Faculty and Administrative Staff Assembly
State of the University Address
August 24, 2007
Good morning everyone, new and returning faculty, new and returning administrators, to the opening of year 2007-2008. Some years ago, Edward Said published a brilliant collection of essays which he called Beginnings: Intention and Method. Although I have known of this work for some time, it was only this summer that I opened the book and began to read. With Said’s dazzling flights of imagination and insight, Beginnings probes the ideas which lie behind our experience this morning. How do we think about what we are doing here? We should perhaps first recognize how very privileged is our lot. A life in education offers those of us fortunate enough to pursue it a chance, once every twelve months, to put aside what has been and to embark upon a new course of action. In this beginning moment, between the new and the old, between what we have done and what we would like to do, lies a tension and mystery central to all human life. How past is the past as we remember it? How possible is the future as we would wish it?
In Beginnings, Said refines this opposition. Beginnings are chosen, he tells us; origins are not. We can conceive of this dichotomy as what is already in place (our origin) and what we imagine possible (a beginning). The idea is not a new one. Said cites Varro’s distinction, in his De lingua latina, between analogists, those who conform their behavior to what is, to what they see, and anomalists, those who behave according to their own volition. In describing the polarity between our volition and our circumstance, Said employs language with an unforgettable edge: inventiveness, or voluntary initiative, and molestation, or systematic, involuntary behavior imposed by our origin.
It is this last opposing pair, inventiveness—molestation, that I think may capture some of what many of you could quite rightly feel in reflecting upon the last several years. We have been given enormous resources, before we even designed the programs or recruited the students. We have received a campus as beautiful as any in the state. In the 2005 legislative session, the granting of our tuition revenue bond was an almost miraculous occurrence, unmatched in that session. That TRB is now our new kinesiology building about to open. And yet, in a society demanding accountability and transparency, and a state demanding efficiency and fiscal restraint, our task has been to mediate between the heady charge to create a new institution (inventiveness) and the requirement first that we do so very quickly, and then later that we adjust to new and inflexible expectations (molestation). These opposing forces have made for a bumpy, yet exhilarating ride, since we are often asked to jump from one to the other, from opening to consolidating, from dreaming to sustaining, with little warning and a schedule not our own.
Let me remind you of a few of the external expectations we have recently begun to incorporate into our procedures and practices. Said would call them “molestations” because they do not arise from our volition: (1) an expanded outreach to the community and to schools to ensure steady and significant enrollment growth; (2) an expanded participation in the Pre-K-16 initiatives for productive partnerships with high schools; (3) the SACS process and QEP which at once created new practices, expanded existing practices, and eliminated familiar ones; (4) a revision in summer school salary computation; (5) moves, moves, and more moves as the campus continues to expand; (6) expanded use of Friday and Saturday for classes; (7) expanded use of technology to deliver the academic program; (8) expanded use of online courses; (9) a record of significant success in patronizing Historically Underutilized Businesses as we purchase for the University; (10) a revision of post-tenure review policy; (11) a revision in the way we schedule classes and determine class size; (12) a revision to the way we determine release time for research; (13) a revised plan for programmatic review which includes calculations of income and costs for every academic offering; (14) an expanded program of sponsored research. You may have noticed that “expand” and “revise” emerge as the dominate words, all compressed in the space of a very few years. Hardly a recipe for slow, tranquil living.
But what about the outcomes? Has all this activity, undertaken by all employees of TAMIU, produced the desired results?
Much more has happened and is happening than this list conveys. In Killam Library we opened a Regional Archive and have begun to receive significant gifts of documents, papers, and photographs to support teaching and research in the social sciences. Also in the library we inaugurated the Willard F. and Edmund L. King Romance Seminar Room in recognition of the Kings’ gift of their personal library to TAMIU. We hosted our first collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute, the beginning of many more collaborations to harness national resources in the service of our teaching in the arts. We became the custodians of Casa Ortiz, a center downtown both for cultural events and economic outreach. Several days ago we inaugurated at Casa Ortiz, together with UTSA, a Small Business Development Center as part of the Texas Center in the College of Business. We are now well into the Program of Requirements for both the new Student Success Center, a $25,000,000 building, and the finish of the theatre in the fine and performing arts building. International programs have grown, with several new and exciting partnerships secured in China and Egypt. We finished our first year as probationary members of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, Division II. Finally, and of most interest, I suspect, for this group, we have steadily increased the numbers of full-time faculty each year, moving from 151 in the fall of 2002 to 180 in the fall of 2006.
