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Marks says farewell to university

Bobby K. Marks
Bobby K. Marks, who retired from his position of Sam Houston State University president this year, will leave the campus on Aug. 31, after 41 years of service to the university.

By Byron Hays/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item

After a long and enthusiastic career carried him to the presidency of Sam Houston State University, Bobby Kees Marks looks forward to retirement with equal gusto.

In a special interview with The Huntsville Item this week, Marks reviewed a 41-year career that has witnessed the growth and development of a former teacher's college into one of Texas' important doctoral intensive state universities.

"It just doesn't seem like 41 years has passed since I came to Sam Houston State University," he said, "but it has. And I have enjoyed every one of them.

"I can honestly say that I have looked forward to getting to work every single day that I have been associated with Sam Houston State University," Marks said.

"Now, when I say that, you might not think I am looking forward to retirement, and that is not the case.

"With a heart attack under my belt, and being 67 years old, and having served 41 years with Sam Houston State ... I'm ready for retirement.

"I know I'm going to miss the people," he said, "but they're going to have an office for me up here, and I'm gonna be able to come back up and say hello, and have coffee with different individuals.

"That will ease the burden of clipping that umbilical, you know, making the transition into retirement," Marks said. "I am looking forward to it."

Marks announced his intention to retire about a year ago. Following an intensive search for a successor, the Texas State Board of Regents confirmed the selection of James Gaertner, an SHSU alumnus, to become the university's 11th president.

Gaertner will begin assuming Marks' duties in August and will officially take the Sam Houston State helm on September 1.

Although Marks and his wife, Colleen, have looked at some New Mexico real estate for a possible vacation home site, "Huntsville is home for us," he said. "We will continue to call this our primary residence, no question about it."

"We fell in love with Huntsville and Sam Houston State University when we came here in 1960," Marks said, "and this is home to us now, and we will certainly stay here.

"Red River New Mexico is one of our favorite places to go," he said, "But we will probably not acquire any property there. We will probably just travel around and visit different parts of the country.

"I enjoy the outdoors and I enjoy fly fishing," he said, "and I think every fly fishing person enjoys fishing in different places -- seeing new territory."

His career

Marks came to SHSU in 1960 as an instructor in the business department. He had just obtained a master's degree from the University of North Texas, after leaving a promising business career with an oil field supply company.

"I remember my parents thought I had taken complete leave of my senses when I resigned from a really good job and decided to go back to graduate school," he said.

Marks spent most of his growing-up years in Beaumont, where his father worked for the Santa Fe Railroad.

After graduation from Lamar University there, he spent a couple of years in the military and then worked in sales for an oil field supply company for nearly three years.

Marks' father-in-law was the president of Lamar University. He and Colleen met when both were freshmen at Lamar, and they married four years later.

"He had been a professor, and went up through the ranks and became president of Lamar in 1952 -- the year that Colleen and I both started as freshman there," Marks said.

"When I took this teaching job at Sam, he wrote me a long letter. He said that he hoped that he had not been an undue influence on me.

"One of my regrets is that he died before he knew I had enjoyed a successful career," he said. "I had made full professor before he passed away, and he took great pride that I had reached that academic rank at a pretty early age. He was pleased about that, and probably surprised as well."

Instructor Marks

"When I came here, I did not know if I would like teaching or not," Marks said.

"My desk was right here where I am sitting right now, right here (in the conference room area of the president's office)," he said. "A guy named Charles Manning sat behind me, and James Gilmore had a private office across from us.

"I was at the bottom of the academic rank and began teaching personnel management, marketing and introduction to business.

"Back in those days, you had to teach across a number of areas.

"The entire department of business administration in the fall of 1960 was located on this third floor of the administration building -- the whole thing!" he said. "I guess there were not over 10 faculty members then, in what is now the college of business administration.

"I can still remember the exhilaration of teaching that first class. I just felt like the Lord must have created me to do this," Marks said. "I didn't want people to know how much I liked it, because I was afraid they would make me pay them, instead of them paying me to do the job."

Marks said he knew that if he was going to stay "in this work" he needed to get a doctorate.

"So, I wrote to my mentor, Richard Setzer, dean of the College of Business at Lamar University in Beaumont, and I told him I really like this university teaching thing, and feel like I need to obtain a PhD.

"He said "don't go to the University of Texas, you're going to want to teach there some day, and if you get your PhD from there, you can't teach there. And don't get a DBA,'" Marks said his mentor told him. ""It's a real good program, but nobody knows what it is, and you'll spend the rest of your academic career explaining to people what kind of degree you have.'

