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All Things Texas Tech

“From here it’s possible . . .” Assisting TTU’s Ascent During the Second Decade of the 21st Century

April 2009

Bob Smith
Provost and Senior Vice President

“Everything that is done on these West Texas Plains ought to be on a big scale. It is a country that lends itself to bigness. It is a country that does not harmonize with things little or narrow or mean. Let us make the work of our college fit with the scope of our country. Let our thoughts be big thoughts and broad thoughts. Let our thinking be in worldwide terms.”

– Paul Whitfield Horn (1870-1932)
American Educator, First President of Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University)

In 1974 I joined the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy as a young tenured associate professor and assistant director of a new research institute (Drug Dynamics Institute) begun by a newly appointed visionary and energetic dean – James Doluisio. At the time, the UT Austin pharmacy program was the largest in the country – but hardly the best. Many years later, however, pharmacy educators across the country would reflect on the halcyon twenty – five year record of progress of the College under Dean Doluisio’s leadership of professional and graduate degree and research programs, and in the area of academic outreach. While I assisted in some of these efforts, as faculty member and eventually Director of the Drug Dynamics Institute during 1977 – 1985, most of the credit for the College’s advancement goes to the faculty, students, and staff who not only developed a common understanding around Dean Doluisio’s vision, but also understood that size, growth, and development can be realized so long as the sine quo non of quality is sustained.

Fast-forward to 2009 and an opportunity to assist the growth and development of Texas Tech University during the next decade. This time, however, conditions are different from the earlier experience at UT Austin. Texas Tech has a great reputation for high quality undergraduate education and graduate and professional education in several areas. However, to meet its potential for service to Texas and the world, Texas Tech needs to grow enrollments and develop further its research prowess and productivity. And, the advancement with quality as an overriding principle is as relevant today as it was in another Texas university more than three decades ago. But, you might ask: How can it be done? Some ideas on this topic and how the Provost's Office can play a role in Texas Tech’s ascent are provided below with one big caveat: Little can be accomplished without a common understanding of a vision, careful planning, and the broad-based dedication of faculty, students, and staff. So, let’s proceed down this path a bit farther.

Planning – including strategic planning – is sometimes maligned as an effort leading to yet another report or document to accumulate dust while sitting on office and library shelves. However, in my previous post as provost at the University of Arkansas, I had an opportunity to contribute to a nationally acclaimed and productive university planning effort, dubbed the 2010 Commission. The effort, in effect during 2000 – 2008, led – in large measure – to what a regional (university – wide) accreditation team (from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools) termed a “transformation of the University.” Remembering what Woodrow Wilson said when he was President of Princeton University – that changing a university was akin to moving a cemetery – you might well ask: How was such a positive impact possible? Here are some of the critical elements that made the 2010 Commission’s work effectual:

Texas Tech and Strategic Planning

As Texas Tech has proceeded with its strategic planning efforts –led by Chancellor Hance and President Bailey – I have asked myself: Can we find parallels among the successful planning efforts at other national research universities, including those that I have been most familiar with at the University of Arkansas during its eight year experience with the 2010 Commission? I think we can. Let’s see how.

In March 2009, the Texas Tech Board of Regents (BOR) had a full-day strategic planning retreat. During this set of meetings, President Bailey presented to the Board a summary of Texas Tech’s emerging strategic plan. The plan contains a vision of Texas Tech becoming Texas’s next national public research university – a research university that will be associated with the best in the nation and one that can claim flagship status among the three or four other flagship institutions (e.g., UT Austin, Texas A&M University) in different parts of our expansive state. Before continuing, it is wise to consider a bit further the implications of such a claim.

First, which institutions compete among the great public research universities in the United States? Curiously, the great public research universities are all located in the nation’s major athletic conferences. Thus, we find eminent public research universities – fifty – five in all – collectively in the Big 12 (e.g., Iowa State University and University of Nebraska, besides Texas Tech and the two other public Texas institutions we know so well), the Big 10 (e.g., Indiana University, University of Michigan), the Pacific Athletic Conference or PAC 10 (e.g., University of California-Berkeley, University of Washington), the Big East (e.g., University of Connecticut, West Virginia University), the Atlantic Coast Conference or ACC (e.g., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Virginia Tech), and the Southeastern Conference or SEC (e.g., Auburn University, University of Georgia, and the University of Arkansas). While some academics may find it unseemly to compare research universities through their athletic conferences, the truth is that great athletics and great academics seem to reside in the same institutions nationally. So, the take home message of the above-noted association of athletics and academics can be: Just as we want to compete on the athletic fields with the great public research universities, we also wish to compete academically, including the quality and size of our teaching/learning, research, and outreach programs. Although in the case of academics, there are no problems – and indeed it is desirable – for Texas Tech to collaborate with other prominent public research universities on various projects across the teaching-research-service spectrum of activities. So, relative to our peers, we might ask, how does Texas Tech stack up among the best or what some might say the most competitive national research universities? In other words, what are the markers of great national or public research universities? At the risk of seeming pedantic, let me offer a set of characteristics of such universities (with parenthetical comments):

Beyond the above-noted qualitative features, what quantitative characteristics are prevalent among great pubic research universities? Here are some key factors to think about:

So, when we think about Texas Tech making claims to be among the ranks of some of the best national or public research universities, where might we fall short? At the same time, how do we respond to the need for Texas to educate a greater percentage of its population, including traditionally underrepresented populations? With these purposes in mind, President Bailey recently articulated the following Texas Tech Strategic Priorities (parenthetic detail) at the BOR meeting noted earlier:

