It is my pleasure to welcome you back to campus for the second year of our Centennial era, 2011-2015, and the 98th academic year of the University. We have an outstanding group of new students with whom to work, a new general education curriculum, and many new colleagues to meet and incorporate into the SMU community.
A number of significant achievements were announced over the summer. However, none received the international spotlight as much as the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle. Ryszard Stroynowski, SMU physics professor and the leader of our program, and his colleagues Jingbo Ye, Bob Kehoe, Stephen Sekula and others in the Physics Department have spent years working here and in Geneva on efforts to identify this basic building block of the universe. I wish I could have accepted Fred Olness’ invitation last year to visit the Large Hedron Collider when he was there working on research leave. This achievement is the result of the global scientific collaboration of thousands of scientists at CERN. However, the experimental physics group at SMU, led by Dr. Stroynowski, has been involved since 1994 in this effort, and SMU was one of six American universities listed on the major report on the Atlas Detector. As Professor Stroynowski stated, this is the most important development in physics in 50 years, and we are delighted that our colleagues are so intricately involved in this discovery.
A new member of our community announced on July 16 is Rick Hart, our new athletics director. Rick is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and had served as senior associate AD at the University of Oklahoma before becoming athletics director at UT-Chattanooga in 2006. The progress of that program under his leadership has received considerable national attention, and we are delighted to have him, Allison, and their two children join the SMU community. Would you please join me in greeting Rick Hart.
We continue to make progress toward our goal of an average SAT score of 1300 by 2015. I am delighted to announce that the incoming first-year class has an average SAT of 1275, an increase of six points over last year. And, we have enrolled more transfer students (320) than ever before. Last year, we had 280 among those transferring to an SMU undergraduate program from community colleges or other four-year institutions. My congratulations to Provost Ludden, Associate Vice President Stephanie Dupaul, Admissions Dean Wes Waggoner, their staffs, and all of you who helped to recruit these talented students.
In order to add at least 25 points to the average SAT score of incoming students over the next three years, we must continue to grow our applicant pool, increase the yield of those admitted to the University, and develop more sources for both need- and merit-based scholarships. As you know, this is a key priority of our Second Century Campaign. Also important is our campus environment. Visiting parents and students repeatedly tell me how friendly and helpful our faculty and staff are.
Under the leadership of Provost Ludden and Vice President Lori White, the programmatic plans for the new Residential Commons and plans for the transformation of current resident halls into the Residential Commons format will be completed during this academic year. This project is important toward helping us meet our SAT goals and increase our retention and graduation rates. As you can see, construction dramatically accelerated over the summer, so we are still confident that we will be able to add sophomore requirements and create a new living-learning environment for all of our residing students in the fall of 2014.
Other Construction Projects
Construction of the tennis center and new data center on the far side of the Mrs. Baird’s Bakery site has unfortunately been delayed. As I mentioned on several occasions, the southeast part of our campus has University Park, Highland Park, and the City of Dallas coming together. This particular project has required approvals from all three cities. Some of the permits are sequential. As a result, we have just begun serious work on these facilities, which is already four to five months behind our original schedule.
The disruption to Mustang Mall and the streets in the southeast part of campus is due to the cabling to the new data center at the foot of the former Mrs. Baird’s Bakery site and the delivery of utilities to all of the new structures on both the north and south side of Mockingbird Lane. Until the renovation and expansion of Moody Coliseum is completed in January 2014, this part of the campus will be dusty and noisy, and traffic will be impeded from time to time. However, we believe the end result will be worth the inconvenience. You will continue to be updated by email on street closures or other changes.
Last, but certainly not least, hopefully you have noted that 48 new parking places have been added to the east end of the commuter lot on University Boulevard.
