Rudder Theater was packed Friday afternoon as students and faculty members listened to President Robert Gates' state of the university address. According to Gates the current state of A&M is progressive and good.
Gates also said he's anticipating future on-campus expansion, which will include A&M's first ever $500 million construction project.
"The sounds you will hear on campus will be the sounds of an amazing future in Aggieland," said Gates.
The audience at the address also saw the new A&M recruiting video which promotes the grandness of the university while featuring its hometown roots.
The challenge of making the university seem grand but also intimate is something Gates says they will focus on achieving in the academic arena as well.
"All entering freshman should have the opportunity to enroll in one small academic class during their first semester."
The university president says one of the big goals the university has achieved is that more students are graduating in four years. He attributes that to the flat rate tuition policy enacted a few years back. That policy has all students paying for 15 hours no matter how many hours they are taking.
Gates says the school is proud of is the improved financial aid available to graduate students, something Gates says helps attract higher quality graduate students. Gates describes the improved graduate financial aid as a chain reaction. If smarter students are coming to A&M because, higher profile professors will want to come to the university to teach them. Once those professors are in place they will teach graduate and undergraduate classes. Meaning, the entire university would benefit from the professors expertise.
The following is the full text of Gates' address:
The State of the University
September 9, 2005
Robert M. Gates
I am certain that our parading around campus in full academic regalia in near 100 degree
temperatures has filled our students with confidence in our lucidity and judgment. I just
hope we do not have any new faculty vacancies to fill as a result of our march.
As I begin my fourth year, it is clear I will not graduate from Texas A&M at the end of
the year. And I confess even a six year graduation is looking shaky.
Almost two weeks ago, perhaps the worst natural disaster in American history struck
the Gulf Coast. It is likely to be some time before we know the full magnitude of the
loss. We do know that many lives have been lost and probably a million other lives
disrupted, all too many catastrophically. Please join me in a moment of silent prayer for
those who died and their families, those who have been injured, and those who have lost
their homes and their livelihood.
This great University has risen to the challenge of helping the victims of Hurricane
Katrina. From providing shelter, food, clothing, care and compassion for evacuees, to
becoming a temporary academic home for hundreds of students from impacted colleges
and universities in Louisiana and Mississippi, this entire campus has opened its arms and
its heart. As so often happens, the long term impact may be greater on us than on those
we served. Countless students, staff and faculty have contributed their time, their
energy, and their joy in service to this humanitarian endeavor - and I believe each one
who participated has been changed by the experience. Once again, Texas A&M has
shown the Spirit that makes us unique.
Academic convocation at the beginning of the new school year is an opportunity to take
stock of where we are and to consider our aspirations for the coming year and beyond.
Far from slowing, the pace of change at Texas A&M continues to accelerate, and we are
beginning to see the fruits of our labors. Our continuing, overarching objective is clear:
to take every part of the University to a new level of excellence, while preserving and
strengthening the traditions, the culture and the spirit that make Texas A&M
University "a unique American institution."
During the past year, significant progress was made in all four of our priority endeavors.
First, Elevating the Faculty: As of September 1, 2005, we had created and funded 245
new faculty positions at Texas A&M in the last two and a half years. At last count,
nearly 230 of those positions have been filled. We are more than halfway to our program
goal of 447 new faculty positions within five years - that is, by 2008, and I thank the
faculty for the enormous commitment of time and energy you have devoted to this
Funding provided by the legislature, together with our recent tuition increases and
internal University re-allocations, ensure that we will be able to complete the "most
ambitious faculty expansion effort in America". The quality of our new faculty is
extraordinary, including superb scholar/teachers from top universities around the nation
and the world. The quality and number of new faculty, added to that of our current
faculty, will have a significant impact on the quality of education here. We already have
lowered the student-faculty ratio from 21:1 to about 19:1 this fall. We have reduced the
percentage of classes with 50 or more students from 33% to 24%.
The benefits of this unprecedented increase in the size of our faculty must be seen in the
classroom, from new courses and smaller classes to more sections of high demand
courses, more faculty time for mentoring and advising, and more. I am pleased to say
that every college is "bending to the task," drawing up plans for more courses and
sections, and other specific proposals for improving the quality of undergraduate
education. The colleges also have identified cutting edge research programs where new
faculty will help us sustain or develop national leadership.
