University of North Texas - Discover the Power of Ideas

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Address by UNT President Gretchen M. Bataille for UNT Fall Faculty and Staff Convocation on Sept. 12, 2006.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today at one of America’s greatest public universities. I am honored by this appointment, and I am pleased to speak to the campus community about the future of our university. I am particularly pleased to have the faculty and staff here together. Because, I think that is a symbolic moment as well.


You know, when my son was in second grade in Ames, Iowa, he answered that proverbial question from his teacher — “What did your mother do?” — by saying, “Well she teaches stories to big kids.”


Any of us who come from an English department know that’s what we do, right? We teach stories to big kids and I do love teaching stories. I wanted to begin with a story that I heard from another speaker; a story that I believe resonates for us here at UNT.


There was a woman walking along a construction site, and we certainly have plenty of those here.


She was just wondering what in the world is going up here. She stopped the first worker and asked, “What are you making?” He sort of scratched his head a little bit and said, “About $12.50 an hour.” She thought, well that’s not the answer I’m looking for.

She turned to the second worker and asked, “What are you making?” He said, “Well, I’m mixing up this concrete for the side walk. That wasn’t the answer either. She turned to the third worker and asked, “What are you making?” The third worker said, “I’m making a cathedral.”

That was the worker with vision. That was the worker who understood that whatever role he played, he was in fact building something bigger than himself. He was a contributor to something larger.


That is, of course, why many of us are here. We want to be contributors to something bigger than ourselves, because what we do here is bigger than any single one of us. Our visions must be equally expansive.


The world has had many visionaries, from Ghandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Abraham Lincoln to Mother Teresa, from Thomas Edison to Tom Friedman. What they all have in common is that they were risk takers and had ideas and hopes that they believed could be realities, for nations and for the world.


Jack Kennedy was here in Texas at Rice University in 1962 when he gave a speech about going to the moon — he said America would do this “not because it’s easy, but because it is hard.” In fact, people with imagination want to do the hard things — they want to discover, as we do at UNT, the power of ideas.


I don’t anticipate doing only the easy things or taking an easy route in the coming years — what will make a difference for the future is confronting the challenges. Such a philosophy must drive our goals, both individually and institutionally.


I realize how difficult it is to embrace change, but to make progress as an institution we can’t say that the way we’ve always done things is OK.


OK, is not good enough for a great university. I have a button that I occasionally pull out of my desk drawer. It says, “Because we’ve always done it that way,” and it has a great big red slash through it.


I look at that button occasionally to remind myself that it is easy to do things because we’ve always done them, but it’s not what we should be doing.


We must look to the future without fear, we must believe in our future, and we must have great expectations and seek to achieve them. It’s really easy to get caught up in negatives. How far behind are we in federal funding? Do we have enough resources to achieve our goals? People don’t respect our university as being good enough, or that we don’t attract the number of top-quality students. That wastes an awful lot of energy.


We need to look much more closely to see our advantages and opportunities, and it occurs to me that UNT has many!


We have an outstanding university with a grand heritage and many strengths.

Our faculty, our staff and our outstanding academic programs provide a strong base. The strategic plan that has been forged to guide our priorities reflects thoughtfulness on the part of the UNT community and the UNT System Board of Regents. As I read the plan, I reflected on the many ways it demonstrates the qualities of an excellent university. An excellent university is focused on learning — learning at every level.


An excellent university provides and produces influential research. And an excellent university extends its knowledge and discovery to the people. It sounds a lot like that old three-legged stool of teaching, research, and service, but today we must define all three in very different ways.


To accomplish these goals, we must add the importance of diversifying our funding base as well as not only responding to the increasing diversity of the United States but also by ensuring that our students and faculty have an international perspective.


As we move to fleshing out the strategic plan, adding goals, timetables and budgets, we must consider new paradigms, find ways to reallocate funds to those initiatives that will make a difference, and to expand much that has already been started at UNT. We must continue to focus on higher education for a growing number of students.


The Coordinating Board has given us goals for growth, and in responding to those goals we will have more opportunities — opportunities to partner with the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth and to work with the emerging UNT Dallas Campus as well as other with higher education institutions in the region.


We will continue to improve distance education, cooperative education and undergraduate research opportunities, and we will establish partnerships in the arts and humanities that enhance our quality of life.


We do have challenges, we cannot ignore them. We have the international challenges laid out by those such as Tom Friedman — the cost of labor is why we call India for help with our computers; the average wage in Vietnam is 25 cents a day. India can hire eight engineers for the cost of one in the U.S. Predictions are that in 10 years China will have a middle class twice as large as that of the United States. On NPR this summer there was a story about how many Super 8 Motels are opening every month in China, many more than are opening in the United States.


