Sept. 7, 2011
Fall 2011 Convocation
1. Another amazing graduating class
2. Success in hiring distinguished faculty
2a. Success in budget management, revenue enhancement and reallocation
2b. Success in fundraising
2c. Increase in research awards despite declining earmarks and funding
2d. Increased focus on offering the best undergraduate education in Texas
3. New and improved facilities
4. Biggest freshman class — even better, even brighter
5. Shared decision making through President's Councils
5a. New Division of University and Community Affairs
6. Visibility and success in the arts
7. Growth and success in teacher education
8. Innovation and energy in student support services
9. Top green school
10. Strengthening our international emphasis
Well, good morning everyone.
About 16 months ago, I was driving through Denton and I stopped to stay for a few months. (Audience laughs) And I fell in love, and you know it's hard to leave your love. And I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have made these 16 months of my life so special for me.
I was visiting a friend who was retiring in Washington just a few weeks ago. One of my former colleagues there came up to me and said, "You know, I understand you've been really good for the University of North Texas." And I said, "I don't know anything about that. What I do know is that the University of North Texas has been really good for me." So thank you very much. (Audience claps)
I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about. On the assumption that a picture really is worth a thousand words, before we get through with this, you'll have a library of stuff.
I wanted to talk about what we are trying to do here. We have set some enormously ambitious goals and objectives for the University of North Texas. The most important question — and I was asked this question not long ago by one of our regents when I was explaining what it is we want to do — he asked a very interesting question, "Why? Why do you want to do that?" Why do we want to raise ourselves above where we are now? That's an interesting question. It's a question that I can only answer for myself, so I will. I want to pause for just a minute and talk about that question.
I was raised down on a farm in eastern Idaho. I think the only people I knew who had a college education were my school teachers and our doctor. In fact they were probably the only people in the whole region who had a college education.
My father had been forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade at age 15 — they didn't start the same way we did, this is back in a different era — because my grandfather was sick and he had to quit and run the farm. Looking back on it, I don't really understand why my father decided when I was born — that was a long time ago — that his son had to go to college. So that's all I heard growing up, "You need to go to college." I wasn't sure I knew why I wanted to go to college. And when I started college at age 17, it took me a little while to figure it out. If you were to read my transcript — which I will not let any of you do — you would find a very interesting freshman year (Audience laughs).
But at one point, something happened. I'm reminded of the words of William Butler Yeats when he said, "Education is not the filling of a pail. It's the lighting of a fire." It lit my fire. So far it hasn't gone out.
I had the opportunity, along with many of the rest of you to help our freshmen move in this year. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but I know there were a ton of people there helping these kids. I come in after the boxes are all carried — that's the way I do it (Audience laughs) — and I sat around and talked with the freshmen and their parents. And so as I talked to these parents and they say, "My daughter wants to go into broadcasting," and their eyes are shining. And they're going to begin a career here. And the kid is beaming. And they want to do engineering, and they want to do this and they want to do that. Or some graduate student I talked to came here to get a doctorate degree.
I felt so joyful about it. But I also felt a tremendous weight of responsibility. The hopes and dreams of America are tied up in what we do at universities. It is very important — it's very important to me — and I think it's probably very important to you as well. I say to those who come into higher education in the first place, "If you came into this for the money, you probably made a big mistake." But if you came into it for a great life — it's a life that can be fulfilling as you see those lights go on, as you see those fires lit and as you follow the young men and women who change the world. There is so much need for what we do, and we are so far behind.
That's why our goals have to be so ambitious. For everything we are doing, there is 10 times as much that needs to be done. For as well as we do it, doing it better would make even more of a difference.
Reaching our goals
And so we move forward and ask this question, "Can we really do this? If you think about what we've set for ourselves, can we really do it?" It will not just fall off the tree. We will have to climb to the top of a very high tree and pick it, but yes we can do it.
I say that out of experience, having watched it done at places that I think have much less potential and much less opportunity and much less foundation than the University of North Texas. We will decide whether it can be done or not. We need all kind of support. We need support from Austin. We need support from our Board of Regents. We need support from our donors. But the real future of the University of North Texas will be decided by the people in this room. And if we are determined to do it, that which we are determined to do can be done.
How will we attain these goals? It takes good planning. It takes a strategy to increase our resources and support. We will have to do that, which by the way also leads to higher salaries for all of you so that's another good reason to support this thing (Audience laughs). And we have to make correct decisions every day. We have to be disciplined in what we do. This is not a time to just be ad hoc, do this, do that.