The largest single new initiative, one that will transform our University, has been the creation of the First Year Experience and with it the learning communities and special class for all entering freshmen. Begun as a pilot program in 2006, it reaches full development this fall. Many other universities have preceded us in establishing this sort of program, so we are not on uncertain ground. Nevertheless, to design and lay out an opportunity of this size for so large a group has been a staggering task. I am delighted to be one of the teachers in this freshman course, and we should expect our enrollment, retention, and graduation rates to show meaningful improvement.
While all the aforementioned programs are of vast scope and will continue, the Chancellor has asked that we signal “three to five” initiatives of wide importance to the entire campus, connected to student learning. These initiatives form what is called the Campus Compact, their development to be followed especially closely by the Chancellor’s Office. After much discussion with Dr. Jones and the deans, we decided to flag for him the First Year Success Program, International Programs, and our new emphasis on sponsored research.
And now, what about our funding? The legislative session, which embargoed a significant portion of my time from January through May, finished with the expected mix of good and disappointing news. In the end, TAMIU faired very, very well. Our overall appropriation from the State this year increased by 13.9%, adding more than $9,000,000 to our resources. A large portion of that new money is for debt service of the new buildings. In addition, the appropriation did make possible a merit pool of 4%, as well as 6.5 FTEs for new faculty and 5 FTEs for new staff positions. Our needs include expanded athletic facilities and additional space in the residential community. Neither of these needs can be satisfied by direct state appropriation. From the state, we will next ask for additional classroom buildings on the order or Bullock or Pellegrino Halls, as well as funds for renovations now necessary in Killam Library.
Through much of this report I have summarized for you the requirements or demands we have received from our external stakeholders, those who fund our work, and our responses to those directives. It is a testimony to the resilience and strength of Texas A&M International University that we have, together, fulfilled our external obligations even as we have brought into being our dreams for a new university. As an institution we choose neither the analogist nor anomalist position, and Said follows Varro in concluding that human creativity is best served by a healthy combination of these opposing forces. Inventiveness and dreams, are what press us human beings to our greatest achievements; molestations or restraints are what ensure a sustainable frame to hold and protect those dreams. “Expand” and “revise” have become the dominant verbs of this period in our history. Compliance often resembles an authoritarian model of behavior, especially since many of these projects I describe above eluded the planning process and became fact absent internal deliberation or vote. I take comfort in what one of you, having studied and published on these matters, recently told me: “Implementation of policy and compliance must follow organizational structure, the so-called ‘chain of command.’ Communication must be more direct, not following this model.”
But there is a noble idea, a goal which “expand” and “revise” serve. This idea or goal is what motivates our external partners—the State of Texas, the A&M System, private philanthropy, municipal and county collaborators—to insist that we mature as an institution. We are being pressed to shift, evolve, change, to ensure sustainability. Any policy or practice, fiscal or programmatic, that cannot be sustained must be modified or abandoned. And sustainability is not a balance established by forces of equal strength. It is a conflation of unequal energies, an alliance which can endure, a division of emphases which we constantly review, refine, and alter.
Edward Said reminds us that “beginning is an activity, and like all other activities there are associated with it a field of play, habits of mind, conditions to be fulfilled.” Our beginnings must nurture first fields of play and habits of mind framed by sustainable choices, and also address the fundamental question: will this make our University stronger in the next five years. Our beginnings and our actions, today, must serve what will endure, what will sustain the generous array of resources the State and the citizens of Texas have placed in our hands.
Ray M. Keck III