The business of universities is the creation of knowledge capital, and we are preparing the world’s thinkers and doers. We are awarding large numbers of Ph.D.s to foreign-born scholars who are returning to their countries to ultimately challenge the American dominance of business and industry. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2006 the U.S. Gross Domestic Product is up 3.4 percent.


This sounds pretty good until you read on and find that China’s is up 9.5 percent and India is up 7.3 percent.


While our economy continues to grow faster than that of France, Germany and Japan, we have new challengers in the world market.


We must continue to educate international students, prepare our students to do business in this new global economy, develop global partners and power up our research to feed technology transfer.


We need to educate increasing numbers of Americans in ways that are responsive to this changing environment.


There are some who say we have morphed through several changes and stages to deliver education in this country. Think about it.


Many universities began with the land-grant legislation that responded to the agricultural needs of this country. Soon thereafter the industrial needs were addressed by higher education.


Most of us were around when the technology age came at us like a fast-moving storm — computers, cell phones and now iPods, Palms and Blackberries.


Some days it’s overwhelming just to keep up with what’s being produced, but many of these industries are now going off-shore.


Now, we might think of the current age as the creative or design age. Richard Florida has written about creative communities; our campuses must find ways to develop the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our students.


This may be the greatest internal challenge we face — to rethink what we do and how we do it.

We need to approach our work more collaboratively and to promote more interdisciplinary research. Approaches to problem solving just aren’t as linear as they used to be.


Well, how will UNT respond?


At all levels we need to rethink what we do. We need to be more efficient to address decreasing state funding.


We need to examine our policies and practices to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible and that we act in accordance not just with laws but with our own ethical code of conduct.


We need to review what we teach and why. Whose needs are we meeting if we continue to teach the same material even as businesses and industry are changing?


We need to ensure that every K-12 school in Texas has qualified teachers teaching in their subject area, and we need to assure families that their students will be prepared for success in college and can afford to attend.


Well, how do we go about change?


I have laid out a plan for myself that parallels the strategic goals and contains the components to move toward the achievement of our strategic plan.


We must review our current practices. We must set benchmarks for how we will measure ourselves. We must set goals for improvement that will guide change and help us to achieve those benchmarks.


I have re-engaged Stephen Portch — some of you remember Stephen; he was here working in the board earlier and is a former president of the University of Georgia.

He will lead a review to determine our readiness to achieve the strategic goals in five specific areas: academic affairs, research, information technology, student development and advancement.


In each area we will bring in peer practitioners to review what we are doing and compare our policies and practices to other major universities. This process will take place during the fall semester, engaging both faculty and staff in the process and including students in the conversations.


During the same time we will be searching for a vice president for research.

All these things are converging.


I am pleased that Art Goven has agreed to serve as interim vice president for research until the search process has been completed. Art will report to me as one of the vice presidents and this will stress the importance of the research mission to UNT.


Concurrent with this, we are working with Dennis Jones who is the President of NCHEMS — NCHEMS is the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems — and Dennis is the national expert on the identification of peers and aspirational peers for higher education. We will use the data from our peers to set benchmarks for student retention and graduation, for faculty and administrative salaries, for federal research goals and for fundraising.


Well, that’s an ambitious project.


But, what is our environment here? What is the context for change at UNT and in Texas?

Change and the need for change in higher education are apparent in several ways. As you know, public education is no longer financed the way it once was.


I don’t know if any of you know how dramatic those changes have been. In 1970, higher education in Texas received 55.77 percent of the annual state appropriations. In 2005, that percentage of state appropriations had dropped to 16.15 percent. That is a significant change over a 35-year period, and every public university has had to find other ways to meet its financial requirements.


Increasingly, public institutions must reconsider the roles of state funding, tuition, grants and gifts in the support of higher education. At the same time, new demands are being put on universities to respond to economic development issues, to be accountable according to new definitions created by the state and federal governments, and to provide increasingly more services to students and the public.


We see those changes played out in higher tuition. It is very clear to students and their families that as state support has declined, families have had to step in to support education.


UNT has been responsive to this reality by increasing need-based aid and merit scholarships, ensuring that nearly 90 percent of student need-based aid is addressed.

But we still have students graduating with an average of more than $15,000 worth of debt, mostly because of loans and in addition to that, we are learning that students are amassing very large credit card debt.  This is not good for their future or for ours.


Well, there is some good news. The FBI reported this morning that most states are experiencing increased revenues — this should not, however, make us think that it is all rosy. Even those states with surpluses may not find it important to support education or higher education. Competition for state resources remains high — the demands from social services, prisons and infrastructure needs continue to increase.


In our communities, families and students wonder if higher education will be accessible to them, and on campuses this situation results in anxiety among students about financing an increasingly more expensive education.