Finally, this expansion program is affording us the opportunity to diversify a faculty that,
until recently, was 85% white and 85% male. In 2003-2004, 36.4% of the new
tenured/tenure track faculty hired were women, and 31.4% in 2004-2005. This compares
to 18.2% women among our current instructional faculty when we began this faculty
expansion. In fall, 2002, 16.4% of the tenured/tenure track faculty were ethnic
minorities; in 2003-2004, 30.8% of our new faculty hires were minorities and, in 2004-
2005, 28.6%. I congratulate the Colleges, the Departments and the faculty as a whole for
the progress to date, but clearly we still have considerable distance to go.
Second, Diversity: With the help of virtually the entire campus community, and many
former students, our efforts to enroll more minority students are proving successful. We
have received especially valuable and important assistance from the Texas A&M
Hispanic Former Students Network and the Black Former Students Network.
As you know, I decided in December, 2003, that we would not use race or ethnicity in
admissions, but instead would look to merit-based admissions combined with an
"aggressive outreach and recruitment effort" to increase, in particular, the number of
African-American and Hispanic Texas students at A&M. In January 2004, I announced
that we would not use legacy in admissions.
Over the past 18 months or so, we have created a permanent recruitment infrastructure
we believe to be unique in the nation. We now have Regional Prospective Student
Centers in Dallas, two in Houston, San Antonio, Brazos County, Corpus Christi and
McAllen, and we are planning an eighth in Laredo. We have both admissions and
financial aid counselors in these centers, where they can establish long-range
relationships with local counselors, teachers and principals, as well as work with
individual families from every ethnic group and socio-economic background to show
them how their son or daughter can apply to A&M and, if admitted, alternative ways to
finance their education. The enthusiasm for Texas A&M on the part of high school
counselors, teachers and principals, as well as community leaders, in cities where our
Prospective Student Centers are located is both helpful and gratifying.
In addition, many programs have been developed or supported by student organizations,
by the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, by the Texas A&M Foundation, by former
students both individually and through the Association of Former Students, and by
individual colleges and departments, to help recruit minority students. The results are
in. Last fall, (a year ago), we increased Hispanic freshman enrollment by 25% and
African-American freshman enrollment by 35%. This fall, over 1000 Hispanic freshmen
confirmed their intention to enroll, the highest number in Texas A&M's history, and
some 260 African-American freshmen have confirmed - the highest number since 1996.
28% of our freshman class of 7100 last fall and this fall are first generation college
students - truly a fulfillment of our land grant history and heritage. This is one of the
largest percentages of first generation college students in tier 1 research universities in
America. "To those who say that higher education - and especially highly ranked
national universities - are less able (or willing) to provide social and economic mobility
for American students from lower income families, I say come and witness what we are
doing at Texas A&M."
We also must be - and are - engaged in significant efforts to ensure that these students
succeed academically. We are doing well - thanks to you and thanks to them- with
overall freshman retention at almost 90%. The Aggie Access program has doubled in size
and serves as a model retention program for the University, with a retention rate of 94%.
Admission of new African-American and Hispanic graduate students is growing as well
- up significantly last year in percentage terms, and up again this year by about 5%.
Our success has brought us national attention. The Chronicle of Higher Education did a
major article on A&M's efforts last winter and the Christian Science Monitor , Houston
Chronicle and other publications have praised our efforts. Perhaps more significantly,
other universities around the country are asking us what we are doing to be successful -
especially since more than a few top universities are experiencing an absolute decline in
We mustn't rest on our laurels. We need to keep working at this - and the involvement
of so many faculty, staff, students and former students in helping us is deeply
appreciated, and must continue. Further, we must sustain the re-allocation of resources
internally to support both the recruitment effort and new scholarships targeted on first
generation college students from lower-income families.
Third, Space: So, where are we going to house all the new faculty? The opening over the
past year or so of both the Cox Wing of the Wehner Building and the new Jack Brown
Chemical Engineering Building certainly have helped. During the past 18 months, under
the leadership of the Council on the Built Environment chaired by Vice Provost Bill
Perry, we have begun a major re-location of administrative and staff offices to the
periphery of the campus in order to create space in the core of the campus for new
faculty. We already have completed more than 40 moves involving 20 buildings. We
will soon begin construction of a General Services Complex, an administrative building
on Agronomy Road behind the Vet School, which will allow us to move a number of
administrative activities from the central campus.
