Speech: A Call for Distinction
A Call for Distinction
Excerpts from a Speech by
F. Dominic Dottavio, Ph.D.
on the occasion of his Inauguration as
Fifteenth President of
Tarleton State University
October 2, 2009
Regent Stallings, Chancellor McKinney,
Presidents McCabe and Thompson,
ladies and gentlemen:
I am honored to wear the chain
and accept the mace representing the office
of President of Tarleton State University.
Tarleton friends and family:
Thank you for trusting me
with the university you love,
For teaching me its glorious traditions,
For showing me its great strengths,
For allowing me to work beside you
on behalf of this wonderful university.
I have been here just over a year,
and only now am officially installed.
You might say I’ve had the honeymoon
without the wedding!
Dr. McKinney, the delay could imply
that one or the other
of us got “cold feet.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real facts are these:
We have simply been too busy
working for our students
and this university to take a breath.
The pace has been as fast as a Roderick Smith touchdown run,
as relentless as the drum beat at Homecoming,
as exhilarating as the Tarleton Stampede.
My thanks to all of you for your welcoming spirit
and for making me a true Texan - a Tarleton Texan.
I have had a taste of Texas in my life
for nearly 40 years.
When my sister Annie married
into the Evans family,
we knew she would move to Dave’s
hometown of Houston because his roots go back
several generations in Texas.
Little did I know that some 35 years later
both of our children – Aaron and Adrea –
would move from Ohio to Texas to start their careers.
Nor could I have predicted that Lisette and I
would come to Stephenville and
to this extraordinary university.
I am fortunate to be surrounded today by many members of my Ohio, Missouri,
Oklahoma, and Texas family.
Your support and love mean a great deal to me.
Although she has already been introduced,
I would again like to recognize my dear wife
and best friend, Lisette.
She has truly been a partner in all of my endeavors.
I am also delighted that so many friends from
The Ohio State University and
Heidelberg University are here today.
I am amazed that they traveled halfway
across the country to meet all of you . . .
and to say “goodbye” to me . . . again!
I am grateful for their counsel, wisdom,
and especially their friendship.
Their contributions to their institutions continue to inspire me.
To my campus and System colleagues
and friends in Stephenville,
thank you, thank you, for your Texas-sized welcome
and your helping hands
as I navigated the learning curve of
Texas history and culture – academic and otherwise.
To advance my Lone Star education,
this summer I read The Texas Almanac –
The Source for All Things Texan Since 1857.
It includes topography, archaeology, history, and
even a guide to pronouncing place names in Texas.
I then tackled James Michener’s
classic historical novel - Texas.
All 1,332 pages.
Clearly, everything is bigger in Texas!
Reading it reminded me that Six Flags
isn’t just an amusement park,
“Friday Night Lights” is much more than a TV series,
and armadillos dig two different kinds of holes.
Perhaps the most famous line
from the book is the last.
“Never forget, son, when you represent Texas,
always go first class.”
May I say gratefully to the Inaugural
and every member of the campus community:
Thank you for a celebration
that has been nothing but
a first-class Texan occasion.
The weeks' events capture
the energy and vitality,
the pride and promise that are Tarleton.
Ours is a unique institution
whose history, traditions, and character
offer strategic advantages among
21st century universities.
Tarleton combines the best of both
public and private institutions of higher education.
This university, which started 110 years ago
as a private college, maintains the vision
of its founder and benefactor John Tarleton.
But we have also been a proud part
of the Texas A&M System
for more than 90 years.
I have had the privilege
to attend and lead
both private and public universities.
I can argue that possibly the single best model
of higher education in the world
is a mid-sized, “right-sized” public university
One that provides an intensely personal education and is focused on student success.
One that effectively blends curricular and
in a 24/7 learning environment.
One that fosters, as Bryant Cureton suggested,
a liberal approach to professional education
and a professionally-relevant approach
to liberal learning.
And one that does so at a public university price.
I appreciate President Thompson’s participation today
and his wise counsel.
At his inauguration in 1982 as Tarleton’s
13th President, right on this stage, Dr. Thompson spoke of the importance of a well-rounded curriculum.
He said, and I quote:
“We are an increasingly specialized society,
turning out millions of bright lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, engineers, -- and farmers and ranchers.
Do these graduates know anything else of life?
Do they know how to speak, read, write, listen,
or enjoy life better than the graduates
of a 19th century university?”
We can ask the same questions today.
Are graduates being prepared to be effective leaders
in their careers and their communities?
In my years as a chief scientist
for the National Park Service,
the scientific programs I led were multidisciplinary,
covering most every discipline from
anthropology to zoology.
This was never more clear than on a
complex and controversial project
which I helped to initiate:
moving the Cape Hatteras lighthouse,
the tallest brick lighthouse in the world.
In 1870 the Cape Hatteras Light
was 1600 feet from the ocean.
In 1987 it was 120 feet from the water.
Moving the lighthouse to safety was
a remarkable feat, called by National Geographic,
“one of the engineering triumphs of the 20th Century.”
The planning issues were environmental,
geological, architectural, and mechanical.
They also were economic, historical,
and definitely emotional.
Would the lighthouse collapse?
