Remarks for President Kelly Damphousse

State of Texas State

Friday, August 18, 2023

University Events Center, Strahan Arena  

Good morning! Welcome to our very first State of Texas State. I want to kick us off by giving credit where credit is due. The video we just watched featured some of the remarkable achievements that YOU, our faculty and staff, made possible over the past year. So many people stepped up to help us break records in applications, enrollment, research expenditures, and much more. Please, give yourselves a hand! 

One of my favorite quotes is: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” That’s exactly what we have been doing together over the past year. We have been building on a strong foundation, dreaming big, and acting boldly to create an awesome future for our students and our university. Thank you for ALL you have done to help us start this new academic year in such a strong position.

My goal today is to give you a bird’s-eye view of where we’ve been over the past year at Texas State and what’s on the horizon. During our time together this morning, you’ll also hear from some Vice Presidents on my cabinet who will give you updates on university priorities moving us forward. And we’ll continue to enjoy remarkable musical performances like the Bobcat Marching Band that serenaded us earlier. Special thanks to all the performers and to the Gold Star Society joining us today.

It’s been said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. If you don’t already, I hope that you know soon why you do what you do. I was reminded of my why just a couple of weeks ago in this very space. The week before, I had met a student at a celebration for the first-generation students who were graduating in August. Diana Zamora was the student speaker, so I was seated before her at the ceremony. She told me that her mother worked as many as five jobs to provide for Diana and her two younger siblings. She sometimes would take Diana to work to show her how tough life was for her and to encourage Diana to keep up with her studies. The next week, I greeted Diana as she walked across the stage, and she was wearing every honors cord and medallion that TXST has to offer. She was nearly in tears, and I told her, “You made it!” She replied, “WE made it.” In that moment, I was reminded of my why. 

We will serve about 39,000 students here this fall, and each of them has a version of a story like Diana’s. You and I have a noble mission — to help our students get from “here” to “there.” I have the best seats in the house, getting to watch you all do that very thing. I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside you. 

Last year, we launched an ambitious vision for Texas State’s future, our Hopes & Aspirations High. We identified five bold strategic imperatives — elevate student success, Run to R1, increase enrollment, grow the Round Rock Campus, and become an employer of choice. And, we have made tremendous progress positioning ourselves to achieve this vision in a very short time. Let me share a few examples.

We strategically reorganized across offices and divisions to streamline services and break down silos. 

We created a new Division of Student Success and launched new initiatives, with more to come this year, including technology to help us intervene and provide extra support right when our students need it. 

We created a new Division of Research to lead the Run to R1 and made targeted investments that are already moving the needle to grow Ph.D. enrollment and advance faculty and student research. 

We welcomed a new Vice President for Global to expand our online, international, and regional presence, and a new Vice President for the Round Rock Campus to transform how the Round Rock Campus serves its students and the greater region. 

That just scratches the surface of the changes that we have made — and I know some of you may be feeling a little (or a lot) of “change fatigue.” 

But it is my hope that you have begun to see how the fruits of your efforts are paying off and that you leave here today energized. In such a short time, we’ve achieved so much together. And later, you will hear from a few of my colleagues for insight into our progress. 

Let’s take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come! But let’s also take a breath and check in with how we’re FEELING. The past year has brought a lot of change, and sometimes that can bring uneasiness. Ernest Hemmingway once wrote about a man who was asked how he went bankrupt. His answer was “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." That’s kind of like how MOST change happens. 

We have gradually been becoming an R1 institution, but now it is about to happen suddenly. In my talks with faculty and staff, sometimes I hear, “Why can’t we move a little faster?” Just as often I hear, “How about we pump the breaks?” I see that as a sign we are on the right path. That tells me we are a dynamic, forward-thinking institution. 

We’re being proactive and progressive. We’re bringing many voices into our strategic planning process. We’re being intentional about learning from the past, and we’re being ambitious about the future. We’re holding on tightly to the values that make us who we are — but releasing old practices that hold us back. Indeed, change can be uncomfortable, but it’s required to meet the evolving needs of our students and the world around us. 

So today, as we start a new academic year, let’s reflect on our “True North.” The WHY we do what we do — our compass. It's the stories and experiences of our students that keep me energized and optimistic when we face challenges. Some of you know their stories well because you are on the front lines with them every day. Serving as their teachers and mentors. Providing the services they need to be part of our vibrant campus life. 

We have more than 38,000 students, each of them the center of their own story. A student may come to mind for you, someone who has been a source of inspiration and a reminder of your “WHY.” Like, for example:

A hard-working undergraduate helping faculty create innovative fuel in a research lab by day while stocking shelves at the outlet mall by night; or a veteran with multiple deployments under their belt, earning a business degree to start a new chapter in their life; or a first-generation college student who boarded an airplane for the very first time to join a study abroad trip in Europe. 

My advice to you is — continuously return to your WHY. It could be those student stories, or the support of your colleagues, or the research breakthroughs you’re contributing to your field and to the world. And we will be our most powerful when we combine our Whys. 

