Illuminating the Legacy
Gretchen M. Bataille, University of North Texas
"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."
Thank you, Regent Strange. I am simply overwhelmed by the commitment to UNT that is represented by the presence of so many of you here today.
In two days, I will have served as UNT's president for eight months, and during that time, I've had the opportunity to engage with students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends of UNT in ways I never imagined when Chancellor Lee Jackson first called and asked me to visit the campus. I have learned much about the rich history of Denton, a city that this year is celebrating its sesquicentennial, and I have experienced both the Texas humidity and the spring bounty of blue bonnets.
I expect that many of you know me better now than on that hot day in August when I was introduced to the campus community. Others may still be wondering what the future holds for UNT with a new president.
Well, today, it is very clear to me that we have embraced "Discover the power of ideas" as both a motto and a mantra. This slogan will serve as our guiding light as we renew our commitment to making a difference for our students, for our communities and for ourselves.
I want to begin by thanking my family and my friends — those who you've met, who are here with me today, all of whom I love deeply, those who could not be here, and those who have gone on.
Three of my four grandparents were immigrants who established deep roots in America and who believed in the American Dream. Neither my grandparents nor my parents went to college but they knew the value of hard work, and they ensured a better life for their children than they themselves had.
Whether you are or were a first generation college student like myself or one in a long line of college graduates, each of you at UNT is here because of someone else — a parent, a teacher, a friend — someone who believed in you, someone who expected you to succeed.
UNT is made up of talented, committed faculty and staff members who expect success for and from each of our students, as well as from themselves and for our university.
I am especially grateful for the leadership of Vice President Deborah Leliaert and Regent Gayle Strange for their commitment to the success of the inaugural activities. They led a huge team of folks whose hard work contributed so much to this inauguration. To all of you, I offer my personal appreciation.
Today is a time to celebrate our great institution; I am proud to be the leader for this time, but I recognize I am only temporary. I will add my ideas and my contributions to those who came before me. There have been great leaders such as Joshua C. Chilton, who was present at the creation of the Normal School in 1890, J. C. Mathews who was president in 1961 when the name was changed for the fifth time, Dr. Al Hurley who served this institution as president for more than twenty years, and Dr. Norval Pohl who expanded UNT to include a Research Park and a College of Engineering. Each of these men had a vision for UNT that moved the university forward; I hope to do the same.
We all know that there is a "time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven." Today, we are in a season of competition, as well as a time of great need for education to make a difference — in our nation and in our world. Education in America is under siege from many directions and those of us who are committed to ensuring that the American tradition of quality education continues must take stock and we must prepare to change as necessary.
As I traveled to various cities to meet with alumni during the past several months, I reminded our alumni and supporters that this nation is competing in a world market that values creativity, that rewards hard work and that expects excellence.
We at the University of North Texas must do no less as we continue to serve our students and community today and in the future.
A critic of education once stated, "Books will be obsolete in the schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed in ten years." That speaker was Thomas Edison, and the year was 1913. His assessment reminds us that education has always been changing, and the best of us change with it.
We are all familiar with Thomas Friedman's admonition that the "world is flat," but he says more than that in that book. He tells us that inflexible institutions collapse with frightening speed while rugged and adaptable institutions survive beyond the changes around them.
Higher education simply cannot continue to keep doing things "the way we always have done them." We must find new ways to successfully fulfill our obligations to "deliver on America's promise."
We must be about change, not for change's sake but to make a difference that illuminates our future, that helps us see our way to a new world that values excellence, that rewards persistence and that engages the human spirit.
I am so honored that the children in our Child Development Laboratory participated in this morning's procession. Our laboratory serves as a training site for UNT students in the fields of early childhood education, child development and play therapy while offering a high quality preschool program to children in our community. These children, and the millions of schoolchildren throughout Texas and the nation are precisely whom we must keep in mind as we plan the future direction of this university.
In Texas, only 13 of 100 ninth graders will receive a college degree six years after high school, yet corporate leaders tell us that 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in our country require some college education. The United States is behind seven countries in the percent of young adults (aged 25-34) who have a college degree. These realities are unacceptable.
Public universities, which are the guardians and providers of accessible and affordable higher education and are thus the guarantors of a community's prosperous future, must do more to reach out and ensure that everyone who wants a higher education has the opportunity to earn one.