"He told me to get a PhD, so that people know what you're talking about," Marks said, "and to go out of state to acquire it.

""It doesn't make any difference where you go,' he told me, "just go out of state.' So, I ended-up going to the University of Arkansas," Marks said, "and that was a very good program. I got a lot of economics there, and that helped when I served two or three years as chair of the economics department here at Sam. But business management was my primary field."

Up the ladder

Marks' career at SHSU began to move forward in 1967 when he was made a full professor of management.

"At one point I resigned," Marks said. "Louisiana Tech offered me a full professorship when I was not a full professor here, during the administration of Arleigh Templeton. I gave a verbal resignation to Jean Neal, who was dean of the School of Business and Applied Arts.

"Templeton called me over to his office and said, "You know, I'm going to try to talk you out of leaving,' and he did, and I stayed here," Marks said. "I'm glad I did, because things worked out so well for me here.

"When Jean Neal retired, I was appointed dean of the School of Business and Applied Arts, then we got that converted into a regular school of business administration. From there it became a college of business administration."

Marks has an entertaining story about how he became dean of the business school in 1969:

"I was trying to help Templeton recruit a business dean, because our present dean, Neal, was retiring. Templeton didn't want me to help him.

"But, as a young faculty member and a department chair at the time, I thought I ought to be trying to do that. So, he called me over to his office during the spring semester and he said, "I want you to stop trying to recruit a business dean for me.'

"I said, "well, I'm sorry, I was just trying to be helpful.'

"He said, "You're going to be my next business dean'

"I looked at him, and I was pretty much astonished. He said, "Now I don't want you to mention this to anyone. I'm not going to make the announcement for four months, because I'm going to make several administrative appointments and announce them all at the same time. So, stop sending me all these names and having these people contact me. I want you to stop that.'

"Then he told me that between then and the time he was to make the announcement, he wanted me to work up my plans for the school ... and then come back and discuss it.

"So, I went back and started working on those plans.

"At that time, it was the School of Business and Applied Arts. We had just a department of business administration, a department of economics, and a department of graphic arts.

"I wanted to departmentalize business administration, because I knew it could never really develop as a professional area unless we did. I wanted to start working toward a CSB accreditation (which we finally have achieved, but it took years to do).

"I went back to Templeton with my business plan, and showed it to him.

"I had business broken into three departments, plus economics, and the dean as a separate person.

"Neal had served both as dean of the school and chair of the department of business administration.

"Templeton looked at the plan, read what I had presented, and then said, "I want to know why in the hell it takes four people to replace Jean Neal?'

"And I had a hard time explaining to him why.

"But he was good enough to put that plan in place. He told me that he thought I was making a mistake. I was impressed that he was generous enough to allow me to do something that, basically, he disagreed with. However, it did work out well."

The presidency

Marks served the university 15 years as an academic dean, and in 1984 he was named vice president of academic affairs. In 1990, student services was added to his responsibilities.

"During that period, the number of vice presidents was narrowed down to two," Marks said, "and I assumed some responsibilities from the vice presidency that had been eliminated."

He was named president of Sam Houston State University in 1996.

"I was fortunate enough to move into the presidency for the last six years of my academic life," he said, "and it has just been six years of pure pleasure for me."

"The faculty and staff have been very, very supportive. The board of regents has been fantastic to work with. It has been a wonderful cap stone to my 41-year career.

"There are a lot of people in this university that would make a good president," he said.

"I don't know why I got to serve as president, I really don't. I guess timing, you know, being at the right place at the right time has a lot to do with all of that. I don't know how you explain it."

When asked what kinds of special gifts or talents he possessed that may have earned him the presidency, Marks said:

"Oh, I don't think I have any."

It is likely that there are many who would disagree with him.

Wonderful students

In discussing some of the differences between the Sam Houston State campus atmosphere and the rest of the nation, Marks tells this story:

"I remember I was attending a business dean's meeting in San Francisco during the period of student concern for our country's participation in the Viet Nam war. It was the year that President Johnson made the decision to expand the bombing into Cambodia, and the students at Berkeley, nearby, just erupted -- just went berserk there.

"Their business students knew this business dean's meeting was taking place in San Francisco, and they asked for a 10-minute audience to express their opinion about Johnson's decision. We voted to grant them their 10 minutes.

"When I got back to Sam Houston I wondered what had happened here, if anything, because we had not had much student unrest.

"So, I asked my colleagues if our student government association had taken note of Johnson's action.

"They said "yeah, they did. They called a special meeting and debated the issue for some time, and then send a telegram to Lyndon Johnson expressing their support for his action.'