Were we destroying its historic context?
Did the Park Service have the right
to move the cultural icon of North Carolina?
Did it cost more to move it than it was worth?
And on and on.
It is possible that this project
did more to prepare me to be a university president than any other.
Moving a 208-foot tall structure weighing 4,800 tons,
that has been standing in the same place
for more than 100 years,
and moving it over 1000 yards
– that’s about like moving an academic department or program in a slightly new direction.
I am fortunate my university studies
were part of a well-rounded curriculum
that provided a context for problem solving
throughout my career.
Likewise, Tarleton provides both
the context and curriculum to understand
the global and local problems that face us today.
Tarleton provides both a liberal arts education and professional preparation.
We have a unique history and wonderful traditions.
Our faculty and staff strive mightily
to excel in teaching, learning and scholarship
and to encourage student success.
These statements together describe Tarleton.
But, what truly defines this university?
What sets us apart from other universities of our size?
What makes a Tarleton education distinctive?
For the past year, this is the question
I have asked departments
as I visited across the university.
What makes you distinctive?
I have listened to what is and what might be.
I have seen passion and possibilities,
momentum and motivation.
Drawing on those experiences,
Provost Gary Peer and I
have started a discussion on distinctiveness.
And, we are asking the campus
to join the conversation.
Across higher education, sometimes I think
the only thing that sets us apart
are mascots and colors,
. . . and I know something about mascots.
I have been an Ohio State Buckeye –
the poisonous fruit of the buckeye tree,
otherwise known as “a killer nut.”
If that wasn’t difficult enough,
I have also been a Heidelberg Student Prince.
Believe me, that gives opponents a lot of ideas
for taunts and creative signs!
So you can imagine my delight when I learned
that we are the Tarleton Texans
and our mascot is the Texan Rider!
Accomplished students and capable horsemen and women,
the Texan Rider is a magnificent representative
of Tarleton spirit and pride.
Except for a colorful array of mascots,
in truth, many colleges and universities
look very much alike.
And so my question:
How can Tarleton stand apart from the crowd?
What is or can be distinctive about
a Tarleton education?
I ask the question not because
we want to be purple when everyone else is red.
Our distinction will not be in being different,
but in making a difference
in the lives of our students and their communities.
Students and their families expect
a university degree to lead to a good job
and a meaningful career.
But they also expect more.
And, so do we.
As educated women and men,
Tarleton graduates should be prepared
not just to do something, but to stand for
Facing a number of complex social, cultural,
and political issues, they should be ready
to be change makers and difference makers,
or as we challenged our new freshmen,
to become legendary.
Our opportunity for distinction
is to connect a university education to real life issues,
to effectively link in-class and out-of-class learning.
Or as our Quality Enhancement Plan Committee
suggests, we need to
“Keep it Real.”
No single discipline has a monopoly on solutions
to the global and local problems that face us today.
Leveraging Tarleton’s already broad strengths
across the curriculum
and in our co-curricular programs,
we can offer a menu of experiences
for our students –
internships, study travel, research projects,
co-curricular endeavors –
that are integrated around particular themes.
Several preliminary themes that Dr. Peer
and I have discussed include:
leadership and service,
scholarship and intellectual inquiry,
global and multicultural perspectives,
new technologies, creativity and innovation.
We would like to explore whether
completion of electives in thematic areas like these
can be linked to co-curricular experiences
and then tagged as “degrees with distinction.”
Certification in the academic record
would confirm that a graduate
explored an issue in depth
as part of a co-curricular program.
How will this work?
That, ladies and gentlemen, will be the subject
of our campus-wide conversations.
Regardless of how it works,
such a distinctive program
will communicate our relevance
and advance our strategic goals.
Under President McCabe’s leadership,
a Strategic Plan was developed that provides
a foundation for our continued growth.
Last fall, I distilled the essence of that plan
into four strategic goals, the 4Es:
Excel in Scholarship, Teaching, and Learning
Expand Our Horizons
Encourage Leadership, Service,
and Student Success
Extend our Reach
These “Four Es” took hold
and departments, colleges, and individuals
have brought them to life
and advanced the quality of a Tarleton education.
With these shared goals and a clear mission,
we are ready to take our place as
a great regional research university
with distinctive undergraduate programs
that integrate the liberal arts, professional
programs, and co-curricular activities
with real-world challenges and opportunities.
A decade ago, Tarleton celebrated its Centennial
and, as many of you remember well,
the ceremony included an inspiring new song,
“The True Flame.”
The words are a call to action
and a promise of success.
“Like a beacon in the darkness
Shines our alma mater bright,
As one hundred bonfires burning
Guide us homeward through the night...
In our ever-growing embers
Shines Tarleton’s bright pure call
To a culture of distinction
In her varied hallowed halls.”
Together we must hear the “bright pure call”
to Tarleton’s “culture of distinction.”
Working together, distinction can be, will be ours.
I have told each of the graduates on my watch,
the Tarleton gates are always open.
Open to new ideas.
Open to new opportunities.
Open to all of you.
With your help this will always be.
Thank you for the support and inspiration
you have given me
and that you continue to give
to this remarkable university.
See Photo Slideshow of President Dottavio's Inauguration