a first step toward this goal, we are adding 10 new faculty positions in strategic areas this year, in addition to our normal hiring.
I firmly believe that our efficiency is unparalleled in the state. It is quite remarkable and a testament to our dedication that we can be pursuing Tier One so vigorously in these challenging times. And I thank you for this.
Another way to think about how we are working smart is through our cost-saving measures in managing the growth of the university. The North Paseo Building opening next month is a great example of an alternative, less expensive strategy for adding space on our campus. With the North Paseo Building, we are creating more office space, including a “front door” for our graduate programs, with modest expense and in a shorter time.
And in August, the Regents approved our plans for a new, five-story building that should be completed in 2014. This facility will allow us to bring several key departments that are currently housed off-campus back to the Main Campus. This will improve our efficiency and will result in a cost savings of millions of dollars in rent over the years. In the past, similar size buildings would have cost us two or three times more, but thanks to our Facilities Planning staff, we are building smart.
And while we are learning to be more efficient and run smart, we must be productive and achieve the results we need. We are at a critical part of the race. What we do now can make the difference in how we finish this race. I am counting on each of you to focus on results.
To our faculty, I mentioned earlier that because of our high faculty-student ratio, you now have more students in your classroom than ever before. Yet, they are among the brightest students you’ve ever taught. Our preliminary numbers indicate that nearly 50 percent of our freshmen this fall graduated in the top quartile of their high school classes. That number jumped from 44 percent last year. That’s amazing. Our efforts to recruit the best are paying off, and we have high expectations for this Class of 2015.
We are very proud of both our students and our graduates. We are productive when we can graduate 5,000 people each year who go out and make an impact on our community. This is a testament of how we deliver results.
And while I am very proud of how effective and productive we are, we also want to stay focused on achieving excellence in all our programs. We owe it to our students, to our community, and to ourselves to build a Tier One university. We must achieve excellence in all areas — whether in teaching, in administration, in our community outreach efforts — in everything we do. Excellence is the solid foundation we are building on.
For example, we are home to several nationally recognized faculty. This year, we were represented very well with the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards. Seven UTSA faculty were recognized, and 18 have now won this award over the past three years. Our faculty are Tier One.
I have been very impressed how the Institute for Economic Development has taken its successful small business development model and replicated it in several countries, such as Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia. We will soon expand into Panama, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and the Caribbean Basin. We know we achieve excellence when the Institute is recognized top tier in the nation for several years in a row.
Another example of excellence is on the playing field. Our athletic teams won the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Cup last year thanks to championship appearances by soccer, volleyball, men’s track and field, women’s golf, and men’s tennis. And we cannot forget the appearance by the men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament and the team’s first tournament win! That was an amazing year for our teams.
Now, if we are to build a Tier One University founded on excellence, I need each and every one of you to be bold and to find those opportunities that will set us apart. That’s right, be bold. Think about the possibilities. Think about the opportunities. When we see the timing is right, we need to seize the moment and step up.
This is what happened when we brought football to UTSA. What a huge success this has been for UTSA. How ’bout them Roadrunners! I am so proud of what we have accomplished.
I have to tell you, we had a bold vision for football. We found out Larry Coker was available, and brought him to UTSA. We partnered with the city to play our games in the Alamodome. We worked hard to recruit those students who were not afraid of starting a new football program. And when the WAC came calling, we seized the opportunity to join them.
All that paid off on Sept. 3, when 56,743 fans came to the Dome to watch our inaugural football game.
That number is even more important to me than the final score of that game—which we did win. It shows us that San Antonio has embraced this opportunity to support UTSA. Remember, “Your town, your team!”
I thank Lynn Hickey, Larry Coker and our staff for their tremendous efforts. And I thank our students, our alumni and all of San Antonio for being bold and being with us. Let me also thank Ron Ellis for organizing a marching band — 220 strong.
Football and the marching band are indeed a very visible example of our close and important connection to our city and community. And, over the years, we have built several others that will help carry us to Tier One.
