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James F. Gaertner
President James F. Gaertner
Speech by James F. Gaertner on February 21, 2002, at his investiture as the 12th president of Sam Houston State University.


Regents' Chairman Flores, members of the Texas State University System Board of Regents, Congressman Turner, former Regent Monday, President Emeritus Marks, Chancellor Urbanovsky, The Texas State University System Presidents, and other distinguished members of the Platform Party; distinguished faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, family, and honored guests: thank you all so very much for being here today.

On this very special day, I hope you will indulge me in a few minutes of "personal privilege" to tell several people in the audience how much they have meant to me in my life. I know that my family has been introduced, but I want to tell them all how very special they are to me.

First, of course, is my wife, life partner, and best friend, Nancy, whom I re-met and "captured" here at Sam Houston, and who has been such a great and supportive partner in every possible way over the years. All of our family is here today except our youngest grandson, Scott and Wendy's three month old son Riley James. He decided that he would rather stay home and take a nap than join us today. (Good for him!!!)

There are so many people in the audience, and on the stage, who have been instrumental in my life; however, I would like to specifically mention four special friends for their friendship and guidance through the years.

First, Britt Jenkins. Britt's mother and my mother were friends in Yoakum Texas before we were born. So we have been friends for longer than either of us can remember. Britt is the President of Tandy Brands Accessories, and because of my association with the company, we are now business colleagues, as well as life-long friends.

Britt has been a loyal friend, and a role model for me in many ways, for my entire life.

Next, Ken Milani, a colleague at Notre Dame is here today representing Notre Dame, with his wife Joan. Ken mentored me; and, he, Joan and their family were great friends to our family, in our early and slightly intimidating days at Notre Dame.

My dissertation chair and long-time friend from Texas A&M, Kerry Cooper, is here today with his wife Maryvonne. As an untenured Assistant Professor, Kerry bravely escorted me through a complex dissertation experience at A&M.

Britt, Ken and Kerry have been friends that I call on for advice often, because of their judgment and their ethical approach to decision making.

Finally, I want to mention James Gilmore. I was a student about 40 years ago in a very rigorous business finance class that James taught on the third floor of what is now the Bobby K. Marks Administration Building. And although the field of business finance has changed dramatically over that time, the essence of Dr. Gilmore has not.

He is still the principled, dependable gentleman, and mentor to me at present, that he was then. To my absolute delight, James agreed to chair the Investiture Committee that put this grand and complex program together.

I have been humbled and honored by the tremendous amount of work that the Investiture Committee has devoted to this special day. You have my deepest appreciation; and I fully realize that it is an expression of the love and devotion that so many people feel for Sam Houston State University.

Nancy and I both hope the entire university community, our distinguished faculty, and all others, will accept heartfelt thanks for the reception you have given us in this first six months here. You have made the transition a wonderful experience.

I would like to take a moment to give special recognition to the staff that are here today. They are so often the forgotten stakeholders who literally make the wheels of the university run. I have been blessed with great staff support here and throughout my administrative career. A deep-felt thanks to all of the staff people present for all of your invaluable work. You are appreciated!!!

Thanks also for the attendance today of the representatives from colleges and universities from across the nation. You truly honor us with your presence, and add greatly to the ceremony of this occasion.

We are brought together today, not as much to celebrate any one individual, but rather this event gives us all the opportunity to celebrate our wonderful university.... And to look to the promise of the future, and the great potential of Sam Houston State.

The past six months have been a homecoming for me in many ways, and I am truly filled with enthusiasm. In that regard, I cannot help but be reminded of what Clark Kerr said to a University of California assembly to announce that he had been fired from his position as President of that institution. He told the audience that he was leaving the job in exactly the same way he began it ---- fired with enthusiasm. I am here to announce that I, too, am fired with enthusiasm, in the more positive interpretation of that phrase.

I know some of you have heard me say this, but the office where I work is exactly the same room where I taught my first college class. The year was 1964, I was a senior, and worked as a stock-clerk in the campus bookstore. Dr. Jean Neal, who was then the director of business administration, came through the bookstore. I had just completed Dr. Neal's statistics course and, in an early personal effort at upward mobility, (and hoping that he would remember me), I decided to ask him if there was any sort of job I might do in the department of business. He essentially hired me on the spot as his teaching assistant, and in a few days I found myself teaching a business statistics lab in the exact room that has since been renovated and is now my office as president of the university. Just outside the door in a small room that is now a part of the president's conference room was the shared office of two young assistant professors --- Bob Marks and James Gilmore. So I am very fortunate to have been able to begin my career and to close it, not only at the university that I love, but in exactly the same location.

