2009 Archives

President Turner: 'SMU is a very good place to be!'


Following is the text of SMU President R. Gerald Turner's annual address to the faculty on Aug. 26, 2009.

September 2, 2009

SMU President R. Gerald TurnerWhat a difference a year makes. This time last year we were talking about the public phase of the campaign, which was being announced two weeks after this meeting. Little did we know that the Monday following that announcement on Friday, September 12, Lehman Brothers would go under and a major recession would begin dominating life around the world. The University has made it through tough times before, and we will make it through what followed September 15 of 2008.

Although we still have some adjustments to make, we are doing as well as could be expected during the worst recession in 60 years. I am so grateful that we kicked off the public phase of The Second Century Campaign last year, because it gives us an offense to help the institution push through these challenging times. As it is, we have the centennials of our founding and opening in 1911 and 1915, respectively, to provide the basis and rationale for the timing of our campaign, regardless of the economy. Other institutions were scheduled to go public with their campaigns after the recession began. Those who decided not to do so likely are wishing they had.

Budgetary Implications of Our Economic Times

The recession has had an impact on the University primarily in three ways. First, it has put significant stress on students and their families to meet the tuition and costs of attending private institutions like SMU. Although our number of scholarships has grown, we still need many more to meet the financial challenges of our need-based scholarship students and the expectations of our merit-based scholarship students. Last spring, given the current financial needs of many individuals aspiring to begin or continue attending SMU, we asked donors for that year to support the immediate needs of students with annual scholarships rather than through endowments. This request also matched more closely the level of contributions many of our donors were able to give under the current circumstances. Thankfully, many responded.

The second major fallout of the recession is the decreasing ability of some individuals and the reluctance of others to make significant gifts. Nationwide there has been a decline in the number of major gifts ($1 million+) to institutions, the backbone of any campaign. Although Brad Cheves and his staff are working very hard to keep our number of annual gifts steady, their absolute size has decreased. One result of this decrease in major gifts will be that the rate of new construction projects will slow until such time as our donors are ready to provide major support for needed projects.

Third, all University endowments have lost value over the past year. Our figure for July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009, is 21.9 percent, which is very similar to the loss of our aspirant and cohort institutions. As a result, our endowment is approximately $350 million less than it was at the end of the 2007-2008 academic year. This level of loss would eventually result in an overall $15 million to $17 million decrease in annual distributions, assuming conditions stay the same. This is about four percent of our total operating budget. As we begin budget preparations for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, we will have to take measures to address these losses based on assumptions of future contributions to the endowment and changes in the financial markets (hopefully, more growth than losses).

We should complete the basic financial planning for 2011, 2012, and 2013 during the fall semester and will be able to provide a more realistic expectation of how we will address these declines in the distributions from our endowment shortfall. I might add that our endowment distributions make up 16 percent of the University budget, compared to 40+ percent of the budgets of many older private institutions. In addition, our spending policy phases in, over several years, the effects of major changes in our endowment, up or down. These facts are why our adjustments, while serious and challenging, will not have to be as draconian as required at some other private institutions.

So, we have some prudent budget work to do for the years ahead, and we will soon complete our plan to address our financial issues and continue to ensure that our momentum and progress continue during this centennial decade.

During the years of The Second Century Campaign, I always want to structure the major part of my remarks around the three categories of that campaign: Student Quality, Academic Excellence, and the Campus Experience. As a result, I will give you an overview of the progress in each of these areas the past year and expectations for the future.

Student Quality

The recruiting process for the fall 2009 entering class was as chaotic and worrisome as any in all of my years in higher education. The application process was in full swing before the onslaught of the recession; families had to scramble to understand their financial situations, which were changing at a rapid pace. As a result, it was crucial for us to continually encourage admitted students to, in fact, be with us this fall. I appreciate very much the response of many faculty, staff, and administrators to the call this spring for all "hands on deck" to be very actively involved in the recruitment of first-year and transfer students. Since many of our aspirant and cohort institutions, and others above us in rating services, went to their wait lists in May, and, in many instances admitted 25-50 students more than usual, the waters on the recruiting front literally did not calm down nationally until July. Ron Moss, his staff in Student Enrollment Management, and the Student Affairs staff continued to recruit admitted students not only through AARO, but until they literally showed up on campus for Mustang Corral. Now, we can focus on making sure that the opening days of the semester go well.