We must all work together to ensure success. Sister Kathleen Ross, president of Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington, has expressed the attitude we must adopt. She says she is not worried about competition from other colleges and universities for the Hispanic and Native American students who are the majority at that college. She says she only worries that some of Heritage University's potential students may make the decision not to attend college at all.
During this past year, many institutions across the state and the nation have announced plans to ensure more affordable options for higher education. Many of the plans put forth include guarantees for financial relief. UNT will do no less, but we must do more. We must offer a scholarship program with guarantees for success in addition to financial support.
Today I am announcing UNT's Emerald Eagle Scholars program, a student success program that embraces the principles of hard work, creativity and excellence — a program that will give talented undergraduates who also have financial need the best chance at success.
To help students afford their education, Emerald Eagle Scholars will be assured that tuition and fees will not get in the way of their attainment of a bachelor's degree. Beginning in the fall of 2007, UNT freshmen with an adjusted family income below $40,000 are eligible to become Emerald Eagles and will receive paid tuition and fees for four years.
But what more are we doing?
To help ensure success, the Emerald Eagle Scholars program will engage these students in the richness of university life. The students will commit to a partnership with us that leads to their success. Emerald Eagle Scholars will participate in campus events, mentoring and other student support programs.
Emerald Eagle Scholars also will benefit by being connected through working or service learning with departments committed to supporting these students.
The funds that have been raised through the inaugural activities will establish an initial endowment of more than a quarter of a million dollars to support the Emerald Eagle Scholars program. This endowment will continue to grow. And we are committing resources from existing campus funds to guarantee the Emerald Eagle Scholar program launches this fall.
But there is more good news. I am thrilled to announce another new scholarship endowment aimed at helping students.
The generosity of many supporters of Happy Hill Farm Academy has created a $100,000 endowment to support the Dr. Phil and Robin McGraw Scholarship Fund to benefit Happy Hill Farm graduates who will attend UNT.
Now you all know Dr. Phil. He is a successful UNT alumnus and he is also a dedicated supporter of Happy Hill Farm. Located just south of Granbury, Happy Hill Farm serves as a licensed residential treatment facility and private academy for at-risk students, many of whom have come from broken homes or have been victims of abuse and neglect. These students also will be eligible for Emerald Eagle Scholarships.
It is my hope that both of these endowments will continue to grow and will provide long-term affordable access to higher education for the many talented students who have financial need.
Booker T. Washington said, "If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." Since 1890, our university has been dedicated to lifting up others. Today, we are rekindling our commitment to grow the university's legacy of excellence in education.
As a student-centered university, UNT is dedicated to personal growth and learning. As we fulfill our promise to discover the power of ideas, we will continue to break new ground, to push the boundaries of research to create new knowledge and to offer programs that have never before existed at any institution of higher education.
Well, why do I say that?
Being the first — and often the best — is not new for UNT. It is, in fact, our very heritage. When we opened, we were one of the state's first colleges for teachers. And we consistently remain one of the state's top producers of high quality teachers every year.
Most of you likely know we were the first university in the nation to teach jazz — that maverick art form that many universities felt unsuitable for the hallowed halls of academe. But we did it, and nearly sixty years later, we're still the best at it. Today you have been experiencing the great legacy of our College of Music.
In 1983, we launched the nation's first program in emergency management, and our graduates in this field remain among the most sought after today.
Next fall, our College of Engineering will begin offering the nation's first degrees in mechanical and energy engineering. This groundbreaking program will focus students on the production of energy, which is a critical need in our nation as we seek alternatives to fossil fuels.
But being the first isn't the only way to be among the best. Clearly, many of our academic programs are recognized around the nation for the quality of the curriculum and the knowledge of their graduates.
Our Strategic Plan, which I will use as a way to light the path to the future, is grounded in three themes — collaboration, diversity and internationalization. These themes must infuse everything we do in research, in creative activities within the arts, in teaching, in outreach to our various communities, in providing access to an increasingly diverse student body, and in ensuring success for all of our students.
Successful students depend upon quality professors. The faculty of a university is its greatest asset, and it is essential that we provide the support necessary to recruit and retain top quality faculty.
This past year, we did a peer study to determine UNT's national peer group. We are now engaged in a comparative review of faculty salaries based on rank and discipline. What I am learning will come as no surprise to the faculty who have been the stewards of quality education for so long at UNT.
On average, our faculty is paid 93 percent of the average of our peers. I am committed to working toward achieving parity with our peer institutions as funds become available to address faculty salaries.
