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Monday, January 26, 2009

Trinity President Announces Retirement

Dr. John Brazil announced his resignation at the Board of Trustees meeting on January 23, 2009. The University community was informed later that day by mass e-mail and the story was reported two days later in the local San Antonio Express-News. Dr. Brazil will retire in January, 2010, enabling the University to conduct a thorough search for a successor.

In a touching e-mail to the campus community on Friday night, Dr. Brazil noted the difficulty of the decision for he and his popular spouse, Janice, offering "No doubt I will have opportunities before next January to express my gratitude to you individually and collectively for all you have done to make Trinity a better place. Let me say here only that the words I use on those occasions will be heartfelt, for all their inadequacy. I look forward to our mutual efforts during the next twelve months on behalf of this inspiring place and the people that make it so estimable."

Dr. Brazil followed Ron Calgaard in the presidency ten years ago, though it seems like yesterday that he was first introduced on campus at a faculty/staff assembly in the Chapman Auditorium. That unveiling was essentially the day the University learned of his appointment. People noted that the Bradley University Web site (where Dr. Brazil was serving) was lit up with hits from San Antonio that day. When a new president takes the helm there is always great interest among the University community. The new president can serve in any number or combination of roles: fund-raiser, community liaison, visionary, academician, and leader.

Dr. Brazil was always clear about his vision - build on the legacy of Dr. Calgaard and make "excellent" even better. The life of a University president isn't easy. Students everywhere wish for more visibility in a president. Modern presidents, however, do most of their work on behalf of the campus outside of the campus borders, doing fundraising and attending -- almost nightly -- community events and hosting receptions and dinners. The schedule of a chief executive is grueling.

Following the hands-on, top-down management style of Dr. Calgaard, Dr. Brazil delegated much authority to his staff while being a firm leader with specific plans for the campus. This is evident in the list of impressive work during Dr. Brazil's tenure; most notably the construction of the new Northrup Hall, the $200 million capital campaign, the growth of the nationally-recognized library, and the addition of faculty positions. Additionally, Dr. Brazil directed reviews in virtually all areas of campus. These included an integrated marketing plan through Public Relations (now University Communications), a communication audit through Admissions, a curricular review, and a review of student life through the Quality of Student Life Task Force in 2001.

The list of other accomplishments, to name only a few, includes divesting in the Sudan, adding a multi-cultural staff member to Student Affairs, declaring MLK Day as a Trinity holiday, rolling out card access for facilities, creating the new IM field, approving the renovation of many residence halls and Mabee Dining Hall, expanding Paul McGinlay's soccer field, permitting alcohol in the Tigers' den, designating a week of vacation during the holidays for all staff members, expanding international admissions, authorizing a study of Greek Life, saving KRTU, putting directional signs on campus (yes, it does matter!), and investing a huge influx of resources for top-notch technological resources on campus. On that note, one of the President's top decisions was bringing Michael Fischer to campus as the Academic Affairs VP while appointing Chuck White to oversee technical and administrative operations.

I was personally humbled when Dr. Brazil asked me to serve as the temporary interim Vice President between the tenure of Gage Paine and Felicia Lee. In that time I was able to see his style firsthand. I learned that the President was extremely reasonable, fair, caring, open-minded, and certainly in charge. It was a terrific opportunity for me, and reinforced that the President was an excellent leader for Trinity University.

Dr. Brazil has always supported the Residential Life Office, which I oversee with resources and attention. Dr. Brazil truly values the residential philosophy of Trinity. One strength of the president (often unseen) has always been his ethical decision-making. Like Dr. Calgaard, he was never compelled to make a decision because of pressure from a parent, an attorney, the media, or a donor. Conversely, such pressure usually resulted in greater steadfastness in doing what was right, not popular. On the other hand, Dr. Brazil has been the toughest sell on issues such as the Community Initiative program and the Sophomore College in the residence halls. His interest in student opinion was evident his first year when he listened to the ASR president and brought the full TigerCard operation to campus. He also serves as the last appeal in conduct suspensions and about half the time has offered compassionate leniency to students who maybe haven't deserved it, allowing them to complete their education. President Brazil has been very good to me and my family. It has made my long-ish tenure here easy.

So what next? A trustee has been named to chair the search committee. Undoubtedly there will be many voices heard in the search process and many ideas of the type of leader that the University needs in the post-Brazil era. Participate in the poll at right to express your preference.

In the meantime, the campus community should take every opportunity this year to reflect on, and be thankful for, the many exceptional works of president John Brazil.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Banner Day

Trinity University participates in the MLK Day march with what may have been the biggest single contingency in the annual San Antonio march. Over 325 people from Trinity participated in the march of over 100,000 total participants - both record numbers.

Ankita Rakhe from the CCI Office on campus did a terrific job organizing, publicizing, and implementing the march details. The weather was sunny, with perfect temperatures for the three mile march. As professor Tucker Gibson commented, "The march has more than symbolic significance in San Antonio. The benefits of this are very real to the San Antonio community." Or as I put it to my daughter: "Joelle, stop bumping me with the stroller." Okay, there are differing levels of eloquence -- nevertheless, the march was an event to remember, for the city, and for Trinity.

See the slide show at right for 80 pictures of the march and the Trinity participants.
Click here to see a video of the Trinity marchers.