"Whether you agree or disagree with the issue, it just shows the difference in the type of students we were attracting at Sam Houston.

"Certainly not all of them agreed with Johnson's policies, I can tell you that. We had some students who disagreed very strongly. But the official group, on balance, supported his action.

"So, even those years at Sam Houston were fun years.

Then and now

"When I got here in 1960, all we had was what's around the quadrangle anchored by this present administration building," Marks said. "The campus has grown tremendously since, and should continue to grow."

"Enrollment then was about 4,000 students. Maybe 4,200."

Sam Houston State enrollment today is over 12,500 students.

Marks said SHSU started growing by about 800 to 1,000 students per year after he arrived, partly because Texas A&M was not co-educational, and the community college system was not developed at the time.

Another thing that has changed at Sam, Marks said, is a purposeful decentralization of authority.

"SHSU president Elliott Bowers initiated an objective course of decentralizing authority during his administration," he said.

"That reversed a little bit during the Anisman years. He had come from a smaller institution and wanted to be involved a little more in the day-to-day decisions.

"When I came into the presidency, I went back to Bowers' concept and have decentralized authority even more than had been done before," he said.

"We have continued to push major decision making down. We have installed a strategic planning program and a university budget committee.

"We give our deans lump sum budgets and they, with their department chairs, decide how they will distribute it," he said. "Deans now have more fiscal authority and the accompanying fiscal responsibility."

Faculty involvement in university government also has changed dramatically, he said.

"There was no tenure system when I came here in 1960," Marks said, "And we didn't have a faculty senate. All of those things have come along since then.

"During my administration, we gave more meaning to faculty involvement in university government. Representatives from the faculty senate now participate in the strategic planning committee and the budget committee activity."

His primary objectives

"There were four primary strategic objectives that I asked the university to address when I assumed the presidency," Marks said.

"Initially, I asked the university to embrace these three: student retention, fund raising development, and the application of technology to teaching.

"A year later, I asked them to add internationalization of the curriculum to that list of strategic initiatives," he said.

Marks said SHSU has done a good job of applying technology to the administrative processes, but has not applied enough financial resources to do a good job of applying technology to teaching.

"Since then, we have made dramatic progress in this area," he said.

"These objectives, these initiatives, have essentially been the hallmark of my administration," Marks said, "along with the administrative initiatives.

"I believe we have done a very good job pursuing these initiatives, and that's not bragging on me. I've just been along for the ride.

"I have been blessed with some very good administrators and faculty," Marks said, "and they have put their shoulders to the task in addressing these strategic initiatives and we've made very good progress in all four of those areas."

What's next?

Marks is chairman of the board for the Texas International Education Consortium, which is a group composed of all the public senior universities, and the group has asked him if he would be interested in doing consulting work with them after he retires.

"I feel very strongly about international education and am committed to that," he said. "Colleen and I have lived briefly in three foreign countries -- France for a year and in England and Turkey for a few months.

"So, we will probably travel internationally some, but there are a lot of places in Canada and the United States that I still have not seen.

"Colleen and I are more interested right now in visiting places in the United States that we haven't spent time in, than we are in traveling internationally."

One key advancement

"I think that, academically, the most significant thing that we have accomplished in more than a quarter of a century is the addition of two doctoral programs here at Sam," Marks said.

"About three or four years ago, we were fortunate enough to get the (state regents) coordinating board to approve two additional doctoral programs for SHSU -- a PhD in forensic clinical psychology and a PhD in educational leadership."

Marks said the reason these additional doctoral programs are so important, is that they move SHSU from a Carnegie classification of a comprehensive master's studies university to a doctoral intensive university.

"As soon as we confer our first PhD in psychology, we will automatically move to the higher Carnegie classification," he said.

"Getting the coordination board to change our mission to allow us to have multiple doctorate programs was a very, very significant thing academically for Sam Houston State.

"As the community colleges occupy more and more important roles, as the state obviously intends for them to do," he said, "we are becoming more and more an upper division graduate university, and I think that is going to continue to be the case.

"So, I think it is important for Sam Houston State, in the future, to stay focused in upper division master's and doctoral work."

A fourth doctoral program in counseling will be taken to the board at their meeting in August, Marks said.

"Our new president, Jim Gaertner, will represent Sam Houston there, at my request. He's been designated president, and I think that it is appropriate that he be there, and I not be there."

Bon Voyage, Dr. Marks

"I'm really curious about what's around the corner," Marks said, "and I'm anxious to get into it. I hope retirement is as good as I anticipate it will be. If not, and I get bored, I'll find something to do."

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Aug. 5, 2001
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