I would at this time like to especially thank the Regents for giving me the privilege to serve as the 12th President of Sam Houston State University. What an honor it is to serve as the President of the third oldest state-supported university in Texas.

We are indeed a great university, named after a great man who did not know the meaning of the word "quit." A man whose victory at San Jacinto in 1836 made possible the dream of an independent nation.

We are now in our 122nd year, so history ... heritage ... tradition - these are all important words for us at Sam Houston .... And we will always celebrate that history.

Our university entered this year with a record 12,997 students. We offer 80 different baccalaurate degrees, there are 57 masters, and 3 (soon to be 4) doctoral programs available here.

All of our programs are strong, and some are extraordinary. And that is largely because our outstanding faculty has grown in both numbers and reputation. Intellectual inquiry and scholarship will be strongly encouraged to grow in importance in the future, but our faculty now first and foremost teach our students. We honor outstanding teaching here. It is our heritage. And direct contact between the student and teacher is the hallmark of a Sam Houston State University educational experience.

At Sam Houston State University, it is absolutely true to say that students and faculty get to know each other. Student surveys confirm this strength. Additionally, you see it on campus. Our faculty members are accessible, they encourage that access. Very few universities of this size can say such a thing and really mean it.

The end result of this is that Sam Houston State today attracts the best and brightest students in its history. For that we can thank my predecessors, especially Dr. Bobby Marks. Dr. Marks has for many years truly been the core of strength of Sam Houston. And I am fortunate, indeed blessed, to come into such a wonderful situation.

We can celebrate our history, and we can take pride in our present.... But what of the years ahead? And what should you expect of me?

Here is what I will tell you: Yes, we should celebrate our history, and yes, we should take pride in the present, but we must live in the future. We can't afford to stand still, we can't afford to declare victory. We at Sam Houston State must renew ourselves, we must keep getting better ...all across the board.... And that is my goal.

For Sam Houston this "renewal" is more than about growing and adapting..... It means making critical choices about the paths we will follow, being selective as well as aggressive. It means not sticking with something that clearly has run its course, just because "we have always done it that way".

The challenge that I feel every day, and one that I hope our university will embrace --- is to be engaged.

Let me quote Dr. Stephen Weber, current president of San Diego State University and incoming Chair of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities on the engaged university: " to be a great university", he said, "is not to be an ivory tower perched on a distant hill ... it is to be an involved and engaged partner in the work of life itself.... A work which makes us better teachers, better scholars, and I think, better human beings."

Sam Houston State University is going to be engaged..... engaged with all of our stakeholders, and engaged with our nation and with the world. We can't be successful --- we can't be significantly better --- by walling ourselves into a comfortable niche here in the beautiful piney woods. Globalization is a reality, made possible largely by the explosion of many different technologies. We have to be full citizens of the global community, both to have an impact, and to gain access to the knowledge that is out there.

When I met with the Selection Committee and later with the Board of Regents last summer, I came to those meetings with some opinions developed, not only through my own life experiences and academic career, but also as a Sam Houston alumnus who had great pride in the university; and a strong sense of where it might be able to go.

At that time I said that I believed the three most important areas of focus should be:
One: academics come first!!! This means continuing the process of faculty development and of upgrading academic standards. This means strengthening and expanding our outstanding faculty to embrace new areas of learning. It means thinking carefully about not only our academic standards, but what we teach, and how we teach it....... recognizing that any curriculum, course of study, or pedagogy can be improved.

Two: increase the university's visibility, and improve our image so that both current and future faculty, students and supporters will more easily identify with Sam Houston State.... And want to be a part of it.

And, three: provide added focus to the university and community atmosphere and culture.... The spirit....the diversity... the physical campus itself.... All of which make our university such a special place.

After I was named President, my first address to the campus community was September 18 --- exactly one week after the terror attacks first shook our nation and then strengthened our unity and resolve.