The end result is that the first-year class numbers 1,336. While this is a little less than we had budgeted, getting this class under the conditions we faced is testimony to the extraordinary efforts of many of you and others in the SMU community. Many of our trustees, alumni, and friends provided scholarship support to try to help solidify the interest of outstanding students, who, as I stated, were in higher demand than ever. They also helped our continuing students remain at SMU. In addition, I am delighted to say that our average SAT increased by one point to 1242. We are still within sight of our goal of 1250 by the incoming class of 2010 and on our way to achieving the goal of between 1275 and 1300 by the year 2015.

I believe the recruitment of the first-year class of 2010 will also be strenuous, but, hopefully, not as chaotic as was the recruitment of the current entering class. Families may have a better sense of what their resources are, and we, too, will know what adjustments to make after having had a year to recruit and work with students and their parents under these economic conditions. However, the personal involvement of the faculty will continue to be crucial to our success.

Our overall undergraduate enrollment should be 6,174, which is close to last year's fall undergraduate enrollment of 6,240. The number of transfer students for this year is 305 compared to 293 last year.

As is usually the case in recessionary times, the number of applicants for graduate programs increased. Overall graduate enrollment should be 4,744, a slight increase. The full-time MBA program had a 50 percent increase in applications and admitted a class of 125 compared to last year's 111, with a 15-point increase in the average GMAT to 655.

The Dedman School of Law is welcoming 178 new students in the full-time day program, from over 2,000 applications. The evening program has 76 matriculates selected from over 700 applications.

In addition, graduate enrollments in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development will also be larger. The Lyle School of Engineering projects 800 Master's students in its programs for the fall term. While this is a modest decrease from the previous year, it is consistent with national downward trends in engineering enrollments. The good news, however, is that the Lyle School is projecting 152 doctoral students this year, which is a 12 percent increase over last year. Many of its graduate programs are based upon company support, which has been curtailed—at least for the time being. Nevertheless, all in all, our enrollment should be close to 10,918, similar to last year's total of 10,965 (down .4 percent).

Within the first-year class of 1,336, 46 percent are from Texas, 49 percent are from out of state, and 4.7 percent are international. In addition, 24 percent of the incoming class are minority students.

With students and their families needing more financial aid support, we must continue to attract and grant annual scholarships and increase the number of endowed scholarships available on campus. In this climate, this is not an insignificant challenge.

Academic Excellence

As you know, one of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to raise the number of endowed faculty positions from the 2006 total of 62 to 100 by the year 2015. During this past year, three additional endowed positions were added, moving our total to 73. With the difficult economy discouraging or delaying significant new pledges, we believe this number will begin to increase again as people become more confident in the world economy and in their own financial situations.

At a time when many universities have frozen hiring of new faculty positions, I am glad to announce that at SMU for this academic year, 31 tenured faculty were hired: six full professors with tenure, three associate professors, and 22 tenure-tracked assistant professors. We certainly welcome our new colleagues to the campus.

I want to commend Provost Ludden, the deans, and all of those who have been involved in overseeing the recruitment of these new faculty members. We had an outstanding year in recruiting women and minorities to our faculty. Of our 31 new colleagues, 14 are women, or 45 percent. In addition, 10 of the 31 (32 percent) are minorities. I am hopeful we will continue to add significantly to our number of women and minority faculty.

I want to again congratulate David Meltzer in Dedman College for being named to the National Academy of Sciences. It is an honor to add him to the list, including David Weber in Dedman College and Delores Etter in the Lyle School of Engineering, as members of the National Academies on our faculty.

Research and Scholarship

Another one of the goals of the Strategic Plan for 2015 is for us to achieve $30 million in external research support. I am pleased to report that faculty are writing more proposals and aggressively pursuing increased external funding for research. Last year, our faculty submitted 164 proposals, requesting $74.5 million, compared to 134 proposals for $65.9 million in the previous year. Unfortunately, awards were down last year to $16.5 million from $19.5 million the previous year, due at least in part to the tardiness with which the FY09 federal budget was passed. For example, one result of this delay is that we have yet to receive $2.6 million in FY09 budget earmarks that will ultimately come to the University. Our goal of $22 million of external funded grants by 2010 and $30 million by 2015 is not unreasonable, but to be successful, the number of faculty working with Associate Vice President Jim Quick must continue to grow.