One of the exciting developments for the end of the spring semester was the $5 million grant from the Dedman Foundation to begin implementing the Interdisciplinary Center in Dedman College. One cannot read articles regarding the challenges facing higher education without hearing repeatedly the need for interdisciplinary work and the reduction in the departmental silos that have long characterized higher education. Although housed in Dedman College, the Interdisciplinary Center is to be a University-wide resource to help generate cross-disciplinary courses, scholarship, research, and dialogue. When combined with a significant enhancement of SMU’s advanced computing resources (to be aided by the new data center), the foundation will have been laid for changes in the type of research and teaching undertaken at SMU. Computer modeling of scientific experiments, a humanities digital center, and enhanced capabilities of engineering, business, economics, and the fine arts would provide SMU an elevated position within our aspirational and cohort universities. This enhanced computational capacity would be a unique resource for undergraduates as well as graduate students. We hope in the remaining years of the Campaign to be able to attract additional resources to the Interdisciplinary Center and to the Advanced Computing Center and have the opportunity to house them so that each can be a growing resource for the faculty and for the University community.
George W. Bush Presidential Center
April 25, 2013, will mark the culmination of 12 years of work to attract, fund, and build the George W. Bush Presidential Center. This incredible facility, its beautiful grounds, and the programs that will be developed independently and jointly will be great additions to our campus.
The opening of the Bush Presidential Center will be the most exciting and challenging event we have ever conducted on our campus. The extent of the planning, the depths of the security requirements, and the possible disruptions to normal campus life during the opening will challenge the entire University community and all three cities in which we reside. Planning obviously will be accelerated in the weeks and months ahead. In addition, the opportunity to maximize the visibility of the campus nationally and internationally is enormous. With the scheduled appearance of the current and all living presidents and many other U.S. and international dignitaries, security will be extensive. We will have a unique opportunity to host many world leaders.
Just how this event will affect the campus community, particularly on the opening day, is yet to be determined. However, we hope to know of the major areas and times of campus impact before the end of the fall semester so that necessary adjustments can be known before the spring semester starts. However, from past experience with the Secret Service and other federal agencies, we know there will be last-minute changes, so we all need to be flexible for this unique, historic moment for our campus. Obviously, we will keep the campus informed as these plans are finalized.
The Big East Conference
Our official membership in the Big East Conference becomes effective July 1, 2013. Therefore, we are completing our final year in Conference USA. This state of suspended animation will give us a year in “no one’s land,” where we are not viewed as a voting member of Conference USA, but are still “pledges” in the Big East. One of the most important components of that membership should be an enriched media contract that will be under negotiation during the fall semester. I have been asked to join the vice chair of the Big East Board, Jack DeGioia, president of Georgetown University; and Jim Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville, to represent all 21 Big East members in this negotiation. The Big East has just hired a consultant and a new commissioner for the Conference, Mike Aresco, an executive vice president with CBS Sports. So, the process of dealing with the networks will soon get underway. The success of this negotiation is obviously important to our Athletics Department and the entire University, and is, therefore, worth the time and effort it will require. Hopefully, this will be concluded by the end of the fall semester.
Second Century Campaign
As you know, the Second Century Campaign seeks funding for scholarships, faculty positions and academic programs, and campus enhancements. Toward our monetary goal of $750 million, we expect to be at $700 million by May 31, 2013 (we were at $631 million on May 31, 2012). Also by next May, we intend to reach 24 percent toward our annual alumni participation goal of 25 percent and 47.5 percent toward our total participation goal of 50 percent of alumni over the entire campaign period. Within these markers, there will be progress toward reaching our goals for endowed chairs and professorships and scholarship endowments, in addition to completion of facilities that are underway or planned. Twelve hundred (1,200) faculty-staff, or 57 percent, contributed last year to the Campaign. This effort will begin again on September 5. I urge you to participate.
Due to the construction involving Moody Coliseum, we will have the May 2013 Commencement ceremony on the Main Quad. As many of you know from experience, many universities use their main campus area for commencement ceremonies. Hopefully, we will have an average or cooler day to enjoy this unique location. It will be our intention to move Commencement back to Moody Coliseum in 2014.