All that said and done, re-arranging the academic furniture, as it were, will not meet our
space needs - for new faculty, for new laboratories, and for classrooms with the latest
technology. Throughout the first two years I was here, I candidly confessed to you that
alone among our four top priorities, I had no idea how we could fund additional new
Perhaps, the most astonishing development of the past year, and perhaps the most
significant news I have for you today, is that we have acquired the financial wherewithal
to begin almost immediately an unprecedented construction program at Texas A&M --
with a total estimated cost of about $275 million. This includes four major new
academic buildings. First, a new Life Sciences Complex at a cost of nearly $100 million.
Second, a $50 million Emerging Technologies Building, which will be occupied primarily
by the Dwight Look College of Engineering and its research partners.
In addition, we will be able to move promptly to construct two buildings for Physics.
Completion of these two buildings, at a cost of some $57 million, will free significant
additional main campus space for the College of Engineering and others.
Meanwhile, we also are planning an expansion of the lab animal resource and research
building, a nuclear magnetic resonance imaging building, and an addition to the
Veterinary Medicine Research Tower.
You would be justified in asking where the money is coming from. Inasmuch as I had to
leave my printing press behind at CIA, and the Chemistry Department still has not come
up with a way to change lead into gold, we had to look elsewhere. The answer, in brief,
is that the money is coming from the Texas A&M University System and from a major
private gift. As I reported at last year's Convocation, thanks to the work of Interim
Chancellor Benton Cocanougher, in mid-2004 the System significantly increased our
Available University Fund - AUF - allocation to allow us to build the Life Sciences
Complex. Then, just a few months ago, Chancellor Robert McTeer most generously
agreed to provide Permanent University Fund - PUF - bonds to finance that Life
Sciences Complex, thereby allowing us to use the AUF money we had set aside for that
facility to pay for Life Sciences for the Emerging Technologies building. The two Physics
buildings will be paid through a combination of one-time University funds and a major
private gift, which I hope we can announce in a week or two.
Based on our conversations with the Texas A&M University System, the four academic
buildings will be constructed more or less simultaneously, and the largest, the Life
Sciences Complex, could be complete as early as 30 months from now. So, enjoy the
tranquility of the campus this fall and winter. It's not going to last much beyond that.
The implications of our plans are, I think, national in scope. "At a time when many
political, business and academic leaders are decrying the decline of science and
engineering in American higher education, Texas A&M is stepping forward with bold
plans - and the resources to support those plans - to increase our science and
engineering faculty by nearly 200 and to construct new science and engineering research
and teaching facilities valued at more than $200 million". These investments will not
only significantly enhance science and engineering research and teaching at Texas A&M,
but will firmly establish us as a leader nationally in these critical areas so essential for
America's future growth, prosperity and competitiveness.
Fourth, Improving Undergraduate and Graduate Education: Almost a year ago, I
appointed a task force, led by former Interim Dean of Geosciences and Professor of
Oceanography Dr. Mary Jo Richardson, to look at the entire undergraduate experience
and make recommendations about how to make it even richer and more rewarding at
Texas A&M. The Task Force, involving multiple working groups and many faculty, staff
and students, completed its work on schedule in late May. It addressed the following
issues: developing a common freshman year experience; learning communities;
undergraduate research; leadership development; enhanced honors opportunities;
enhanced course delivery (such as greater flexibility in scheduling, the use of technology,
rewarding innovative teaching, and so forth, summer school; the core curriculum;
integrating the academic and extracurricular experiences; a general studies degree; and
faster progress toward a degree.
This effort was one of the most far-reaching, integrated examination of the
undergraduate experience at Texas A&M in a very long time. Our faculty reinvestment
program will facilitate turning the ideas of the Task Force into reality. As colleges,
departments and University administrators study the results and recommendations, and
proceed with implementation, the impact on our undergraduates' experience here will
be dramatic. Two hallmark features of a Texas A&M education - leadership
development and linking student learning experiences in the classroom with those
outside it - are important points of focus of the Task Force's efforts. But we are also
using the findings of the Task Force to develop new approaches to undergraduate
education at Texas A&M that will emphasize interdisciplinary studies and
undergraduate research. Finally, I hope we will be able to give students a choice
between a degree program aimed at professional proficiency and a well-rounded broader
degree program meeting rigorous academic standards but largely custom designed to
match the interests and strengths of each student. Either program would result in
Aggies being even better prepared for "leadership in 21st century America."
