COLLEGE STATION - Outlining his vision for the future of the state's first public institution of higher learning, Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin emphasized during his inauguration address Friday (Sept. 24) that he is committed to building on the university's recent successes and to continue carrying out key provisions of the "Vision 2020" long-range roadmap for attaining an even higher level of pre-eminence. Text
Loftin was formally installed as the 24th president of Texas A&M during the university's annual academic convocation celebrating the start of the new school year and the upcoming anniversary of its opening on Oct. 4, 1876. He officially became president of the state's land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant university on Feb. 12, 2010, after having served in an interim capacity for more than seven months. A 1970 physics graduate of Texas A&M, he served for four years as a vice president of the university and CEO of its marine-oriented branch campus, Texas A&M University at Galveston, before being selected to lead the main campus.
Loftin said he accepted the challenges of advancement - even in the face of multi-million-dollar budget cuts brought about by the economic downturn in Texas and the entire nation.
"As president, I commit to all of you that I will not only lead Texas A&M further down the path of academic and institutional excellence that you have worked so hard to define, but I also commit to you that I will protect and support the fundamental values of teaching, research and engagement that are at the heart of this unique American institution," Loftin said.
"The economic challenges that Texas A&M is facing today are greater than any we have faced since the Great Depression. We have spent the past few months turning inward to find ways to meet these external challenges. We have made some difficult choices. But because of this, we have become even better stewards of the resources that our fellow citizens have entrusted to us. Today, Texas A&M is leaner and more efficient than ever before.
"Given our tremendous achievements of the past decade, and the economic challenges that we are now facing, many people have recommended to me that we pause to 'catch our breath' - that we consider these accomplishments "good enough" for now. To them, I say: We cannot afford to pause or to declare that what we have achieved is sufficient. We cannot afford to lose our momentum, even in these difficult times," he said.
"Texas Aggies have been changing the world for nearly 135 years. Today, we are on the right path toward even greater achievements: being recognized as one of the best public universities in the nation - and the world. Let us consider how profoundly this would benefit our state and nation, and the countless generations of Aggies who will follow us. Let us continue to move together toward 2020 with the certainty that we have indeed created a culture of excellence," he added.
He said in opening his inaugural address that it was his "opportunity to not only provide a 'state of the university' message to our Aggie Family but to also look beyond this moment and provide a glimpse, through my eyes, of what the future holds for this great university - this 'unique American institution.' Like many of my predecessors, I believe that Texas A&M is unique among institutions of higher education.
"But," he asked, "what makes this the case? We all know that there are many fine colleges and universities here in Texas and elsewhere that offer a first-class education to their students. We know that there are some universities that are home to creative scholars whose research has had a profound influence on our own daily lives. We also know that there are some institutions that are steeped in tradition and that instill in their students principles and values that are on par with those embraced by Aggies.
"However, I challenge you to find one single other university that can make the case that it accomplishes all three of these missions to the degree that Texas A&M does. I - and you - can name many that do one or even two, but I ask you to think of any that do all three! No, Texas A&M is truly special - truly unique."
He said he is committed to strengthening the university's academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to help provide the next generation of leaders and, concurrently, enhance the university's stature as the state's foremost research institution - and be a major contributor to endeavors that enhance the state's economy.
Loftin asserted that "undergraduate education at Texas A&M has never been stronger." He pointed out that Texas A&M has the largest undergraduate student population in the state and fourth largest in the nation, with more than 39,000 students studying for baccalaureate degrees. That is in addition to more than 9,500 students pursuing masters or doctoral degrees.
"Also consider our reputation among critical stakeholders. For just one recent example, I would invite you to read the Sept 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal . In this issue the Journal reported on a recent survey it conducted of almost 500 of the country's largest corporations. It found that corporate recruiters ranked Texas A&M second in the nation on the basis of whose graduates were most academically well-rounded, best prepared to enter the workforce and most likely to succeed in the workforce."
He also pointed to Texas A&M's standing as the state's leading research institution in value of its thousands of ongoing research projects, many of which have significant economic potential. Texas A&M's annual research volume totals more than $580 million, a level that places it among the nation's top three institutions that operate without medical schools as part of their administrative structure.
"Spurred by our land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant missions, Texas A&M is now one of the most successful research universities in the world. Our research, intimately interwoven with the work of our A&M System partners - agencies such as the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas Transportation Institute, Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M Health Science Center - is not simply an interesting academic exercise, it is revolutionary," Loftin said, adding it "literally changes the world."
He cited the research and lifelong work of the late Professor Norman Borlaug, who saved the lives of over a billion people around the world through the drought and disease resistant crops he developed . . . the work of Texas A&M Professor Kim-Vee Tran, who leads the international team that has discovered one of the universe's most distant cluster of galaxies . . . and the work of Texas A&M Professor Michael Waters and his team at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, who revolutionized the field of anthropology when they found that people came to this continent much earlier than any had previously thought.