Friday, January 16, 2009


For a small school, Trinity does have some celebrities in its bloodlines. Legend is that Barney the Dinosaur went here, sans costume, the Spurs Coyote, also attended Trinity (also sans costume), as did Senator John Cornyn, former governor John Silber, and poet Naomi Shihab-Nye. (If they have costumes that's their business.) More recently, two others with Trinity connections have paved a path to fame.
Alumnus Jerheme Urban, pictured above - lower, works with a high school receiver over the summer. If one looks closely that is an Arizona Cardinals work-out shirt. Jerheme is a wide receiver in a stable full of them for the NFL Cardinals. Jerheme and his mates, to the surprise of many, are in the NFC championship game. The team is one win a way from the Super Bowl, which would be nice, but more importantly means possibly meeting halftime* entertainer Bruce Springsteen. His (Jerheme's, not Springsteen's) path to the NFL was spotlighted in the San Antonio Express News. Jerheme is at least as good a guy as he is a football player.
Above - top, with child, (you know what I mean...) Coleen Grissom has received notoriety of late as the author of the book "A Novel approach to Life." In it, Dr. Grissom, a professor and former Dean and VP at Trinity for nearly 40 years, shares her speeches for which she is tremendously famous. Also featured in the Express News (in December), Dr. Grissom is the emcee at the San Antonio Book and Author luncheon, is a friend and mentor to the current Trinity Dean (and family), and serves others through her activities in the community, at literary functions, and in teaching various learners outside the Trinity borders.
Trinity is proud of these modern day superstars.
(*Take the poll at right to pick the song you most hope he will play - excluding his new record, slated to be released on January 27.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

march Madness

The San Antonio MLK Jr. Day march will be on the Monday, January 19, 2009 holiday (no school, offices closed) . Above is a creative display engineered by Ankita Rakhe, Assistant Director of Inter-Cultural and Diversity issues, in Campus & Community Involvement. Strategically placed in the Coates University Center lobby, the upper display shows footsteps that say "Big change starts with small steps." To take a virtual tour of the full display, see the slide show at right (click on it to enlarge). It includes information about why people march, what issues are addressed by people marching, and the government's position on marching.

I have some of my own reasons students should march. Having participated in the march for several years I am always amazed at the spirit of solidarity, the diversity of the marchers, the enthusiasm in the neighborhoods, and the sense of hope. This is a great chance for students to see the east side of town and break the bubble. People along the route are always appreciative of the Trinity turn-out. Our contingent is very visible as Trinity marchers receive t-shirts when boarding buses that morning.

I recently stumbled upon an old picture of my (then little) son holding a sign which read "No War in Iraq" at the march. This year's march may be more upbeat as it is the day before the inauguration. The city-wide MLK Jr. Day lecture, hosted annually at Trinity University, is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21.

Trinity is proud of the excellent work that Ankita, her colleagues, and students have done to make this year's march even more meaningful and filled with learning opportunities.

Dean Like Me

Drugs, alcohol, costs, staffing, Greeks, student deaths, alcohol, FERPA, renovations, going tray-less, alcohol... these aren't just Trinity issues.

As a member of the Associated Colleges of the South, Trinity University participates in an annual meeting of Senior Student Affairs Officers. The Association includes small, private, southern, liberal arts institutions such as Southwestern, Rhodes, Millsaps, Richmond, Davidson, and others (click for full list). The Student Affairs participants at the annual meeting are Vice Presidents, Deans, and Associate Deans, all in Student Affairs at their institutions. I have written about this cooperative group before. This year's meeting was at Sewanee: The University of the South (chapel pictured above at left).

Unlike professors and students who have many colleagues and peers, administrators often have very few professionals on campus who can relate to the experience of their roles. Gathering with colleagues who possess similar passions and experiences is an excellent way to learn best practices at other institutions, share ideas, celebrate the joy of working with students, and even kvetch a little about mutual frustrations. Some of the characters at this year's meeting are shown below, at right. They seem nice, don't they?

So here is a brief rundown on some of the issues that were discussed:
Alcohol: Most everyone has issue fatigue about this topic. Though students often perceive that administrators are against alcohol and love policy, this isn't really true. By-and-large, people like me don't want students to get hurt or die, hurt other people, break things, vomit where they shouldn't or flunk out. Several support a discussion of the drinking age. Some just don't care anymore and have more important issues to tackle than controlling student drinking.

Student death: See alcohol. In many instances students have been seriously hurt or killed as a result of alcohol use and associated activities. While uncommon, suicide is always a fear and has profound effect on the community. Administrators want to do everything in their power to keep other people's kids alive. Liability and lawsuits are secondary to the moral responsibility of managing student life on a college campus.

Drugs: Cocaine use is reportedly on the rise at many campuses. This does not seem to be prevalent at Trinity OR cases and rumors have just not risen to the professional staff level. Alcohol and -- then marijuana -- seem to be the Trinity drugs of choice (in addition to the endorphin high from running with the Dean on Wednesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. - meet in front of the Witt Center).

Health insurance: Virtually every school requires that students show proof of health insurance. Most places automatically bill students for insurance until they produce proof of insurance. Trinity seeks out the proof before billing, which is not nearly as efficient.

Conduct: Virtually all the Deans have more power to independently suspend a student. At Trinity only Conduct Boards may do so. Is this a lamentation or a boast? (See survey at right.)

Involuntary withdrawals: All schools present have an involuntary withdraw policy except Trinity. This is generally used in the case of a students who poses an imminent risk to self or others. The policy is seldom used but is an important tool to have on hand. trinity will investigate this by studying the policies of these institutions.

Renovations: Many schools have renovated or are planning on renovating/adding residential facilities. The economy may have an impact on this and other spending on campuses.

Greek Life: Most of the schools have national fraternities and sororities. They are not a panacea. Nevertheless, there were a lot of sympathetic looks and gestures in Trinity's direction regarding the local system here. One institution has no Greeks. Where Greek life is crucial is at campuses in more remote or rural locations where there is not a thriving social life outside the campus.

Other issues discussed are not all that interesting, but nevertheless important, namely FERPA and the Higher Education Act.