We also have taken major long overdue major steps to improve the graduate student
experience. Over the last two years, funding for graduate student-related initiatives
increased significantly. However, effective this fall, in a major new initiative and
enhancement of our graduate program, the University will pay tuition for all graduate
assistants - both teaching and non-teaching. The estimated cost will be nearly $10
million, the money coming from combining resources available both in the colleges and
in the University. We also have directed that faculty include in grant proposals tuition
and fees for graduate students who will be participating in the grant research. These
initiatives will make Texas A&M far more competitive for high quality graduate
students and should contribute significantly to growing our graduate student numbers.
We're also leading two new Texas A&M University System-wide programs - Pathways
to the Doctorate and the Texas A&M University System Graduate Faculty - to make it
easier for students from other Texas A&M System universities to transition to graduate
study at Texas A&M. This program also affords us the opportunity further to improve
our recruitment of African-American and Hispanic graduate students.
Finally, in the humanities, I am today announcing a series of Presidential Roundtables -
two this fall and one next spring - which will bring together administrators, faculty and
students to discuss 1) the value of the humanities for society at large, 2) the nature and
challenge of humanities research, and 3) the future of humanities education. Our
participation in this national initiative, undertaken by the Association of American
Universities and the American Council of Learned Societies, recognizes both the critical
role of the humanities in making us better people and more productive citizens, as well
as the significant achievements made in the humanities here at Texas A&M over the last
decade. Continued strengthening of the humanities at Texas A&M is an essential
element of our effort to take the University to a new level of excellence.
While needless to say, there was change and progress in many other areas at A&M over
the past year. Perhaps the most controversial issue on campus during the last year was a
return to the expectation that a full class-load means taking 15 credit hours each fall and
spring semester. While we have the best six-year graduation rate among Texas public
universities (76%), according to the most recent data, just 37% of A&M students
graduated in four years. The average class load last year was just above 13 hours per
semester. There was, and continues to be, considerable pressure from the Texas
Legislature and our Board of Regents to change this - to improve time to graduation in
order to make room for more students.
If you go to a current University catalogue, you will see that almost every degree program
- including in Engineering - provides for taking at least 15 hours each semester and
graduating in four years. With our faculty expansion, I believe we can now deliver the
courses necessary to support this. There will undoubtedly be some hiccups as we
implement flat tuition and try to get students to take at least 15 hours most semesters.
That is why we have an appeals process. But students will also need to work closely
with their academic advisers.
To try to enumerate all of the other areas of improvement and success at Texas A&M
would take longer than anyone here will tolerate. So, let me mention just a few other
In July, I advised the Board of Regents that the "One Spirit, One Vision" campaign
led by the Texas A&M Foundation had achieved its goal of $1 billion nearly 18 months
early. I noted however, that the victory had been uneven, and some colleges and
programs still had some distance to go to reach their individual goals. Also, several new
initiatives - such as the faculty reinvestment program - have been undertaken since the
$1 billion goal was set. Thus, I encourage the Foundation and all of A&M's former
students and friends to keep up the good work that has brought us so far.
We have successfully continued our efforts to keep administrative costs at Texas
A&M the lowest (as a percentage of overall expenditures) among all public universities
in Texas. We have reduced administrative and staff support by nearly 300 positions
overall, outsourced support functions when economically advantageous, developed
business plans to get money-losing auxiliaries (such as Reed Arena) at least to break
even, and have re-structured a number of operations to make them more efficient.
As we cut costs and strive to keep administrative expenditures as low as possible, I
am quite mindful that the negative impact of these measures falls disproportionately on
our staff, especially on those who have lost their jobs, but also on those who remain and
whose morale has been affected by the departure of friends and colleagues and by
uncertainty about their own future. Those of us involved in making these decisions are
fully, painfully, aware of the human cost. All I can say, by way of reassurance, is that
while we will continue to evaluate our business practices and try to reduce
administrative costs wherever we can, I believe the lion's share of job reductions are
A final thought. Our staff - our academic and student affairs advisers, administrative
and clerical support, safety and police officers, parking and transportation staff, those in
food service, our custodians and maintenance workers, and others - are critical to our
success as a University. They help our students, they protect us, they feed us, they keep
our living and work space clean, they keep our campus one of the most beautiful and
well-kept anywhere. All of our new initiatives that hold so much promise for the future
could not and can not be implemented without their skills, their service and their caring.