There’s an African proverb that reflects the journey we’re on as an institution, and you may have heard me say it before. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We certainly DO need to go far — for our students and their families, for each other, for our community, for the state of Texas, for the world. And the ONLY way to succeed, is as a united force. We must not lose any of the MOMENTUM we have built together. 

Last year, we focused on setting our course and building momentum. This year, we’ll go farther by implementing our 2023-2029 university strategic plan and making additional investments in our top priorities. Just last week, the Cabinet and I approved the new Strategic Plan, which we will be rolling out on September 1. Thanks to each of you who played a role in creating it!

This year is also about team-building. We need teams that are grounded in collaboration to achieve our Hopes and Aspirations High. We have established new divisions and appointed new Vice Presidents. We need to build and support their new teams while remaining steadfast in our resolve to strengthen existing teams across the university. Only then will we have the capacity to be successful.  

The one thing I know about change is that it is a constant. This coming year will continue to be about change as we respond to the forces within and beyond our control. Let me share three examples with you. 

First, Senate Bill 17 led all Texas public universities to examine work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. I announced this summer that we dissolved the Inclusive Excellence division to comply with the new state law that goes into effect January 1. Most other Texas universities have announced similar changes. More importantly, while the organization of these units has changed, our mission remains the same, as does our commitment to being a welcoming and supportive community.  Let me be clear, my resolve to support our diverse student body, faculty, and staff is stronger than ever. It is at the heart of our commitment to student and employee success, and it is foundational to our higher calling as a public institution. 

Second, over the last several months, I have had conversations with my Cabinet and our professional advisors about updating our university budget model. While the collaborative process to redesign our budget model will take a year or two to complete, before proceeding, I believe we should give the faculty some time to engage in a focused academic program organizational review.  This review will involve two colleges but could potentially impact others. 

First, the retirement of Dean Chahin in the College of Applied Arts is a natural reflection point on the future of that college — should it remain as is or should it be modified? 

Second, the recent launch of several large undergraduate programs and the proposed launch of multiple Ph.D.s in engineering present a time to consider splitting the College of Science and Engineering into two separate colleges. Later this month, Provost Bourgeois will establish two task forces, comprised of faculty, staff, and administrators, to explore and debate the future of these two colleges. 

Third, we will fill two more critical leadership positions. As you may know, earlier this summer, my friends and colleagues Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Gene Bourgeois and Vice President for Information Technology Mr. Ken Pierce announced their plans to start the next chapter of their lives. I will be forever grateful to them both and know that their shoes will be hard to fill. The national searches have begun, and the early signs are that a lot of people want to come to work at Texas State based on the number of highly qualified applicants to assume Ken’s role (over 100!). I can assure you three things related to these searches: The search processes will be inclusive, with many voices at the table. We are committed to make the transitions smooth. And the positions will be filled by professionals who understand and embrace our vision and have the knowledge, skills, and experiences to contribute in transformative and meaningful ways.   

As with ALL the changes we’ve made in the past year, we will bring people TOGETHER to enhance and expedite what we are capable of achieving. The better coordinated we are across divisions, the better equipped we are to serve students and streamline the systems they need to navigate. 

Now, back to why we are here — our students. Every Bobcat Counts. Every single student matters. Their experiences at Texas State have the potential to shape the people they become. 

That’s why our mission is everlasting. Student success remains at the heart of ALL we do. 

Our student body is as diverse as the communities we serve. It’s notable that about 52% of our student body is comprised of underrepresented minority groups. About 35% are Pell eligible. And 43% are first-generation college students. We graduate over 8,000 students annually and are laser-focused on increasing student retention, graduation rates, and post-secondary success. 

Although our retention and graduation rates are the highest they’ve ever been, nearly a quarter of our students don’t graduate. We aren’t satisfied with this number. We want EVERY student who comes to TXST to finish what they start and graduate. Our students need extra support more than ever before. To share how we serve our students and give them the support they need, I’d like to invite Dr. Cynthia Hernandez, Vice President for Student Success, to the podium. Please help me welcome, Dr. Hernandez. 

[Cynthia Hernandez, Vice President for Student Success, delivered remarks.] Thank you, Cynthia. 

One of the ways we can elevate the student experience is to rise to the level of the top-tier R1 Carnegie classification. Otherwise known as our Run to R1. In the most recent legislative session, our state leaders put forward historic investments in higher education, including the Texas University Fund. This endowment, if it passes in the voter referendum in November, can provide sustainable funding for four Texas universities including Texas State. It’s a game changer, not just for our university, but for all of Texas.   

Becoming an R1 will equip us to give more students the opportunity to engage in research, which is a learning experience unlike any other. Achieving R1 will create a ripple effect that stretches far beyond the borders of our campuses. Our research has the potential to solve some of society’s toughest challenges. With the R1 designation comes new resources and partnerships that could strengthen our regional economy and innovation ecosystem. 

To tell us more about our research trajectory, I’d like to hand it over to Dr. Shreek Mandayam, Vice President for Research. Please welcome, Shreek.  

[Shreekanth Mandayam, Vice President for Research, delivered remarks.] Thank you, Shreek. 

I’m proud that we’re celebrating another record-breaking freshman class this fall. It reflects Texas State is a university of choice for Texas and beyond. In fact, for the first time in our history, TXST is first — let me repeat that — is No. 1 among Texas universities in freshman applications submitted through “Apply Texas” for Fall 2023. Although our freshman enrollment has consistently grown, overall enrollment has been relatively flat since 2016. 

We’re hoping to change that this fall. We’re predicting this fall that we’ll approach 39,000 students. If that comes to fruition it reflects a modest increase of about 1.5% over last year. I’ll remind you that our highest enrollment was 38,808 students in 2016. So, why are we so focused on growing enrollment? 

First, it’s because our state needs citizens who are equipped with a life-changing degree; And, because we look like Texas, we have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to shape the future of our state with each graduating class. When our graduates are successful, Texas is successful. They are the future of Texas and our workforce. 

Secondly, increases in enrollment generate more revenue, allowing us to continue to do more with more. We will be more able to offer higher salaries, to hire more staff and faculty, to improve our support services, and to enhance our infrastructure with a growing student body.   

One way we plan to increase enrollment is to build our Round Rock Campus. Our colleagues at the Round Rock Campus have gathered for a watch party of today’s event. Special shoutout to all our Round Rock Bobcats! The future is incredibly bright for that campus. We are developing an aggressive plan to expand the campus’ regional partnerships, degree programs, research activity, and infrastructure. Elements of this plan have already been put in place and are already paying off. This morning student headcount enrollment on the Round Rock Campus is up about 12%. 

Our new Vice President for the Round Rock Campus, Dr. Julie Lessiter, is hosting the watch party as we speak. She has prepared a short video message. Let’s watch. 

[Julie Lessiter, Vice President for Round Rock, delivered remarks.] 

Another way we plan to grow enrollment is to implement a global strategy. We are committed to growing the TXST brand worldwide. To achieve this, we will enhance our efforts to recruit international students to come to TXST and expand our academic programs offered online, in other countries, and through regional partnerships.   

After an extensive national search, Dr. Thilla Sivakumaran joined Texas State in June. He hit the ground running this summer, leading the new Division of TXST Global. Though he has only been with us for a little over two months, he has already set some exciting initiatives in motion. 

He and his team worked quickly to expand our international recruitment for online and in-person programs, to create continuing education programming for the Round Rock Campus, to prepare online doctoral program proposals, and to develop partnerships with universities overseas and closer to home. 

Fruits of their labor are already paying off with freshmen international student enrollment up 42% and overall international student enrollment up 29%. We’ll share more news from the Division of TXST Global this fall. I’d like to ask Thilla to stand and wave so we can recognize him. Let’s give him a hand. Welcome to the Texas State family. 

I mentioned strategic planning early, and I am excited about our bold new plan. But as Peter Drucker once wrote, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” At this event last year, I said that to reach our goals, we would do “more with more.” Sometimes you have to be careful what you say, because I was reminded of that phrase many times in the past 12 months! 

But I meant what I said — while I wish that we’d been able to do it faster, I’m pleased that we have taken significant steps in keeping that promise. We are investing $12.3 million in our employees this fiscal year. And we’ve made targeted investments in departments and programs that fuel our Hopes and Aspirations High. 

These investments reflect our appreciation for your dedication and service. Please know that my commitment to making TXST an employer of choice will continue. We have more to do, so let’s keep working together to make this a great place to work. 

I’d like to ask Eric Algoe, Executive Vice President for Operations and our Chief Financial Officer, to share more about the university’s financial position, and our efforts to be a great place to work and live. 

[Eric Algoe, Executive Vice President for Operations and our Chief Financial Officer, delivered remarks.] Thank you, Eric. 

To all my Cabinet members: I’m grateful for your outstanding leadership and for the progress your divisions have made in the pursuit of our Hopes and Aspirations High. I am so proud of our Texas State University community. We aren’t afraid to dream big and take BOLD action. We aren’t afraid to create our future. 

Many universities across the country are struggling financially and dealing with declining enrollment. We are in an enviable position — able to do new things and plan for a bright future. 

Our alumni spread out across Texas and beyond after graduation. They take with them the values they learned as Bobcats. YOU are an integral part of that experience. YOU are part of the years that shaped them, not just as educated, productive citizens, but as people. So, it’s truly impossible to measure your impact. From the bottom of my heart — thank you! Please keep up the good work. You are changing lives. 

We’ll end today’s event with some musical performances, first from our talented musical theatre students. Then, I’d like us to all join in singing the alma mater, led by Nicholas Dettmer. After that, I will lead us all in the Texas State chant. 

It’s no accident that our vision for the university future is named after a lyric in the alma mater, “Hopes & Aspirations High.” The song is a rallying cry, something that binds us together as colleagues, as graduates, and as Bobcats far and wide. 

Thank you ALL for coming today, and for your service. I wish you a great new academic year.   

Speech Transcripts