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April 2011, Issue 7

Message from the Vice President

Dr. Gage E. Paine

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” It’s hard to tell where this quote originated and there are various explanations available both philosophical and physics-related. For today’s purposes, I’m using it to refer to the fact that when you crack open a vacuum-sealed container, something rushes in to fill the available space. That something could be air or water or sand or any number of substances depending on what is surrounding the container.

I thought of that quote this week as I listened to people try to fill an information vacuum with words, ideas, speculation and, sometimes, misinformation. As we all know, the information vacuum we’re all facing right now involves the state and university budgets. The hard reality is that we don’t know what the end result will be and because of the nature of the political process, many, many ideas are being discussed, floated, tossed around, considered, proposed, run up the flagpole, thrown on the table, etc. Some of them have no likelihood of success. Some may pass the legislature. Some will be modified slightly; others will change beyond recognition. No one knows what will eventually become law or what the final details will be. It’s a hard place to be – this place of uncertainty. It makes it difficult to plan and it does create anxiety about the future. Uncertainty is an uncomfortable place to live. Our human nature abhors uncertainty. So we rush to fill it with speculation, which becomes rumor, which becomes misinformation, making uncertainty worse.

However, one of the mantras I grew up with and that I try to live by is relevant here. I may not have a choice about what happens, but I always have a choice in the way I respond!

I wish I could know the future, but of course I can’t. But here’s what I do know:

• UTSA will be here this Fall, new and returning students will be here, and programs, classes and services will be available for them.
• UTSA is still committed to finding a way through the paradox of access and excellence on our way to Tier-One status. It may take us a little longer to get there, but it was never a short-term goal anyway.
• As President Romo said in his email, our priorities are clear and I trust that all of us will work to make any budget decisions within those guidelines – as we already do.
• Student Affairs staff members are committed to the educational mission of UTSA and to the support of our students. We will maintain our commitment even if the decisions we make are difficult.

Here’s what I chose to do in the face of our uncertainty:
• I choose to strive to do my best work for UTSA students, staff and faculty every day.
• I choose to share information when I know it’s valid and to refrain from imagining the worst.
• I choose to work with others to make sure what we do is as efficient and cost-effective as possible without sacrificing the intangibles that make our work so important and so hard to explain.
• I chose to keep explaining what we do.

Nature abhors a vacuum – one explanation for this statement is that vacuums are unnatural. In this information age, it may be that a lack of information seems unnatural. None of us can ever predict the future; therefore, uncertainty is actually quite normal, so here are some intriguing quotes about “uncertainty” to consider:

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” ~ Erich Fromm

“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” ~ R. I. Fitzhenry

“Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.” ~ Jacob Bronowski

“Sometimes I think that a vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff that nature replaces it with.” ~ Tennessee Williams

What do you choose to do in this vacuum of uncertainty?

Best wishes,