"Our land-grant heritage of implementing the practical results of research is not only profoundly beneficial to people everywhere, but it also sparks economic development that creates jobs and improves the welfare of all Texans. The research that we do makes our state a magnet that attracts educated, bright and hard-working people from throughout the nation and the world."
"Now let us look at where we are today and where we are headed. Over a decade ago we began our journey toward Vision 2020 - Creating a Culture of Excellence. This has guided our decisions and has led to many significant improvements in our undergraduate and graduate programs, a major reinvestment in our faculty, increased emphasis on diversity in its many dimensions, and a major building initiative to better accommodate our growing faculty and student body.
"We have accomplished a great deal. In fact, we have made more gains than some people thought possible. We are on the right track, but the road ahead is a difficult one.
"Sustaining our momentum as a leaner and more efficient university means that we must carefully and strategically reassess our priorities for the years remaining until 2020. We must be absolutely certain that we are using our limited resources in the best possible way as we move ahead. The entire campus community - faculty, staff and students - has been involved in this open and inclusive process for the past several months. As we begin preparing our budget for the next fiscal year, we will use the results of a vast network of inputs from Vision 2020, the Academic Master Plan, recent task force reports, the five-year plans of the colleges and divisions, and the input from our students, faculty and staff to identify our priorities ."
He said a key to continuing along the trajectory that was embarked on when Vision 2020 was adopted in 1999 will be to boost its relevance 11 years later.
"To that end I will appoint and lead a team of faculty, students, staff, and former students to examine the basic premises of Vision 2020 - making any necessary adjustments for the changes that have occurred over the last decade," he announced.
"These efforts will require a great deal of time and effort by many associated with Texas A&M, but they are absolutely necessary if we are to stay true to the concepts of collegiality and shared governance. When this process comes to an end - when all of these voices have been heard - we will make the tough decisions that will best advance the interests of the university. By April of 2011 we will be able to recommit ourselves to the great vision, to embrace it with the same passion, hope and sense of destiny that we all felt upon its original adoption. We can hold before ourselves a vibrant and vivid image of what we will become by the year 2020. So equipped we can then link arms and march together into a future that will place Texas A&M University at the pinnacle of public institutions.
"And finally, I am confident in Texas A&M because of that magic - that providence - that continues to infuse our university. We have not forgotten our history and traditions - we have embraced them even more fully. We have not diminished our Corps of Cadets - the Corps is stronger today than it has been in many years. The Aggie Network consisting of more than 350,000 former students reaches across the globe. Let me assure you that the Aggie Spirit continues to burn bright," Loftin concluded.
Texas A&M University System Board of Regents Chairman Morris Foster formally presented Loftin for investiture, and Chancellor Michael D. McKinney bestowed on him the presidential medallion, which is symbolic of the office of the president and is worn at all formal institutional events.
Foster told the hundreds of faculty, staff, students and guests attending the convocation that Loftin's "vision will help us achieve the goal of being recognized as one of the top universities in the country by the year 2020," referring to Texas A&M's "Vision 2020" long-range guide roadmap for attaining even greater national and international prominence.
"Throughout his career, Dr. Loftin has been a leader in the academic arena," Foster said, adding that he frequently serves as an industry and government consultant.
"Dr. Loftin's experience speaks directly to Texas A&M's core mission of teaching, research and service, which is not surprising since he is a graduate of Texas A&M University," the regents chairman noted. "He provides a steady hand, no matter the circumstances. He is guided by an unwavering moral compass, a commitment to academic excellence and a belief that education is the lynchpin in creating a Texas of opportunity," Foster concluded.
In presenting the medallion to Loftin, Chancellor McKinney said it is "infused with tradition, with honor and with symbolism. It is a reminder of the responsibility to inspire, mentor and serve the students of Texas A&M University."
Directly addressing Loftin, the chancellor said: "We put our trust in you to fulfill that responsibility and obligation. Everyone on this stage today shares a vision of excellence for Texas A&M University, and we stand with you to advance the missions of the flagship university of The Texas A&M System. I am sure, with your leadership and vision, there are great things in store for the future of Texas A&M as you strive toward the goals of Vision 2020 with your 'Action 2015'." "Action 2015" is Loftin's evolving operational plan for the university for the next five years.
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Karan Watson presided at the convocation and joined in lauding Loftin and wishing him well in his presidency.
"Dr. Loftin brings a new perspective to the vision for the future of Texas A&M - a vision focused on the impact that the university will have on the state, nation and world. We have much work to do," Watson said. "However, our strengths at Texas A&M - the unique combination of renowned academics, proud traditions and intrinsic values - give us confidence for the future, and we take on these challenges with pride and determination."