SHSU: An engaged university

We would like to think of Sam Houston State as an “engaged” university. Probably the best explanation of what an engaged university is was given recently by Dr. Stephen Weber, the president of San Diego State University, when he said: “To be a great university is not to be an ivory-covered 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.”This concept of a university being an “engaged partner in the work of life itself” is a significant departure from the famous 19th century definition of a university propounded by Cardinal John Newman, the founder of the University of Dublin. Newman, like others of his time, believed in the need to separate the pursuit of truth from mankind’s “necessary cares.” His university therefore became dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake irrespective of its applicability or relevance to society.For most of their long history, universities were the preserve of a small elite. Many who attended universities in that age got there because of the advantages endowed by class, not intelligence. That inequity began to gradually change as democracies grew in the world. Particularly since World War II higher education has undergone a remarkably rapid transformation from elite to a mass phenomenon. Although there is still an important place in our society for elite liberal arts colleges to function, for a university such as Sam Houston to thrive we must be relevant and useful to our constituents. We must have relevant programming and instruction; and our students, our alumni and friends, and our community should see us as an involved partner that is dedicated to their well-being.Let me provide one example of how Sam Houston is engaged with our students. In September 2002, we opened the SAM Center (Student Advising & Mentoring Center). This innovative concept in student advising is often referred to as an intrusive advising operation. In such an operation the center seeks out students who are “at risk.” Faculty members send names of students in academic trouble to the center. Last fall, the SAM Center contacted and assisted over 200 students through this “First Alert” system. Additionally, the Center assists students with scheduling, degree plans, and — more than infrequently — with difficult personal problems.In the fall 2002 semester the SAM Center provided advisement to approximately 52 percent of the students on campus. At Sam Houston State University we have voiced our commitment to the primary notion of academics first and student success. We want to see our students succeed and we are willing to proactively intervene on their behalf to meet that objective. This Center is merely a more formal manifestation of the wonderful student-friendly culture that has existed at this university for as far back as I know.We are also engaged with the students and community through academic programming. Many of our programs provide an infusion of professional workers into the area economy. As we consider adding new programs, we consider their fit and relevance. During 2003 we will graduate approximately 2,500 students, and most of them will stay in the general area, fill jobs and contribute to their community.I truly believe that Sam Houston State University is “on the move.” We want to continue the long history of being a strong contributor to the cultural and economic vitality of the region, and to enhance our position as an engaged partner with our constituents.

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