We need to be disciplined about what we do and we need to be lucky. Now, one of the things that you're fortunate in is that you have the luckiest president in the whole world (Audience laughs). I've been married to the same woman for 51 years and we still love each other. Isn't that great? (Audience claps). Well, I may have spoken too soon. I still love her — we'll put it that way (Audience laughs).
It's also true that sometimes we make our own luck.
Let's be more specific then, about what we do. Let's make the main thing, the main thing in all that we do. This is going to require some disciplined decision making. Not all of you are going to agree with each one of the decisions. But this year, more than ever, we will be taking the steps to marshal our resources in exactly those directions that we think will lead us to where we want to go.
Goal 1: Best undergraduate institution in Texas
Where are we trying to go? We really do want to be the best undergraduate institution in the state of Texas. Now is that possible? We talked about that at a retreat this spring. And I said, "I'll tell you what we are not going to do, we are not going to be able to do it by outspending all of the competition." Because some of them are spending a lot more money than we have.
But who's more dedicated to it? I've read through — by the way — most of the strategic plans of the institutions of the state of Texas, not in great detail because they are really boring (Audience laughs). But trying to just pick out the goals at the top, there are not many of them that are saying this. They are not saying we want to be the best undergraduate institution in the state of Texas.
This will take a lot. Is it too much? Well, I wouldn't want to sit there with those parents of the students I talked to and say, "You know what, we've decided that best is too much for us, so we're just going to do pretty good." Watch then leave, right?
Why would we want to do it? All kinds of reasons. All the reasons that are individual to you but collective to us because we're in this together.
And do we have enough resources? The answer is no. And part of the plan has to be to gather more resources, both from the state and from private entities, and to use those resources better.
How long will it take? It will never be finished. We will never be as good as we can be. The goal is not just to reach some measure. We will reach all of those measures within the next decade.
Goal 2: Leading university in faculty research and scholarship
Secondly, we need to be a leading university in faculty research and scholarship. The truth of the matter is, that's the central piece of what a university is. The rest of us are here to make sure the faculty can do their jobs. And if they aren't good, you're not going to have a good university. Without this, having the best undergraduate institution in the state of Texas is not even something to be dreamed about, not even to be thought about. So this is an absolute criterion.
Goal 3: Focus on excellence and good management of resources
Third, we want to focus on excellence and good management of resources. This is an interesting kind of goal and it's interesting to have it here. I think we already have a leg up on most people. I think we treat our constituents with respect. But it's hard to do that sometimes. When you're in financial aid and you've been asked the same exact question 700 times in the last two days, it's hard to be fresh with it and to make sure that that student is followed until the question is answered. It's hard when you're in benefits in Human Resources and the same faculty member has come back 13 times to try to figure out health insurance. This guy probably has published 18 papers in the last year, but he can't read his health insurance policy. We don't know why that is, but you have to be patient with people. (Audience laughs)
We also have to think of some ways that we can save some money. But the primary objective here with the good management of resources is to serve our constituents in an effective way, all of our constituents. Maximizing the use of our resources and directing them to their best use. And be the place that does it right.
Goal 4: Engage the community by using our resources to strengthen the region and the state
We want to take over North Texas. I say this sometimes because I have a farm background: For the last 100 years or so, we've been bringing the goats to the hay, but now it's time to take the hay to the goats. Not that anyone out there is a goat. We do have some longhorns. But I don't know about any goats. (Audience laughs)
It is time for us to engage this fabulous community. It is time for us to share these wonderful resources. And we have a number of you who are taking the lead and I take my hat off to you.
Increase our delivery of our important resources for building our region and seek greater financial and political support. We have to do that.
Four interlocking goals
All of these things are related. All of these things are tied together. These are not four objectives. This is what it takes to be a major, world-class university — to do all of these things and to do them well. If you try to separate out one, you lose. You can't do this without broad-based political support. You can't do it without reaching out to your community. You can't do it without great faculty. You can't do it without a commitment to teaching. All of these things are part of the same thing.
It's our intent to become the major educational force in this region.
Now that's a little bit about what we are going to do this year. We're going to be very focused on these four objectives. In the next week or so, the cabinet will get together and we'll try to refine a document that we will spread across the campus over the year to explain some of the challenges and the ways that we have to approach it.
Top accomplishments of the past year
But we are doing well in so many years. And so I've asked the community to submit nominations for our Top 10 accomplishments for the year. And I cheat a little bit, as you'll see. When you get so many wonderful nominations, just picking out 10 is kind of hard to do. So some of these are collectivized, and actually there are more than 10 (Audience laughs). But when you're my age, you just ask for forgiveness.