Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Steve Tallant: In His Own Words

KINGSVILLE - August 08, 2008


Dr. Steve Tallant, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has been named the sole finalist for the presidency of Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Below are some thoughts from Dr. Tallant. To learn more about him, please click here.

On Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s greatest attribute:

“The strongest attribute of Texas A&M-Kingsville is the commitment of both the campus and the community to access and opportunity. This is a great strength!”

On his administrative and management style:

“Management starts with the people. I will work with the entire campus so that we have a shared understanding of our mission and vision. Once that understanding is established, we then let people do their jobs. I do not micro-manage. I hold people accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities, but I believe in having good people on board and then letting them do their jobs.”

On the characteristics needed by a university president:

“A president must first understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses. I surround myself with people who can give me balance, who can be honest with me in telling me what they believe needs to be done. A university president must be a good listener, a consensus builder and a delegator. He or she must be a good communicator and make decisions in a timely manner. Above all, he or she must be student-centered. I believe I am bringing all these qualities to the position.”

On the greatest challenge facing Texas A&M-Kingsville:

“Enrollment management is the greatest challenge facing the university. Our greatest challenge is recruiting students, retaining students and graduating students. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to address enrollment management issues; it’s more like a shotgun with a lot of pieces involved. I have overseen enrollment management at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and I’m pleased to say we have seen success in recruiting and retaining students. But I am well aware that it is a total university-wide effort; enrollment management is everybody’s business at a university. No matter where you work, our collective business is to get, keep and graduate students.”

On his vision for Texas A&M-Kingsville:

“I want Texas A&M-Kingsville to remain, as always, an institution of access and opportunity for every citizen of South Texas. We need to grow the undergraduate population, and I plan to do that by working with faculty and the community in identifying the strengths of the university and then building on them. You have some great programs – engineering, music, agriculture, education, wildlife, just to name a few – these are outstanding programs! I want to build upon these and use them as a model in defining the university’s excellence.”

On the balance between teaching and research:

“I believe Texas A&M-Kingsville is really positioned to be the university of the future because it has strength in both teaching and research. We are now in a global knowledge-based economy. This requires three things: the creation of knowledge; the application of knowledge to benefit mankind; and the transmission of knowledge to others. These three things are basic research, applied research and teaching – all of which are the mission of Texas A&M-Kingsville. The university is doing all of these things in what I see as a manageable environment.

“Very few universities do both research and teaching well. A research-intensive university usually doesn’t have a culture of teaching, while a teaching institution doesn’t possess a culture of research. It is my belief, however, that we can do both. It will take a president who understands that teaching and research can sometimes be at odds with one another. So how we do it is as important as what we do. For example, the dual-track model applies different measurement criteria for teaching and research. I am not a proponent of that model because it invariably creates a second-class group; either teaching or research faculty become less valued than the other.

“What it takes is an understanding that we will do both without trying to be everything to everybody. We should identify our strengths – those programs that are best-in-class – and collectively make some admittedly tough decisions on what we will and won’t do. The president’s job then becomes finding new resources and reallocating existing ones to get it done.”

On similarities and differences between Texas A&M-Kingsville and Wisconsin-Eau Claire:

“There are many similarities. UWEC began in 1916 as a normal school. The name has changed several times throughout our history. We have similar resources and student-to-teacher ratio. Our community is similar in some respects. Eau Claire’s population is greater than Kingsville’s, but it is located near but not in a major metropolitan area (Minneapolis-St. Paul).

“One difference is in the number of graduate programs and the amount of research at Texas A&M-Kingsville. UWEC offers fewer master’s degrees and is in the processing having its first doctoral degree approved. While UWEC is not a research institution, we are a leading university for undergraduate research; the university has a total enrollment of 9,500, and 700 were involved in undergraduate research.

“UWEC also does very well in recruitment and retention. Last year, we had 8,500 applications for our 2,000 slots. Our overall freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is 83 percent, and among students of color, it is 85 percent. I want to bring what I have learned in this area to Texas A&M-Kingsville.

“There also is a real lack of diversity at Eau Claire – it is a very homogeneous region. Kingsville is totally different, and much more real in that the community and university are much more representative of the world of today and tomorrow. This is very exciting to me. The world today is diverse, both culturally and ethnically, and I am very excited about the prospect of joining a university that is more diverse. It makes for a much better teaching and learning environment.”

On his personal teaching style:

“I believe that every student is eager and wants to learn – and my experience has borne this belief out. I believe you have to come to class with content to share, and because of my background in social work, I have been able to relate theory to reality in my teaching; this is very important. I believe students want to be challenged and pressed. I don’t think students want easy A’s, despite what they may tell us; I want to push them in the learning experience as far as they can go without breaking them, and I believe they want that as well. I believe faculty have to be fair and transparent with students, treating every student the same and giving every student the opportunity to be engaged. There is no such thing as a stupid question or idea; students must not feel threatened in the classroom so that they can question and contribute. Finally, I believe faculty have to be accessible to students; you have to meet with them and talk to them as much as possible on their terms.”

On meeting the challenges facing the university:

“I have read about the issues in the past, such as the controversy over the name change, for example. However, I don’t want to frame my presidency as dealing with issues of the past. I will frame my presidency in terms of going forward. I know that people who care about the university have differences of opinion, and those differences must be acknowledged and recognized for what they are. I will be sensitive and aware of past issues. But as a president, I will be focused on moving forward for the students, the community and the region we serve.”

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