I ask faculty, administrators and students never to miss an opportunity to thank these
hard-working Aggies for all they do for all of us. They are every bit as important to our
future as anyone else on campus. They are an integral part of the Aggie family.
Our branch campus in Qatar is thriving as it enters its third year, with 146
students, 40% of them women. We have 22 faculty there, and had some 600
applications for the 60 or so freshman slots this fall. We will not be able to approach our
planned enrollment of 400 students until construction is complete on our 450,000
square foot engineering building there in January of 2007.
Our branch campus in Galveston celebrated completion of its new Engineering
building this year, as well as replacement of the venerable Texas Clipper II with a newer
and larger ship. The Regents also approved a new vice president and CEO of the
Galveston campus, Dr. Bowen Loftin '70. Dr. Loftin taught at Galveston early in his
career, and returns to us from Old Dominion University in Virginia.
Texas A&M has some 3800 international students. Only ten other universities in
America have more. They're an extremely important part of the University, and we are
taking a number of steps to make them a more integral part of the Aggie family. These
include designating this year as the "year of the international student," and the funding
of new initiatives to take advantage of the educational opportunities presented by having
one of the largest international student populations of any university in America.
Finally, last year, responding to the concerns of a number of our faculty, the
Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling for a Living Wage for Texas A&M University
employees. In response, I appointed a task force, led by Dr. Benton Cocanougher, to
address the issue of staff wages and benefits. I not only accepted the Task Force's
recommendations to raise the entry level wage, but increased it beyond their
recommendation. Further, because of the importance of our staff, as I just discussed, I
agreed with the Task Force recommendation that we be the "employer of choice" in the
Brazos Valley in terms of both wages and benefits. Within budgetary constraints, we
must make sure our staff are paid and treated properly. It is noteworthy that the entire
faculty and administrative staff received lower merit pay increases this year in order to
provide increased compensation to our lowest paid employees. This was a faculty
initiative to help a critical part of the Aggie family, and I applaud those who led it.
Well, it was a busy year, but much work remains to be done. Much will be required of
the faculty as we go out to fill the remaining 200 additional faculty positions, not to
mention replacing those who retire or move away. Much patience will be required of all
of us once construction of the new academic buildings get underway, because all of us
will be inconvenienced for some period of time. And implementation of the
recommendations of the Task Force on Enhancing Undergraduate Education and new
ideas growing out of the Task Force's work will require the efforts of many faculty and
As we move forward on so many initiatives, it is clear that the role of the faculty is
critical. Over the past three years, we have involved the faculty in virtually every council,
task force and other collaborative effort to address issues and hire administrators and
deans. There has been no decision in which the faculty has not had a significant and
influential voice. We have worked especially with the Faculty Senate, its Executive
Committee and Speaker, as well as the Distinguished Professors, the Council of Principal
Investigators, and many faculty.
From time to time though, I hear from individual faculty members that none of these
groups, nor department heads or deans speak for them. I believe you will not find a
university president more willing to work with the faculty in decision-making than I am.
But I cannot do so with more than 2000, and soon to be nearly 2500, individual faculty
members. If shared governance is to have any meaning at all, it can only be done - in the
main - through faculty organizations and especially the faculty's elected representatives
in the Faculty Senate. Those faculty unhappy with the Faculty Senate should run for
office and, as an elected member of the Senate, work to improve it. Because, I assure you
that while I, the Provost, and others in the administration will continue to work closely
with the faculty, reality dictates that we must do so primarily through your elected
representatives. That said, as many of you can attest, my door is always open to
individual faculty members.
Our diversity efforts will require continuing attention, effort and resources. The
successes we have enjoyed will demand continuing commitment. But there is more to
our commitment to diversity than recruitment of new students and faculty of various
races and ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, religious beliefs and geography.