New Facilities

On September 11, we will officially open the new Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Building within the Perkins School of Theology. In addition, Kirby and Selecman Halls have been renovated and all three of these facilities united by covered walkways. The result is a much more orderly allocation of space for the teaching and service functions of the School. I hope you will all be with us at 12:15 on September 11 for the ribbon cutting and picnic to follow.

On February 5, the new Caruth Engineering Building will be officially opened, although most of it should be in use in January for the beginning of the spring semester.

Construction on the Annette Caldwell Simmons Hall is about to get under way, assuming we receive the outstanding permits from the city. We are hoping that it will be available for the spring semester of 2011. Dean David Chard and his faculty will certainly welcome this facility, since programs, both on this campus and at SMU-in-Legacy, now called SMU-in-Plano, continue to grow.

General Education and SACS Accreditation

Last year at this time, I shared with you my charge to the provost to initiate the review of the General Education curriculum at SMU. Under the leadership of Professor and Associate Dean Dennis Cordell and Associate Provost Tom Tunks, this committee has now submitted its report, and the Provost’s Office will be working with you to review, approve, and implement a new General Education curriculum. This new curriculum is exciting, forward looking, and very much aligned with the Strategic Plan for SMU as we approach our second century.

The review of the General Education curriculum serves as a prelude to the SACS accreditation or “reaffirmation” project that will be carried out over the next two years at SMU. Provost Ludden, John O’Connor, John Kalb, Randall Griffin, and I attended the SACS kick-off meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, last May to receive our beginning instructions for the SACS accreditation process. The provost has appointed Professor Randall Griffin of Art History to serve as the chair of the Steering Committee, with John Kalb, director of Institutional Research, as the “whip” to ensure that the accreditation process stays on track. A dozen committees have been organized, and they are beginning their work on various aspects of the accreditation process.

A major component of the reaffirmation process is the identification and implementation of a “QEP” (Quality Enhancement Plan). Professor Maggie Dunham in Engineering has agreed to chair the committee that will review proposals for the QEP and recommend the project chosen. These projects will involve all aspects of campus, and it is critically important that the campus community be aware of the QEP requirement. Information on the QEP is available on the provost’s website, and you will be hearing a lot about this project in the coming years.

SACS is known as the most demanding of the regional accreditation organizations, and it is essential that SMU do well in this process. This is a very serious two-year effort that will require the cooperation and involvement of us all. Institutions that have not taken the process seriously have lived to regret the fallout of having their accreditation either delayed or granted on a probationary status. Since we MUST undertake this campuswide effort, we might as well benefit from it. Thankfully, it is structured in such a way that institutional improvement can indeed occur, but it will require all of us being professionally responsive to the demands of this process.

Campus Experience

On Friday, September 3, at 4:30 p.m., we will "cut the ribbon" for the Mustang Plaza and Mall that runs from the intersection of Binkley and Airline down to the Doak Walker statue. As you have probably noted, we moved the Mustangs from the front of Moody Coliseum to the north end of the mall. We appreciate the support of the Dedman family, Carpenter family, and the Schlegels for making the plaza and mall possible. It will certainly provide a more lighted path for students from the resident halls to the Dedman Center. However, it will become even more important when we construct the sophomore resident halls on the southeast corner of the campus. This pedestrian way will become the major route of these 1,200 students to walk to classes and activities on the campus.

Speaking of the sophomore residency requirement, the major recession in the country that resulted in a decrease in our endowment has made it necessary for us to delay initiating this program for another year. We hope to begin planning this next summer so that the construction can get under way in the summer or fall of 2011. This is still a major goal of the institution, which we hope to have completed entering our centennial celebration.

As we begin the new semester, it is important to remind everyone of the importance of the recommendations implemented last year from the Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention. The Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention, created as one of the recommendations of the Task Force, has reviewed the first year of implementation and made several recommendations that have been implemented over the summer. I would remind the faculty of the academic recommendations of the Task Force, such as taking attendance regularly, giving early grade reports, having significant academic rigor in each class, having more classes on Friday, and utilizing the mechanism for reporting students who have missed a significant number of classes or who appear to be in emotional distress. This program is called the Dean of Students' Caring Community Connections. Last year, 63 students were referred by faculty and staff to the Office of the Dean of Students. Each was contacted, with many needing the intervention brought about by the call from the concerned faculty member. I would urge new faculty to go on the Live Responsibly site on smu.edu to see the recommendations as they particularly apply to the academic sector of the University. We must diligently renew our commitment to implement these recommendations every year.