  1. Increase Enrollment and Promote Student Success: improve higher education participation and supply a well-equipped, educated workforce for the state of Texas (grow to 40,000 students by 2020, with a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of transfer and graduate students and ensuring a diverse population of students; concentrating not only on the size of the freshman class but also on retention through nationally recognized six-year graduation rates at or exceeding the average of our peers).
  2. Strengthen Academic Quality and Reputation: attract and retain the best faculty, staff and students (address student-faculty ratios to insure quality of all offerings; stress diversity in the hiring of all faculty and staff).
  3. Expand and Enhance Research: better the lives of all Americans, while improving the state’s economy and global competitiveness (build infrastructure and direct internal resources to leverage extramural funding; pay particular attention to the needs of researchers and scholars in areas such as the arts and humanities where external support is meager; increase yearly research expenditures from $58 million [FY08] to at least $100 million).
  4. Further Outreach and Service: improve our communities and enrich their quality of life (all with global awareness and emphasis on enhancing international opportunities for faculty, students, and staff).
  5. Increase and Maximize Resources: ensure affordability for students and accountability to the State of Texas (seek new sources of public and private support, including donations and endowment funds for faculty positions, student scholarships/fellowships, and programmatic support).

Thinking once again of the wonderful expression steeped in the spirit of President Horn, “From here it’s possible,” it is incumbent on this new provost and his colleagues from vice provosts to deans to faculty and staff members and students to consider how Texas Tech’s Strategic Priorities may be addressed to meet the overarching goals of the University. But, let’s think a bit more about this proposition in the context of a newly appointed provost and senior vice president.

The Promise of a New Position

In recent years, I have reminded recently appointed professionals how important it is to reflect on the double entendre in the word “promise” as it pertains to new employment opportunities. On the one hand, we perceive the “promise” a position may hold for meaningful leadership in a firm, institution, or organization being served. The second meaning pertains to the promises we make to the people we serve. This latter meaning provides the entrée for describing anticipated roles and hopes for the firm, institution, or organization that you are beginning to serve.

At TTU, and other national research universities for that matter, a provost should serve the academic community by: 1) encouraging and supporting faculty, student, staff, and program development; 2) guiding and evaluating accomplishments; 3) advocating and representing the University to its constituents – within and outside of our institution – in collaboration with the President. My promise to the Texas Tech community is that I will honor these commitments to the best of my ability while ensuring the values of quality, trust, and integrity – in all that I do.

As we go forward, it will be important to emphasize that a provost can do little without the collaboration and cooperation of all who are served. Thus, a communication strategy and follow-through will be necessary to serve immediate and on-going goals. Accordingly, I have planned the following:

Allow me to elaborate a bit more on the proposed efforts.

Following e-mail messages and other preliminary contacts, several deans and directors have already made appointments for me to visit their colleges, schools, and other units. I hope these leaders will craft forums to help us develop common understanding of the vision, mission, and academic strengths of their units. How the deans and directors develop these forums is their choice but I would like to come away with an understanding of the potential, aspirations and capabilities of the leadership of each college, school, or related academic unit. I will also want to learn how the units have engaged in strategic planning and if so, where their plans may be – either in development or implementation. I will also be interested in units’ recent accomplishments – including notable achievements by faculty, students, and staff.

My initial visits to colleges and schools will be followed by a series of visits to individual departments and other units where I hope to learn in greater detail, the strengths of people and programs. The college, school, department, and other unit visits will take many months to complete because of the sheer number of units represented. But, I will seek the advice of deans and directors in the prioritization of the visits.

I am also working on mechanisms for regular interactions with faculty, students, and staff –including meetings of the Provost's Council, the Academic Deans, the Faculty and Staff Senates, and individual faculty members. For example, I have already pledged to meet regularly with Faculty Senate Leadership. I have also been exploring ways in which the monthly Provost's Council meetings may be enriched through presentations by faculty, staff, and student leaders serving the various segments (e.g., the Student Affairs Division) of the University’s overall mission. Additionally, with the appointment of a new Vice President for Research, it will be useful for the two of us to arrange one-on-one visits with teacher-scholars and researchers across a spectrum of Texas Tech’s disciplines and interdisciplinary departments, centers, and programs. When I was Vice Provost for Research at Washington State University (1987 –1997), I organized and participated in such meetings with a newly appointed provost (Thomas George; now Chancellor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis) and we were able to visit with dozens of faculty members during a five-year period.

Emerson espoused “straight talking and plain dealing.” It’s been the modus operandi for my academic administrative life and one that I plan to continue at Texas Tech. The above-noted visits, one-on-one communications, and All Things Texas Tech represent a communications strategy that is now well underway. The strategy represents the “how,” “where,” and “when” of communication. Its effectiveness will depend on how well we are able to engage Texas Tech faculty, students, and staff, and make modifications to the strategy based on ideas, comments, suggestions and recommendations of members of our national research university community.

You might now ask: How about the “what” of communication and follow-up action? In other words, what initiatives will be most important for the provost to encourage and support, as a part of his new position and its promise?

Certain initiatives may certainly evolve as a result of my visits to academic and other units and individuals in the TTU community, but my visits will be guided – in large measure – by a set of questions, such as the following:

Certainly, there are many other questions to ask. But, I propose that the above are representative of the queries that should be asked – and answered – if we are to see Texas Tech become the national research and flagship university needed by Texas and the world. I also look forward – in the weeks and months ahead – to hearing the Texas Tech community’s best thoughts on advancing our strategic priorities – to achieve our vision of a national research university that serves –with the passion and dedication of President Horn – Texas and the world.