"The hallmark of this campus is its welcoming, friendly environment," a phenomenon
witnessed just this week by victims of Hurricane Katrina - whether evacuee sheltered
and cared for in Reed Arena or displaced student welcomed into the Aggie family. This
is one of the most important Aggie traditions. It makes us different than virtually all
other large universities. That welcoming and friendly environment makes a gigantic
university into a family, the Aggie family, where we respect each other, look out for each
other, bond together for the rest of our lives.
Still, there seem to be a tiny number among us who do not accept the idea of an Aggie
family. Among the overwhelming majority of welcoming Aggies, there are apparently an
immature or ignorant few in our larger community who would exclude and insult some
members of the Aggie family or visitors to our campus. Their behavior belies all we
believe not just about the Aggie family, but the importance of character, integrity, and
ethics here at Texas A&M. "We must have zero tolerance for incivility on our campus;"
those who insult a few Aggies because they are different in some way from the majority
insult all Aggies. Even one such person is one too many. Their offensive behavior must
be opposed and we must educate them to accept and practice Aggie values.
Our drive for excellence is recognized nation-wide. While individual rankings are
always suspect, when multiple such rankings all suggest a common trend, attention
must be paid. According to US News and World Report, in the last two years we have
advanced from 27th among public universities to 21st. The magazine now ranks us fifth
nationally in terms of "best values" among American universities. Our engineering
program is ranked 8th among public universities. According to Forbes magazine, our
business program is ranked in the top ten nationally among public universities. In a new
ranking, The Washington Monthly magazine ranks us 7th in the nation in terms of
contribution to the country, based on enrollment of students from lower income families,
students who enter public service and the military, places where research advances
economic development and competitiveness, and more. In short, in every arena, Texas
A&M is drawing attention and respect for our efforts to take every aspect of campus life
to a new level of excellence. "If universities can be said to be a brand - and like it or not
they are, then ours is a unique combination of world class academics with time-tested
values, tradition and spirit. A unique combination of the brain and the heart."
In sum, it's been another year of dramatic change - and, I believe, improvement - in every
area at Texas A&M as all parts of the University drive toward a higher level of
excellence. As some of you know, my role in this process at A&M nearly ended early in
the year with a call from Washington, D.C. On January 6, 2005, Andy Card, President
Bush's Chief of Staff (and an old friend), called to see if I would be willing to become the
Director of National Intelligence - the "intelligence czar" created by Congress in 2004. I
told him that I did not want to leave A&M and did not want to return to Washington.
Still, I felt duty-bound to give the request serious consideration. For the next 17 days,
including several hours at the White House on the Monday before Inauguration Day, I
wrestled with this decision. On Sunday, January 23rd, I decided that if I might be able to
help make America safer in a dangerous time, then I must, and therefore had to accept
the position - and leave A&M.
That evening, I wrote out what I would say at the traditional introductory press
conference in Washington with the President. A press conference I expected would take
place within a few days. I also wrote an e-mail to all Aggies explaining my decision, to be
issued in College Station at the same time the press conference began. The last sentence
of that e-mail read: "For now, though, I only wanted you to know that this appointment
was due to no initiative of mine, that the decision was wrenching, and that I can hardly
bear the idea of leaving Aggieland."
I then went for a late night walk around campus. Through the Quad, by the Evans
Library, past Sbisa and around the Northside dorms, back by the YMCA building, and
finally to Academic Plaza and the statue of Sul Ross. I sat down on a bench there, as
thoughts raced through my mind of Ross and Rudder, of Silver Taps and Muster, of the
Corps, of the incredible students and faculty and staff here, and of all that is underway to
make A&M greater. I realized, sitting there alone in the dark, brushing away tears, how
much I had come to love Texas A&M, all it stands for, and all it can become. And I knew
at that moment I could not leave.
I called Andy Card at Camp David at 8:00 the next morning, and told him I had to tell
the President no.
I have not regretted that decision. Washington, D.C. is my past; Texas A&M is my
present and my future (at least for a while). There is no position or opportunity for me
now more significant than President of Texas A&M University. And none I would trade
And so, we greet this new academic year with renewed determination and energy to
move to an even higher level of excellence for Texas A&M - a unique American
institution. Hold on to your hats, and enjoy the ride. Nothing similar to it is likely to
occur again in your career.
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