As might be expected, the campus community wanted a straight-forward explanation of goals and actions, and at that address I outlined those same three focal points.

I promised that we were not going to lose time in pursuing those objectives, and I can tell you that no freshman ever had a busier, or more enjoyable, first semester than I had last fall.

In keeping with my pledges made last summer and fall, let me mention a few of the things that are presently under way.

The preliminary planning and hiring has begun to launch a major capital campaign for Sam Houston State.... A big part of which will go to faculty enrichment. (We must be certain that our annual fund is in good shape before we launch this very ambitious initiative; (smile) and I urge all of you to consider making a significant contribution to that annual fund drive.)

We are moving to build badly-needed new student housing.... We hope to have the requests for proposals ready for Regents' consideration in May.... If all is in order, and subsequently approved, new student housing should be ready about 18 months from now - in the fall of 2003.

We very much appreciate the fact that, at their October meeting, the Regents approved the construction of 750 additional parking spaces on campus. These additional spaces will be ready before the end of this academic year.

A President's Circle is being created--- pulling together a small group of influential alumni and friends of the University. The founding core group of that Circle held its first meeting on January 19. We plan to bring the President's Circle to campus twice a year.... Not only will they be valuable advisors, but as they learn more about the quality that they will see first hand, they are going to help us get the word out about Sam Houston State, and gain additional support for the university.

Through the generosity of Mrs. Lou Ellen Gibbs, just this past month, we have achieved funding for a promised Presidential Speakers Series --- a series that will bring enrichment to our campus, and wider recognition for the university.... Gene Stallings was our first speaker ---- to an overflow crowd in the Criminal Justice Center auditorium --- just two weeks ago. To those who were fortunate enough to be there, I'm sure you will agree that he delivered a truly unforgettable message.

Recently we entered into a short term agreement with an outstanding public relations firm in a greatly increased effort to achieve higher public visibility for this university and the quality it represents. Telling the story of Sam Houston State University will help us gain support, and recruit strong students and faculty. We expect that you will soon see tangible evidence of this endeavor.

I will be out a lot this spring.... There are four planned regional meetings with our Texas alumni. (The first one is scheduled for two weeks from today.) We are going to work very hard to connect meaningfully with our alumni. I have also had several meetings with key people and foundation executives in Houston, taking to them the message of our university.

In early fall we introduced a program of both formal meeting with various campus groups, and smaller informal breakfast meetings with faculty and staff .... to hear ideas and answer questions ... and to further refine and develop our plans for the future.

We have charged the Faculty Senate to study both teaching loads and professional student advising. These are very important issues that are tied directly to recruiting and retaining top quality faculty.

And let me also mention this: over the past ten years our African American student population has increased by 36% and our Hispanic student population by 63%. Yet the number of our minority faculty has remained relatively unchanged.

As I emphasized to our academic leadership at a recent retreat, it is vital that Sam Houston, not only provide a welcoming atmosphere for minority students, but also provide these students with academic role models. In keeping not only with Closing-the-Gaps, but with our moral obligation, we must continue to attract increasing numbers of minority students, but we must do a better job of attracting outstanding minority faculty and staff.

So..... during the time that I am fortunate enough to be President of this university, we are not going to ever "declare victory." We are going to celebrate our history ... and we will take pride in the present accomplishments of our university, but I'm telling you the best part is living in ---- and for --- the future.

When Dr. Lawrence Summers was installed as President of Harvard University last October, he said: "When the history of this time is written, it will be a history of ideas --- and of the educated women and men whose intellect, imagination, and humanity brought them forth and carried them to fruition.... It will, in large part, be a history of what has come forth from (campuses)."

It is honestly up to all of us who are associated with Sam Houston State, and who care about this wonderful university, to further develop and refine our vision.... And then to make it happen.

Today, Sam Houston State University is much like a huge old East Texas oak tree. The roots of our history run deep and give us continuity and stability. And the branches of Sam Houston State grow taller and taller, and their reach is wider and wider.... Renewing that growth every year, just as we are celebrating a renewal today. These branches are always reaching out to students, faculty, alumni, friends, to the region, and to the world.

It is our purpose ---- together ---- to ensure that this wonderful university continues to build on its strong foundation ... and never, never stops reaching.

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Feb. 22, 2002
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