I think we have all been saddened by the scandal that has engulfed Penn State University, with the Freeh Report reaching alarming and tragic conclusions. Unfortunately, media commentaries by various writers about whether or not Penn State should get the NCAA death penalty brought SMU into some of these conversations because of our history with that sanction, though for very different reasons. I have turned down a number of national media inquiries wanting my opinion on the topic, which I will not be giving publically. As noted, our situations were vastly different, and we have moved on.
However, the Penn State situation reminded us all of the need for vigilance. Soon after the allegations were made, as many of you know, we began an analysis of all of the programs and activities for minors that we have on our main campus, as well as our Plano and Taos campuses. We were interested in who is in charge of these programs, which are the employees and volunteers that assist in their implementation, and what training or oversight is given to those with responsibility for children involved. Tom Barry, vice president for executive affairs, who is chairing this effort, reports that the committee identified 185 separate programs with over 20,000 participating children younger than 18 each year. Fortunately, the state developed an online training program that we have been able to require of all people working with these underage participants.
Anytime something negative happens at a university, I always ask whether it could happen here and what we are doing to prevent its occurrence. Certainly, increasing awareness and training of those responsible for underage visitors to our campus is important, but the only way to prevent violations of human decency and to protect the value of each person is for each of us in the community to take an even greater responsibility for the University’s culture. Each person has to be willing to step forward to protect the rights and health of others. With apologies to Secretary Clinton, it does take a village to make a safe community.
The overarching conclusion of the Freeh Report is that Penn State failed to exercise “institutional control.” As many of you will recognize, this is a term borrowed from the NCAA and used when NCAA compliance personnel conclude that institutional officials did not provide the appropriate monitoring and oversight to prevent a situation that violated institutional, associational, or legal standards.
As I have stated on several occasions regarding compliance, risk management, and legal issues, among others, “It is not what I know that worries me the most; it’s what I don’t know.” The standard of institutional control is based upon the fact that those responsible for the operation of a particular area, or the institution as a whole, have the mechanisms in place to learn of significant violations and then the commitment to respond appropriately to those violations. As a result, all of us have a role in the process of institutional control. We have stated on several occasions our policy of “If you see something – say something.” In addition, we have a whistle blower program monitored by the internal auditor for individuals to report anonymously violations of institutional, associational, or legal standards. However, all faculty, staff, and students have responsibility to be diligent and supportive of institutional integrity and the well-being of our community.
This past spring, we sent out a memo (which is on the SMU website) concerning the state law regarding child abuse and how a person who witnesses child abuse has a legal responsibility to report it to the police or Family Protective Services, in addition to reporting it to one’s supervisor. Obviously, this is only one type of violation, but a very serious one.
However, it is up to SMU administrators and faculty and staff leaders at every level to create the kind of environment in which a person knows that in fulfilling his or her sense of responsibility and legal expectation, the University will be supportive of that effort. I can assure you that we try to communicate that sense down through all administrative levels.
Finally, the campus community must believe that SMU officials will respond appropriately and responsibly to the identified problem. We all want to do what is proper, legal, and moral. I can assure you that it will continue to be my mandate that we maintain the integrity of the institution, abide by appropriate legal standards, and preserve the dignity of individuals, particularly those who may become victims. We all need to reaffirm to ourselves and those around us our commitment to maintaining and improving the very positive working, learning, and living environment that we have at SMU.
On a different but related topic, as we know from recent tragic events on nearby campuses and in other settings nationwide, we must be prepared for possible emergencies. To this end, in September SMU is participating in National Preparedness Month sponsored by U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Throughout the month, you will receive information on emergency procedures. Flyers with these procedures also are posted in all SMU classrooms, and you may want to point these out to your students. To help us reach you during emergencies, we encourage you to make certain your contact information is up to date in access.smu. Further information on emergency preparedness is available on the SMU home page.
Remaining aware and informed is essential in today’s society.