Flu Epidemic Planning

There is every indication that the United States and the world will experience an epidemic of the H1N1 flu this academic year. SMU is preparing to minimize the impact of the flu on campus by providing information, education about sanitation techniques, and an increased number of hand washing stations, etc., in accordance with state and local guidelines. Provost Ludden has asked a team of department chairs to prepare a template for response to flu outbursts in specific classes. We must be ready for coverage of classes if department colleagues become ill, or when we need procedures to support special needs of ill students. Recommendations will be forthcoming as the semester gets under way and will be supplemented continually as conditions require. Please pay attention to these updates.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library Center

Students last spring began to realize the benefits of having a Presidential Library at SMU. This week, Associate Provost Tom Tunks and Associate Provost Ellen Pryor arranged for visits by both the President’s and Hunt Scholars to the warehouse (materials project) in Lewisville holding the documents and artifacts of the Bush administration. SMU was very fortunate with the selection of Alan Lowe as the Director of the Archives. Alan comes to the Bush Library from the Howard Baker Institute in Knoxville, Tennessee, and previously worked with the Clinton and Reagan Libraries. I know that Provost Ludden is arranging a visit for members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee to the Lewisville site, where they will see the ongoing efforts to organize the 13,000 file boxes of documents, plus the incredible array of gifts to the First Family and to the people of America from foreign heads of state.

Progress is continuing on the national fund-raising campaign for The Presidential Center being conducted by the Bush Foundation. The public phase of this effort will officially commence in November of this year, highlighted by the presentation of the Center’s design. Groundbreaking is still scheduled for November 2010, with the opening in 2013.

SMU Campaign Update

We will continue to initiate The Second Century Campaign across the country throughout this academic year. Last year, during the first year of the public phase, we had major kickoff events in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta. This academic year, we will officially kick off the campaign in San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Denver. Throughout the country, there has been a slowdown in the major gifts, but we are encouraging donors to remain active in the campaign at whatever level is appropriate for them during this period. So far, they have. It is our belief that when it is clear the financial institutions are solid and the credit markets have returned to some semblance of normal, the confidence of people to make major gifts will return. As I noted, even under these conditions, we have added significantly to our total, which will be announced on the first anniversary of the public phase of the campaign, September 11, to the Board of Trustees and then publicly.

Faculty/Staff Campaign

One of the major additions this year is the Faculty/Staff Campaign. As you will recall, there are overarching goals of the campaign: 1) Gifts and pledges totaling $750 million; 2) having 25 percent of alumni participate each year; and 3) having 50 percent of all alumni make a gift at some point during the campaign. As we began to structure our on-campus effort, it seemed that these participation levels would be appropriate for our Faculty/Staff Campaign. The student campaign is already under way and has grown in participation levels each year of the quiet phase.

I am grateful to Harold Stanley and Julie Wiksten for their willingness to head up this effort. I appreciate very much all of those who have volunteered within the various departments and units to be team leaders. If we are asking our alumni, young and old, to believe in their alma mater and support it, it is important that we who benefit from their contributions also participate in this effort. Some foundations require a report on campus participation. I have always stated that I would only ask the faculty and staff to participate in two efforts, the President's Partners and the United Way. The President's Partners program is being folded into this campaign effort; therefore, those of you who are in this program can continue to support it as a part of the campaign. The gifts of those of you in Engineering and Theology who have helped in the construction of the new facilities in the schools will also have these gifts count as part of the campaign. Therefore, your gifts can be made to support any campus program, and it will be listed as participation in this effort. I urge everyone not only to help meet these participation goals, but go way beyond them as a statement of affirmation in the future of the University. We hope that 50 percent is just a major marker along the way toward total campus participation.

It seems more appropriate now than in former years when I say again: There are no perfect places, but SMU is a very good place to be!

Again, welcome to our new colleagues, and let's have a good year.

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