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Gaertner Outlines Vision for SHSU's Future

James F. Gaertner
James F. Gaertner

By Byron Hays/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item

Sam Houston State University's new president James Gaertner addressed a packed house of faculty and staff Tuesday in Killinger Auditorium, announcing that the university is "poised to make a giant step" in its history.

After acknowledging the positive legacy handed over to him by retiring SHSU president Bobby K. Marks, Gaertner delivered an eagerly awaited overview of his vision for the future of the institution -- including a number of specific actions he plans to take in the near future.

"The budget is in good shape," he said, "we are an under-funded institution, but we are solid. There are no big problems to overcome, no big political problems to overcome. And most of those things are really a credit to Bobby Marks, and you."

"I assure you that I'm aware that the university didn't begin on Aug. 16, 2001, the day I came to work," Gaertner said. "There were a lot of wonderful things going on at that time. And one of my jobs is to be sure I don't mess any of those things up.

"This basic premise that Sam Houston State is poised to move lead me to put together an agenda, or platform that I first shared with the search committee a couple of months ago," he continued, "and I would like to now share it with you."

Gaertner then delivered a straightforward outline of some of the key elements he has in mind to facilitate the "giant step" he believes the university is ready to make. One of the most visible items on his agenda will be construction of a new student dormitory, which he hopes to put into action by next fall.

"We are going to attempt to have a contract for new dormitories by the beginning of the next academic year," he said, "and we are looking at several options to relieve the pressure on parking."

Another item on Gaertner's agenda is the creation of a President's Circle, which would consist of approximately 20 to 30 prominent, high-profile SHSU alumni and friends of the university from around the country.

"We would bring them to the campus two or three times a year to show them the quality (university) that we have, let them know about the university and ask them to help us get the word out about what an outstanding institution we have," Gaertner said.

And, on a local level, he proposed the formation of a joint university - community council which would look at student/community relations. Among the ideas being explored is the development of "Bearkat Bucks," which students would be able to spend with local merchants.

Some SHSU administrators said they were pleased with Gaertner's plans.

"I think he had some very good comments," said Joey Chandler, director of admissions. "Being a Sam graduate himself, I think that gives him a good background to know more about the university than the other candidates (for the SHSU presidency) that we might have chosen. I especially am pleased that he is supportive of increasing our admissions standards. We have been working on that for some time now. We are really excited about the changes that will begin in the fall of 2002."

Huntsville Mayor Bill Green, who serves as the university's chairman of the department of economics and international business,applauded the new president's words.

"He did an extremely good job of outlining the issues that needed to be addressed," he said. "Without being very specific, which would have been inappropriate at this time. I think that he probably needs input from the various members of the university community that can help him fill out the details of his outline. But, I think he did a good job of outlining and identifying things that the university needs to address and allowing an opportunity for all constituencies to provide him with some input in terms of how those decisions will be made."

Carol Smith, professor of music, said she was "taken with how positive he is for our future."

Frank Krystiniak, SHSU director of public relations said he was impressed with Gaertner.

"I believe his presentation was very interesting and very well received," he said.

ACADEMICS: Gaertner proposes a reduction in professors' teaching loads to allow more faculty academic research and publishing activity. The move, he said, would enhance SHSU's reputation in the academic community, helping to attract more and better students.

Gaertner plans to establish a committee to study the quality of SHSU's learning environment, expand international programs and study admissions standards and student retention in hopes those standards would rise as the years pass.

Gaertner emphasized that he is committed to continuing efforts to upgrade salaries for faculty and staff.

IMAGE AND EXPOSURE: Gaertner quoted numbers from a report comparing contributions by alumni to various institutions. Currently, SHSU ranks among the lowest, prompting him to propose an aggressive campaign which would involve a major public relations program to elevate the university's image.

"I'm convinced that our quality is way ahead of our image," he said, "and, in my judgment, we need to do something about that."

Gaertner pointed out that "we're in Texas", and "our image before the general public is closely related to who we play (in athletics) and how we do when we play them . . . and so I am in favor of support for our athletic program."

"It's something we can all rally around -- students, faculty, staff and alumni," he said.

CAMPUS ATMOSPHERE, COMMUNITY AND CULTURE: Gaertner said the university should look at upgrading areas around the campus to make them more "student friendly."

Gaertner also indicated plans to take a look at ethnic diversity on the campus, and among faculty.

"The total minority enrollment at the university is about 26 percent," he said. "Nationally, it is about 26 percent, and in Texas -- with its strong Hispanic population -- that number is about 40 percent.

"We've done a good job in this area," he said, "but one area, in my judgment, that we have not done a good job is in providing role models for these students. We simply don't have enough people of color in our faculty and staff, and I would hope that we would work on that."

PRIDE: "I'm sure you are as proud as I am to be a part of Sam Houston State University," Gaertner told faculty and staff members, "and I promise I will work as hard as I can while I am president for the university and its people. I have no personal agenda, other than what's best for the university."

Gaertner added that 10 years from now, he would like to see SHSU "be the best that we can be."

CONTINUING FEEDBACK: Many ideas being considered need more assessment, Gaertner said, and will be folded into a strategic plan which he plans to have ready later this academic year.

He said he will attempt to meet with "everyone at the university," in small group settings over the coming semester, "because I want to hear what you have to say."

"We need, and I need a lot of support, and a lot of help, to make SHSU a better place for the students, and for the community," he said. "It's been demonstrated so far that it's there, and I am sure that it will continue."


Gaertner said he is "pretty familiar" with the 10-year master plan proposed by local architect Ralph Spencer under Marks' leadership.

He said, however, "before we implement it, we need just a little more study."

In particular, he is somewhat concerned about the location of the proposed dormitory on the south side of the campus as it may impact parking.

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Sept. 20, 2001
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