It is unfortunate that the cost of higher education has been placed in the crosshairs of those seeking or retaining political office at the national level. As is often the case during “the silly season” preceding a national election, there is little reasonable discussion about the topic. In the public sector, our colleagues have little choice but to raise their tuition prices to historic levels as legislatures continue to dramatically reduce their state appropriations to higher education due to reduced tax receipts and increased federal mandates requiring state matching contributions. With the slow growth in the economy, the financial troubles in Europe, and the matching requirements for national health care, I don’t think the situation for public institutions is going to get any better quickly. For the foreseeable future, the only increase in funding they can anticipate would be through tuition increases, which legislatures are working to moderate or control, requiring extensive further cutbacks in the operation of state institutions.
One result is that, at both public and private institutions, college students have borrowed more to deal with increasing costs and fewer part-time job opportunities. This has generated issues regarding the amount of debt that college graduates carry and the implications for rising loan default rates. At SMU, approximately 70 percent of students receive either merit- or need-based aid, and approximately 40 percent of students graduate with an average of $28,700 debt, which is higher than we would like it to be, although lower than that of many comparable institutions. Our default rate is 5 percent, up from less than 4 percent before the recession began. This is a responsible record for SMU, but we always hope to improve.
As is finally coming to be appreciated, the for-profit educational companies have added tremendously to the number of debt-burdened students and have left them with little employability for their efforts. This is one area in which Congressional attention should be helpful.
These trends also are beginning to affect private universities. Concern over the level of tuition and the accessibility of private institutions to middle and lower economic families has begun to direct more attention to the cost of private higher education, the debt levels of graduates, and the employment of their graduates. As a result, average tuition increases for the current year, and I believe for the next several years, will be reduced nationwide. I know our Board is interested in looking closely at our level of any increase for the 2013-2014 year, which has implications for our budgets.
Another item with negative impact on our budget is the rising cost of health care.
Affordable Health Care Act
Coalescing with these concerns for the costs of attending college is the rising cost of health care. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a tax, its implementation has launched into high gear. This will add significant costs to both the University and our employees at a time in which health care claims within our University community have dramatically increased. For example, we usually have eight or nine catastrophic claims (>$50,000) a year. This year we have 23, with several in excess of $300,000 charges . . . so far. Since we are self-insured, this simply means that the cost for this part of our compensation budget will have to increase significantly.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides benefit enhancements for faculty and staff beginning with the added preventative care at no cost to the employee that went into effect August 1. Obviously, someone has to pay for this service, which in our case is the University. While SMU already provided some of these benefits since we are self-insured, increases in costs based upon the ACA provisions will come directly to SMU and be reflected in both higher premiums for all of you and a greater percentage of the overall budget of the University going to health care. Throughout all of the announced changes over the next several years, our standard is for SMU to pay 65 percent of the total medical costs incurred by our employees. Changes will be a part of the health care landscape for several years as different components of the Act are implemented, but this standard of 65/35 will be our benchmark in dealing with them.
You can expect to see a notation on your W-2 form next year reflecting the value of the health care plan, and you will receive a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) during open enrollment in October detailing the provisions of our health care plan. Our Human Resources Department will host several meetings to enable you to select the best health care option for you.
It is wonderful to live in a country where every four years we have the freedom to elect our president and other local and national officials. As you have probably read, the time between Labor Day and the first Tuesday in November is often referred to as the “silly season” because so many issues that would be restricted in their impact and attention get blown into national proportions to serve the ends of one political party or another. On a university campus, it is often a time of increased student involvement and heightened participation by faculty and staff. I hope we all will remember that as we encourage active citizenship, we also should promote and adopt proper civility during this time. At the same time, we know that several of our faculty in areas ranging from political science to ethics will be providing expert and reasoned commentary to the media.
I’m afraid that the national unity encouraged by the Olympics will soon be fractured by the political differences among us being exploited to the maximum. This Thanksgiving we will be able to celebrate our survival of another of these seasons, reaffirm our appreciation for U.S. democracy and its values, and remark once again how quickly the semester has gone by.
I am delighted to begin another year working with you. There are no perfect places, but it is a great time to be at SMU. I look forward to working with you toward another year of progress at our university. Thank you.