One strong connection is our $50 million partnership with CPS Energy and the City. Now I know that you have heard parts of this story already, but it is a great example of how we need to be opportunistic.
In this case, we have our mayor, Julian Castro, who has a bold vision for San Antonio and for how to help UTSA become Tier One. Mayor Castro “gets it.” And by collaborating with our great friend Doyle Beneby at CPS Energy, we have ventured into partnerships with several energy companies that a few years ago were out of our reach. GreenStar, a worldwide supplier of LED light bulbs, has agreed to donate $10 to UTSA for every street light they sell in order to support our research efforts in sustainable energy. I applaud this support for UTSA, and I am grateful to Mayor Castro, Doyle Beneby, our own Les Shephard and Mauli Agrawal, and everyone involved for their work.
The Uphill Climb
We have much to be proud of, because we have been running a good race. But almost without fail, there comes a point in each race where you have to run uphill. And it takes a special push to climb that hill. We’ve made great strides, but we also have some challenges.
Student success is paramount to all of us here. We are working hard to see our graduation rates improve. One exciting note this year is that while the number of incoming freshman has remained steady — as was our goal — the number of sophomores has increased by 10 percent over last year. That means we are retaining students into their second year at higher rates. This is great news for us, but we cannot stop there. We have a number of great programs that are helping current students, and also recruiting students who have “stopped out” to return to UTSA to complete their degrees.
This year we convened a task force to explore the Freshman-Year Academic Experience, and that group has made some very bold recommendations that we are now looking at implementing. Most notably, it would essentially expand the Learning Communities model to all of our first-year students. That’s 5,000 students, and this plan would ensure that our students have a rock solid foundation to build their academic careers on.
Another initiative I am also excited about is Chancellor Cigarroa’s plan to expand online education. We know from research that online instruction, and particularly blended instruction, is an effective learning tool for college students. This semester we have about 50 hybrid courses being taught at UTSA. My understanding is that students engaged in hybrid courses love the experience. And our faculty who teach these classes tell us that their students are more engaged and motivated. So we will be exploring how to expand those efforts in line with Chancellor Cigarroa’s plan.
Another ongoing challenge for us, obviously, is funding. Losses in state funding may temporarily slow us down in our race, but they cannot stop us.
At UTSA, we are focused on pursuing external funding through a variety of sources. I am proud to share that we have exceeded our research goals for this past year as we achieved $55.6 million in research expenditures and $78 million in sponsored programs. We can build on this success as we strengthen relationships with collaborators and get more involved in our community. We all need to consider ways that we can leverage our strengths for the benefit of the university, the community and, especially, our students.
One area of particular importance is funding for faculty positions and program opportunities. We made great progress this year with the $1.5 million grant from The Welch Foundation in Houston for a chair in chemistry. We are matching that gift dollar for dollar to create a $3 million endowment, which will help us recruit an eminent scientist who will lead our efforts at the frontiers of chemistry.
We also received a very generous commitment from the Zachry Group to add to an existing professorship endowment to create a $1 million chair in mechanical engineering. These are both examples of opportunities we have secured to ensure that we can recruit and retain expert faculty who will have great impact on the university.
Another funding need, of course, is scholarships. Scholarships are important because we can reward hard work and help motivate students through the long nights of studying. They know there is someone in the community who cares.
Earlier, I mentioned the loss in $6 million in TEXAS Grants. Cuts to UTSA’s budget may slow our progress down; but cuts to student-grant funding can dramatically impact their ability to persist in higher education. It may be the difference between choosing college and not. Still, we were able to give reduced awards to more than 2,000 new and returning students, thanks to the team in Financial Aid and Business Affairs. Thank you for your efforts to help our students.
Last year I had the pleasure to announce the university’s largest gift ever, valued at more than $28 million, from Miss Mary McKinney. This fall, 36 students on our campuses were awarded McKinney Scholarships from $10,000 to $15,000 each. That money will be transformative for those students. But there are many more students who need and deserve scholarship support.
