Sole Presidential Finalist Believes in Mission of Access, