June 23, 2014: Is College Worth It?

In the documentary, Ivory Tower, the filmmaker Andrew Rossi takes Higher Education to task. Like many film directors competing for public attention, Mr. Rossi makes some bold assertions about an obvious question in order to create controversy. He asks if a college education is really worth it? Then he goes on to lament problems of mounting student debt, universities operating on a strictly business model, and college instructors who pander to students who appear to prefer good grades over actual knowledge.

But if we were to assume that Mr. Rossi is actually asking the right question, which I believe he is not (more on that below), what would be the right answer? Recently in the New York Times columnist David Leonhardt offers his insights in a thoughtful and compelling essay entitled “Is College Worth it? Clearly, New Data Say Yes.” While Mr. Leonhardt is quick to acknowledge that not everyone is immediately employable straight out of college and there even are some who initially accept positions for which they clearly are overqualified, he states that a “four-year degree has never been more valuable.” Citing U.S. Labor Department Statistics he concludes that “yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close” when we examine the pay gap between those who finish and those who do not (or who never even start college in the first place). Mr. Leonhardt also quotes M.I.T. economist Dr. David Autor who says it quite simply: “We have too few college graduates” rather than too many. Like the person we occasionally meet who seems to have all the answers, it appears that Mr. Rossi is guilty of not asking enough questions, or maybe, simply not asking the right question.

Another way of asking his original question seems to be one even more fundamental: does a university education guarantee a college graduate will find a job? This really is what many parents want to know when they send their grown children off to college. I would argue that this question probably is more central in the minds of parents who are faced with paying anywhere from $16,000-$60,000 annually for their son or daughter to attend a four-year institution of higher education. But is this really the right question? Has sending kids to college become synonymous with investing family income in an outcome that automatically and immediately translates into net new income on the other end?

This more fundamental question could be answered in various ways. For example, there is the “compared to what” query. Will college graduates be more directly employable than say, a high school graduate or high school dropout? So compared to a high school grad, might we believe a college graduate to be more highly employable (and for jobs that pay better) than someone who stops at a high school level of education? I don’t believe Mr. Rossi wishes to argue this point and I doubt if anyone else would either. Surely more education is better than less just as certainly as being able to read and write and speak a native language is more helpful than not.

If we wanted to stick with the “does college pay off” line of reasoning we could think of it as a supply and demand problem. Only seven percent of the world’s population possesses a college degree, a point which underscores Dr. Autor’s statement from above that too few have attained a college education. Instead of equating one specific college degree with one specific job, colleges and universities offer the best available route for high school graduates to grow and mature in order to recognize their full human potential, prepare them for lifelong learning, and also compete in a global economy.

But even this question as I have re-phrased it really is not the question that particularly is the right one to ask. Colleges are not factories that train workers for jobs in any direct sense. We have trade schools for that (and some high schools even offer vocational and technical curriculum that will lead to work right after high school, albeit for jobs that are not terribly high skilled or well-paying). By comparison, universities are places of higher learning where students who have been broadly educated in K through 12 learn analytical reasoning, how to express themselves in both written and oral forms, and to think creatively on par with the best and brightest that society has to offer. That’s what I hoped for when I sent all three of my own children to college to seek higher knowledge. Furthermore, I was thrilled when two of the three indicated an interest in continuing their graduate studies beyond the bachelor’s level (I’m still optimistic that the third one will come around to this same point of view).

So we could think of investing in higher education in a more thoughtful way. College does not prepare students for a sprint. It readies them for a marathon. And at Sul Ross, we do this well and at a cost clearly at the lowest end of the college cost continuum. This is why we like to say that our students and their parents are some of the wisest investors on the planet!

June 16, 2014: The Search is Over and We have a Winner!

The search for the 12th President of Sul Ross is now concluded. I am pleased to announce that the process was successful and Sul Ross State University will welcome Dr. William Kibler as its next President.

Dr. Bill Kibler and Pam Kibler

Dr. Bill Kibler and Pam Kibler

Dr. Kibler currently is Vice-President for Student Affairs at Mississippi State University. A graduate of Texas A & M with a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Dr. Kibler and his wife, Pam, and their two school-age children are expected to arrive later this summer to take over the reins at Sul Ross. It was a good choice and the Lobo community will be in very good hands.

I’m sure that you are, as I am, ready to put this search behind us and get ready for steady, permanent leadership. It is my wish that we all welcome Dr. Kibler and his family to Alpine and the Far West Region of Texas.


June 13, 2014: Presidential Search

I was right about one thing. Last week was an interesting week. My wife thought so, too.

We began the week cleaning up from a devastating hail storm and simultaneously preparing for campus visitors attending presidential search activities. Tuesday it all started early and then ended late.

Students, staff, and faculty all were invited to meet and the query prospective candidates about their impressions and plans for the University.  Each finalist and his spouse, Caryn and I included, got a chance to answer questions at forums with campus community members, culminating in a meet and greet opportunity to visit one on one with local residents and university supporters.

Wednesday began with campus tours and meetings with members of the Board of Regents,  TSUS System Staff, and Chancellor Brian McCall. The second half of the day was set aside for travel to Rio Grande College in advance of similar interview activities with RGC faculty and staff and SWTJC employees the following morning.

While I heard about one unusual question being asked of a candidate during the entire process, I think it was the only one. My wife and I only received relevant and thoughtful questions.  Caryn was particularly impressed with the queries from our students. Overall, I think the process was a good one for our spouses since they really got the chance to meet people and learn about their interests.

For me, I’ve always found interviewing invigorating.  There is an expectant air about the prospect of change and both interviewers and candidates usually emerge from the process with a wider point of view.

I don’t know who will be selected the next president of Sul Ross. And while I certainly hope I still have a chance for consideration, the decision is not mine to make. But I will say this. The selection process was a good one and it was executed exceptionally well.

I also will add one more observation…I am confident that the 12th President of Sul Ross State University will be a good one. The campus community came out and welcomed the three of us. Lobo pride, hospitality, and class were on full display.  Who wouldn’t want to be the next president here? President or Provost, I am proud of Sul Ross and happy to serve in whichever capacity I am needed.

June 9, 2014: West Texas Weather

While I was driving to Crane last Saturday to deliver the Golden Crane Graduation Speech a hailstorm hit Alpine and inflicted egg-sized hailstones on the city, most of which appeared to center on the east side of town, primarily electing to bombard the University. My speech, which was short and mostly uneventful in the scheme of things, paled in comparison to the scope of damage inflicted upon student, staff, and university vehicles parked on campus. Skylights across campus shattered, some windows at the Museum of the Big Bend were broken, and our green houses had substantial damage. My own truck, mostly covered by an awning at the President’s house, was clipped as well, and I’m fairly certain that both buildings at the President’s residence will need re-roofing.

SRSU Greehouse

SRSU Greenhouse

Hail on Saturday

Saturday’s hail

The good news in all this is no person sustained serious injury during the storm. Despite the inconvenience and the cost, glass can be replaced and metal can be repaired. But it is our students, staff, and faculty who are precious and I am thankful that the storm hit when it did—in the late afternoon on a very quiet


Saturday. Also we are fortunate that our new, $40,000+ electronic reader board that Aramark generously donated to Sul Ross was not already in place, and instead, is being installed this week. Furthermore, our new 40+ passenger tour bus that we acquired this Spring appears to be unscathed (at least all the panels and glass that we can see by walking around the bus).

Early Sunday morning I saw our grounds supervisor, Ken Smith taking pictures of the carnage. Clean up was already underway and expected to continue in earnest as our campus grounds crews re-doubled their efforts to prepare campus for the many visitors who would be on hand this week during final interviews to select the 12th President of Sul Ross. That schedule has been well-publicized ahead of schedule with Tuesday being the fullest day.

Events begin promptly at 8 AM on Tuesday for candidates and their spouses and involve all facets of the campus community. Then beginning at 5 PM, residents of Alpine are invited to meet and greet each of three finalists and their wives. The following one-half day is scheduled for interviews with Texas State University System Regents and the TSUS Chancellor, Dr. Brian McCall. Following that, it’s off to Uvalde where the process unfolds at the Rio Grande College and Southwest Texas State Junior College campuses and then concludes on Thursday.

Lots going on here as usual. Should be an interesting week!

June 2, 2014: High School Graduations

Big smiles, hugs, and proud parents. Tears of joy, and a few tears of relief. Graduation in Presidio last week reminded me a lot of commencement ceremonies at Sul Ross, especially at RGC.

Attending graduation last Saturday night on the football field in Presidio has the genuine feel of what public education is all about. Working hard, overcoming obstacles, and celebrating success that culminates in a community event to honor and recognize students, parents and teachers resonated throughout the evening. And despite the high temperature (105 degrees @ 7:30 pm), the heat would dissipate throughout the evening to give way to the warmth and sincerity of 96 students who were graduating and the community that came out to support them.

I asked Superintendent Dennis McEntire if commencement was always so moving or if this was a special one because of these particular young men and women who were graduating. Without hesitation he replied that, “No, they are always this way because every class that graduates is special.”  What began with an outstanding micro-performance by the Presidio H.S. Mariachi band finished with a spirit ring where the graduates held hands and circled one-half of the football field before throwing the caps in the air and running to the center to embrace their classmates one last time as the graduating Class of 2014 high school. If graduation could be celebrated any better I am at a loss to imagine how.

I was honored to participate in the graduation at Presidio and it will be my privilege to do so this week at Crane High School on Saturday evening where they have asked if I might give the commencement address. Once again we will be outdoors on the football field and once again I expect to witness an outstanding celebration of a milestone achievement, the graduation of the pride of the Crane community.

As I have mentioned before, graduation at Sul Ross is absolutely without fail my favorite event. I am indeed fortunate this year to be invited to two graduations at area high schools. And before I sign off on this week’s blog, I would like to report that Interim Provost Jim Case attended graduation at Marathon High School last weekend while I was at Presidio. This morning he shared with me what a delight that was, and also the great news that 100 percent of the graduating class of M.H.S. would be attending Sul Ross State University next year!  :)

May 27, 2014: It’s official!

The weather these days has turned warmer in Alpine and now that we have seen Memorial Day come and go we officially can begin summer in Texas. Some exciting developments on campus are coming up but before I mention the most highly anticipated one (and no, it is not the new tar we are getting on the top of the Briscoe Administration Building, although we are glad to get some before the late summer rainy season).

First, I wanted to announce that we have made a commitment to make Antuan Washington our permanent track and field coach. Antuan’s success this past spring leading our men’s and women’s teams to third-place and fourth-place conference finishes, respectively, in his first season as coach was nothing less than impressive. Not only did he inspire 38 student-athletes to participate, he began the season with virtually no advance notice or preparation. Just think what he might do if he had the chance to recruit students!

Second, we are going to ask Dee Dee De La O to continue her duties as interim tennis coach. Similar to Antuan, Coach De La O courageously took on her coaching duties with little advance notice. Knowing well beforehand that she will be coaching for the full year should help in student recruitment.

This leads me a third announcement concerning an important decision that I have been considering now for many weeks. So rather than drag it out any further, I want to share it with the faithful few who seem to regularly read this blog.

I am now officially a candidate for the position as the 12th President of Sul Ross State University. Someone more than a month ago nominated me for this position, but that simply placed the ball in my court to either get busy and complete an application or decide not to do so. To this day, I do not know who did me the favor of putting my name in the hat, but if I did I would thank them.

As I mentioned in my cover letter to the search committee, I am honored and delighted to have been nominated, and consequently, to be selected as one of three finalists. In my application letter, I wrote that I believe that I have brought positive leadership, energy, and momentum to Sul Ross over the past few weeks and that I think that Sul Ross is an outstanding university with incredible history and promise. I also wrote to the search committee that I believe that the future of Sul Ross is very bright and I am proud to say that I want to be a part of it.

So there you have it, my confession that I wish to be considered for the President’s position. It’s quite a place and both my wife and I would like to share in its success as it grows and evolves. I’m not sure where this admission will take us, but I stand ready to continue to do my best for Sul Ross as interim President, President, or should I return to my responsibilities as Provost if the wisdom of the Committee leads in that direction. All any of us can hope for is that the best and most qualified leader is chosen and that’s the way it should be. So let the competition begin!

May 14, 2014: Spring Graduation

We’re finally to the “catch your breath phase” of the year, something that seems to only happen in the Spring, but really also happens just before the beginning of the new academic year as well.  The difference is that spring is at the end of the 9 month period and seems more like a post-graduation lull and maybe even a reward for a job well done by students, faculty and staff. The pregnant pause before the fall term, on the other hand, marks the start of the new academic  year, ripe with all the anticipation and excitement that new beginnings encompass. New faces on campus, new schedules, and new routines to learn. The month of May also brings thoughts of planning vacations and down time while just after the two summer terms the campus community turns to preparations for future activity and the hectic pace that is just around the corner.

For the moment we can reflect on where we have been and think about what we might do next year. But for the most part, it’s a good idea to linger in the moment and recall the flurry of activity last week when we saw 209 graduates claim their degrees. In this blog, I have decided to devote most of the space to pictures that are worth thousands of words. But as I do I want to mention just a couple of items that occurred to me this week that I wanted to share.


Spring Graduation 2014

First, without a doubt, graduation is my very favorite activity. What pure joy it is to celebrate with our students, their families, and our faculty who taught them one of the most significant events in their lives. From the organized chaos at Alpine to the very touching finish at RGC it is nothing short of a spectacular day and truly an honor to serve as President of Sul Ross.

My second favorite event is to be able to greet and serve the campus community at the outdoor backyard barbeque in the President’s backyard the week before. I wish we could do this more often without making it so routine that it loses its status as a special event. But I believe that a good time was had by all, but no one had a better time than I did.


A third thing I wanted to mention is our distinguished guests on campus last week. That’s right, parents and family members of our graduates! And they were enthusiastic about graduation. They made lots of noise and they took lots of pictures (tons!), which is exactly what they are supposed to do.



Interim President Quint Thurman, Congressman Pete P. Gallego, Chancellor Brian McCall, Vice Chancellor Sean Cunningham

We also had three other, very special guests, Alpine native and U.S. Representative Pete Gallego and Texas State University System Chancellor, Dr. Brian McCall and Vice Chancellor, Mr. Sean Cunningham.





The last thing I want to mention is that this week is my wife and my 31st wedding anniversary. I’ll never make the 75-year mark but I’m shooting for 50 anyway. I’ve always been in awe of people who stay married to the same person for 30 or more years but 40 and 50 years are tremendous milestones. Seventy-five is almost impossible. But if there are any Lobos out there who have made the 75-year anniversary please write and let us know. That’s a story I’d like to hear about!

Employee Awards

Employee Awards

If time is like a river, our campus current is running very fast this week. Last week we were treated to inspired performances by both a choir and a wind ensemble, an awards ceremony recognizing faculty and staff, a backyard BBQ,  ballet folklorico and mariachi performances sponsored by the Spanish Club, and a very-well attended baseball game that saw us clinch a conference playoff berth. Check it out here…

You can also watch the first playoff game on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 @ 4:00 pm at www.srlobos.com

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – Aida and Yvonne

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – Relaxing and enjoying the meal

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – EC members serve the campus

This week is no less busy. Our students and faculty are deeply engaged in final exams, preparation to move out of residence halls, and commencement exercises. Also this week our baseball team travels to Concordia University of Texas’ Tornado Field to face #3 seeded Texas-Dallas in a first round game on Wednesday at 4:00 pm. Our band program has its outdoor BBQ this week; our Drama faculty and students finish out the year with their awards ceremony; and our Borderlands Research Institute hosts a fundraising event Thursday evening at the San Antonio Country Club. San Antonio also is the site this weekend for the first round of interviews with prospective candidates for the SRSU President’s job. The Search Committee will interview 8 or so before deciding whom will be invited for campus interviews in mid-June.

I’m very excited about graduation on Saturday. This year in Alpine we are honored to have onstage with us Texas State University Systems Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall and U.S. Representative Pete Gallego. Chancellor McCall will introduce Alpine native Gallego as our distinguished guest speaker. Then, at Uvalde commencement we will feature Alumnus and CFO for Blue Bell Creameries, Bill Rankin as our honored guest speaker. What a way to close out the semester!


Sasha and Family


P.S. On a sad note, our one and only campus barista, Sasha Maltos, her husband, and her two daughters lost all their possessions in a fire that completely destroyed their trailer home last Thursday evening. We have begun taking up donations around campus but if anyone would like to help out, Van Lyle is  taking collections as they come in.








April 30, 2014: New Faces

I’ll admit that I got in a bit late yesterday morning, not arriving in the office until 7:30. The sun casts a different shadow on the mountains driving in from Marfa if you drive half an hour later so that made it somewhat of a treat to behold. Most mornings I’m pulling into Alpine as the sun is coming up or before that so I miss the spectacular views and instead I watch the road for deer, javelina, and other four legged wildlife.

I have a good reason for being late this week. The NBA playoffs are underway and what a game the Spurs and Mavericks played Monday night! I didn’t expect Greg Popovich’s team would let Spurs fans down since they were behind one game and he didn’t disappoint. Manu Ginobli played lights out, making exceptional passes all night long, running the floor, and hitting clutch free throws at the end. Boris Diaw was on and Timmy was getting called for fouls he didn’t commit while Dirk seemed to have immunity from being called for fouls he did commit at anytime all throughout the second half. The game was dramatic from start to finish, with former Spur DeJuan Blair being ejected for a very odd play involving kicking Tiago Splitter in the head after a foul. But what a game it was and I can’t wait for game 5. I love the NBA playoffs, especially anytime the Spurs are playing.

I wanted to blog this morning about new faces. We’re a pretty lean operation at the University these days with approximately 125 full-time faculty across our four campuses. Now we do have some searches underway but these are mostly replacement positions instead of new positions. With forecasts for increased enrollments this summer and in the fall we may need to add more faculty but additions will have to lag increases for the most part. Two exceptions are in much needed areas in Education and Kinesiology.

Dr. Maria Gear

Dr. Maria Gear

At RGC we are pleased to have recruited Dr. Maria Gear to our Department of Education.  Dr. Gear has 23 years of experience in public school education as a Counselor, and Science and Math teacher.  She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Texas State University for the last 4 years. Dr. Gear has her Doctorate in Education from UTSA, Master’s from our very own Rio Grande College, and Bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Austin.  Dr. Gear will have her office on the Eagle Pass campus of RGC and will teach undergraduate and graduate students as well as supervise student teachers.

Ms. Crishel Kline

Ms. Crishel Kline

In Alpine, we will welcome Ms. Crishel Kline to our Department of Education as a new faculty member who will teach courses in our newly proposed Health and Human Performance Master’s program that should be in place early next year. Ms. Kline obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University, Master’s from Oklahoma State University, and is completing her Ph.D. from OSU.  Her teaching experience includes Exercise Physiology, Gerontology, and Health Education. Her research interest includes the fields of psychology, exercise science, health education and promotion.  She has presented at over 15 state and national conferences and has 5 publications in professional journals.  She is currently a member and holds certifications with the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and participated as a McNair Scholar while at Oklahoma State.

Two more things to mention. Thursday evening, in Marshall Auditorium at 7:30 pm, our Music Program will present a choral concert and performance by our wind ensemble. Then, on Saturday our baseball team plays a double header starting at 1:00 pm to determine a playoff berth. Hundreds of t-shirts have been purchased as a giveaway to “red-out” the ballpark and show support for our team. Can’t wait for that game either! Go Lobos!

April 22, 2014: Servant Leadership

My daughter was here this weekend for Easter, or as she asserts was the real reason, to see her dog. It was a busy weekend in front of a busy week on campus.

We started Easter weekend by hiding Easter eggs in Kokernot Park with Kiwanis. It took about 8 Kiwanians plus my 19 year-old daughter about 45 minutes to “hide” 4000 plastic eggs. We didn’t really hide them so much as scatter them over the park, although Sarah tried her best to put some in trees and in the few challenging places that she could find. Of course the amazing part was predicted by Alpine Citizen of the Year and favorite Kiwanian Shirley Bieller, who said it takes us an hour to hide them and once the hunt begins, about 5 minutes for the kids to find them. She was right!

After a Sunrise service at 7AM on the Marfa High School football field and a 10AM Church Service, Easter weekend came to a close and my daughter left us to return to San Antonio. But the busyness didn’t stop there. Campus is running at full tilt from now until graduation. Last night Dr. Jim Case and various departmental representatives made numerous awards to our most outstanding students. For more than 90 minutes we invited students to the stage to accept recognition for their accomplishments. It was great fun to see and be a part of. I think I enjoyed Dr. Bonnie Warnock’s presentation the best. Everyone she recognized responded with a warm hug and a smile. Of course I also enjoyed my part since I got to go last and present the awards for Sul Ross Man and Woman of the Year. Tonight we have a gifted scholar on campus who will present the annual  Marshall lecture and later in the week we acknowledge the important contribution of campus administrative assistants at our annual luncheon held in their honor.

But back to last night…the Sul Ross Woman and Man of the Year are singular, annual awards stratified by gender. Neither is higher than the other but both are highly regarded and kept secret up until the minute the recipients are announced, in theory anyway. In actuality, parents are contacted the night before so that they can be given a heads up in case they wish to attend. They also are asked not to tell their son or daughter and to slip in quietly into the back of Marshall Auditorium so as not to be recognized. If was a very difficult decision to figure out which one of several well deserving students should be selected from the names submitted by each college dean. All of the candidates had fantastic grades and lengthy accomplishments, including service on and off campus. But what struck the group in our final decision was the stellar attitude of each of the two we selected. Both Ryan Hoffer and Sadie Sacra have off the chart capacity for servant leadership. They have risen to every occasion with an orientation of “how can I help” without thought to how they personally might benefit. This kind of attitude flies in the face of the last couple of generations that social scientists have referred to as the “me” generation or the millenials. Their parents can (and I’m sure they are) be very proud of Ryan and Sadie. They have done a tremendous job raising them to be the young adults they have grown up to be.

Sacra and Hoffer IMG_0961-e

Sadie Sacra and Ryan Hoffer
2014 Woman and Man of the Year

Thinking more about Sadie and Ryan and how they have set themselves apart during their time at Sul Ross has inspired the creation of a new award that I plan to introduce at the faculty and staff award ceremony early on May 1st. It’s called the Annual Lobo Leadership Award. While undoubtedly there are many who might qualify, I have a person in mind who rose to an incredible challenge when called upon in a critical time of need. To me this embodies the “can do/will do” attitude of the Lobo family, not asking what’s in it for me, but rather how can I help our students and university succeed. I look forward to acknowledging this person’s contribution to Sul Ross State University in May. I believe this to be the first of many in years to come who epitomize what it means to be a Lobo at our very best.