You are going to be hearing a great deal more about fundraising for scholarships, faculty endowments and other initiatives in the coming months. We are currently in what is called “the quiet phase” of a capital campaign that will be formally announced in the spring. We call it “quiet,” but this might be the worst kept secret in town!
While the details are still under wraps, I can report that we raised more than $31 million in private support during the last fiscal year — a great effort by our Advancement team. We are eager to launch this campaign so that we can fund opportunities for excellence across all our campuses.
To help build our Tier One University, I want to challenge all of us to be leaders in innovation. The run for Tier One requires us to “out-innovate” and “out-think” the others, and to come up with creative solutions to help us climb that hill. When we encounter hurdles with our business processes, or our research efforts, or in new initiatives, we need to work smarter so that the solutions we develop are the best and will set us apart from the pack.
One such example is the work by UTSA’s South Texas Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases. In three years, they have secured over $15 million in funding to conduct research in studying organisms that cause illnesses and death. Most recently they were awarded a $4.5 million grant from the Department of Defense. They are developing a vaccine for Chlamydia, a disease that has taken the lives of many individuals in developing countries. Our researchers placed us at the front of the race through their work. Most recently, they have received funding to strengthen collaborations with the University of Texas Health Science Center, Texas BioMed and the Southwest Research Institute.
We now have an impressive group of researchers — the best in the world — who specialize in the study of infectious diseases. And as this center grows, so do our efforts in health across the campus. What is amazing is that through this strong center of excellence, we are involving faculty from across the campus and developing other world-class leaders. Similar things are happening in cyber security and in energy. Thanks to our creative and innovative researchers, UTSA is now on the national map and ahead of the rest.
Making Bold Moves to Reach Tier One
Now, we know that there are challenges ahead. There are hills to climb, but we keep running the race. And I firmly believe that how we run this race is as important as when we cross that finish line.
Olympic athlete Patti Sue Plumer said, “Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it's all about.”
All of you have a role to play in this race. And I mean absolutely every person in this room, every one of you watching online, and everyone who couldn’t be here this afternoon because you are teaching, working or studying.
To the faculty — I call on you to focus on how you can be more collaborative, both internally and with partners across the globe. Your work is vital to our efforts. At the same time, become engaged in the community of scholars we have right here. Take time to visit with your students and colleagues over a Starbucks in the Sombrilla. Make it a priority to invest in the success of our students as well.
To the staff — whether you support students, faculty or another audience,—your role in our race cannot be overemphasized. I challenge you to keep looking for ways that we can be more effective and better serve our community.
To our students — you are the main reason why we are in this race to Tier One. We need you to finish your degree, but remember that you are not just here for a diploma, but for a true education. Don’t just go through the checklist of classes you need to graduate. Take a study abroad trip … Reach out to your professors … Be a leader in a student organization … Support one another by attending athletic and cultural events … and seek out the resources that are here to help you fulfill your potential.
To our alumni — we need your support now more than ever. You represent all that we are trying to achieve and you are our best advocates. You can make a huge difference by attending campus events, tailgating at an athletic game, recruiting a student to come to UTSA, and making gifts to the university every year.
And finally to our community leaders — embrace UTSA as your university. Whether you attended here or not, you have a home and a partner in UTSA. A stronger UTSA ensures that our city remains competitive globally and that our community is a place where people want to invest and do business. When you invest in a program, a student or research at UTSA, you truly are making an impact on the future of Texas.
Perhaps the boldest move we could make in the race to Tier One is to simply believe. To believe that we are going achieve this goal; to not let the hurdles stop us. We have an extraordinary opportunity to forever change the university, our city, and our state.
A stronger UTSA means economic growth for the businesses and industries in our region. A stronger UTSA means children in our state will aspire to attend college here, rather than take their talents to another state or country. And a stronger UTSA means that people from all backgrounds will have a pathway to a better quality of life.
Attitude is what ultimately affects a runner’s ability to win the race. Let’s commit this year to give our best every day so that we are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities we have now. There is little doubt that if we all continue to invest in UTSA, we will reach heights of excellence we never imagined.
This race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. We will cross the finish line by working together. And it’s time to charge ahead.