Since 2000, the number of full-time equivalent faculty has increased by 3.36 percent but the total credit hours taught have increased by 18.45 percent. Working with the Interim Provost and the deans, we will begin recruiting faculty to restore the 17:1 student-faculty ratio UNT had in 2000.
We can't achieve these goals without support, though.
I am grateful that Governor Perry and our representatives in Austin are committed to investing in the state's future by making higher education a priority during this legislative session.
State support for higher education has declined precipitously over the past several years. A recent national study (SHEEO) shows that in Texas the five-year change in full-time students is up 23 percent, but during that same time period, the state appropriations per student are down 2.8 percent. And, in spite of our concerns about increasing tuition, in constant dollars, tuition revenue actually is down 10.2 percent.
We must continue to remind those who care about building a better future that investing in higher education guarantees a brighter tomorrow.
I am committed to building support for UNT, and I thank each of our many generous alumni and friends who have worked with us to preserve, to illuminate and to ignite our mission. The scholarships, endowments to support faculty and programs, and gifts to expand the campus infrastructure are critical to UNT's success. So too is ongoing support from the state and the federal government. They are critical to our future.
It remains the social obligation of universities, particularly public universities, to teach the next generation and conduct research that will make a difference in the future. At UNT, we remain committed to meeting that obligation with excellence at every turn.
To do so, we must meet the realities of modern education. Our students today do not know of a time when they were not "connected" -- connected in some way to music, to text messaging, to their friends and to their families, always using electronic means.
Similarly, twenty-first century universities must be connected, and partnerships are required for both universities and industry to meet the needs created by information overload, expanded business operations and rapid change.
We must collaborate within and across our departmental and college boundaries. We must re-think how we define ourselves. We must eliminate our silos. We will harness all of our creative energies to provide the best opportunities for the future, and we will remain committed to responding to the changing needs of our communities.
We currently offer several programs that reach across disciplines to provide our students with an integrated knowledge base. We will continue to build more of these interdisciplinary partnerships.
Similarly, our partnerships with the community colleges in Collin, Dallas, Tarrant, Hill, Johnson and other Texas counties, as well as other universities across the state, are key to expanding educational opportunities for Texas students.
Our dedication to distance learning opens our classrooms to the entire world. As the largest provider of distance education courses in Texas, UNT is committed to virtual laboratories, digital libraries, blended courses and technologies that allow us to teach without boundaries -- to provide higher education to those who seek it wherever they are.
Our current teaching partnerships take us into virtual space, but they also take us to Istanbul, to Toluca, to Hong Kong and to Bangkok. We are finding ways to respond to international communities in meaningful ways outside of our classrooms and laboratories as well. Only two weeks ago, I was so pleased to announce that UNT is the nation's first university to partner with The Chiapas Project in its fight to help eradicate poverty by recycling cell phones and ink cartridges.
Just as we are obligated to create partnerships that transform and add value to a UNT education, we are obligated to develop a global awareness in our students and prepare them for a truly international world. It is appropriate that this week we are celebrating world cultures on campus.
There are more than 2,000 students from 117 countries studying at UNT this year. Yet, we send only 500 UNT students to study abroad each year. The world we work and live in increasingly demands a global perspective and understanding. We must do better if Texas and America are to remain competitive.
As we commit to meet the needs of the global world, we must renew our commitment to the diversity that is the hallmark of this country.
Diversity is not incompatible with high standards of performance. Indeed, a quality educational environment is one that in every way is diverse. We are preparing students for the next century, and it is a world that will not look like the world of the past.
The persistent issues of race, gender, class, sexuality and the presence of students and faculty with disabilities require that we affirm the distinctiveness of each of our communities without creating a climate of divisiveness. We must create an environment of inclusiveness and relevancy while maintaining what we believe is the common core of education.
Martin Luther King, Jr. has been called "the conscience of his generation." King's dream "that one day my four children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but on the content of their character" is a dream all of us share for all of our children.
This dream represents the nobility of the continuing human struggle for personal and collective fulfillment. It is a dream that recognizes humanity and the human spirit. It is in the spirit of this dream that we must work together to provide a better future.
UNT is a thriving, global institution. Our future is alight with promise. We must all do our best to fulfill this promise.
We must ensure that UNT remains committed to responsibly providing accessible, affordable quality education for today, and for all of our tomorrows.
The prophet Isaiah (40:31) said:
"Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
As UNT eagles -- we will soar. We will continue to run and we must not be weary; we will continue to make a difference for our students and for our world. I invite all of you to join me in lighting that way to the future.