At the same time, those of us in this room — faculty, staff and administrators are concerned about losing the quality and competitiveness that once was the hallmark of the nation’s best public universities. The gap between faculty salaries at public and private universities is widening and the competition among universities is growing.


As the financial pressures increase, UNT must remain competitive with other universities for the very best faculty and staff, making salary enhancement a critical need.


For this reason, we have determined that we will reallocate funds to provide a pool of salary dollars that will be used for merit increases for faculty that will average 5 percent. A total of 4 percent will be allocated for staff increases. These salary adjustments will take effect in January.


I have charged the vice presidents, who will in turn charge the dean and the supervisors to take very seriously the importance of merit, as we look at the salary increases to build a stronger university.


At the graduate level, we must be competitive with scholarships and fellowships that attract the best graduate students. To support students and faculty, we need more endowed chairs and endowed academic programs as well as the resources to maintain equipment and ensure we have the transformative technology so critical in today’s environment.


The shifting demographics in the nation and in Texas require more attention to addressing the achievement gap between white students and minority students in our schools. We need to look at expanding bilingual education and ESL.


The events of September 11 that were acknowledged and recognized yesterday, and the war in Iraq have intensified both national fears and the need to address them. The imperative for all of our students to have international experiences has strengthened at the very time such experiences have become more suspect in the minds of many.


We are also experiencing shortages of teachers, particularly in STEM disciplines, and increasing needs for more healthcare workers to serve our communities. There are huge challenges out there.


Our disciplines are changing more quickly than some of us can fathom.

Industry wants students prepared in biotechnology, bioprocessing and bioinformatics.

Optoelectronics and genomics were not even in the textbooks many of us used in college.
We must re-educate ourselves about the changing environment into which our students are graduating. The United States is falling behind other countries in preparing students in STEM disciplines, making it imperative that education, sciences, and engineering respond to this need.


Technology has changed the way we do everything. Students are learning differently, and we are teaching differently. We are even communicating with our constituencies in real time through email and instant messaging. Technology can make our campuses operate more efficiently, but it must be our means to an end, a way to do what we do better.


How do these changes impact what we should be doing at UNT? Well, like it or not, we must become more entrepreneurial, more collaborative and more daring.


Universities must explore ways to partner with the state as well as with industry. In doing so, universities can make the case that producing well-prepared students is critical to the economic future of the State and nation. Universities must become collaborative with each other as well.

These expanded collaborations in research, public service, and outreach can meet the State’s needs as well as garner federal research dollars because of the unique resources each campus can contribute to an initiative.


I have been told that the Chinese character for crisis is the same as that for opportunity. This also describes the state of public higher education today.


We have increasing uncertainty about funding from state resources, declining federal support for some areas of basic research, demands for accountability for learning outcomes, a more diverse student body than at any other time in history, attacks on equal opportunities, and a rapidly changing technological environment. That sounds sort of dismal, doesn’t it?


But these challenges provide marvelous opportunities. The role of a leader in higher education, the role of each of you in this room, is to be a change maker and risk taker.

We must take advantage of opportunities, be creative and inventive, and always make the best use of the human resources on our campuses, in our communities and in our State.

UNT has defined itself as a student-centered public research university. It is a definition that sets our trajectory.


The programs to use technology to enhance teaching and learning, the establishment of research centers and new graduate and professional programs, the development of undergraduate research opportunities, and collaborations with the surrounding communities must all be in the spirit of expanding the definition of higher education and demonstrating its value to a more prosperous future —not just in higher lifetime earnings for our students but in creating a better world in which to live.


There is a proverb — I love stories, as you can tell — that says when planning a year ahead, plant grain; when planning 10 years ahead, plant trees, but when you’re planning 50 years into the future, educate the people.


The health of a society — indeed, the health of this country — is dependent on educated citizens. Healthy societies are optimistic about the future and they are willing to invest in it. Universities have the tools to make this happen, and the benefits are long lasting.


In a democracy, education is the vehicle for individual growth and community progress. What I have seen so far at the University of North Texas convinces me that the students, faculty, staff and community are enthusiastic about investing in that future. It is that investment that will determine the future of higher education and that will ensure a bright future for UNT.

It will take the participation of each of us to help this university achieve its strategic goals. It is important that we exchange ideas and work together.


I plan to do some careful listening along the way, to seek ideas, to provide feedback and to make decisions. I suspect that at times you might not like my decisions, but you will always know the basis for those decisions.


I look forward to getting to know you all as we work collaboratively to make the University of North Texas all that it can be, and all that it must be.

Read other stories in this issue:
September 2006

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The UNT Insider a monthly e-newsletter, connects UNT alumni and others to the university by letting you hear directly from President Gretchen M. Bataille.

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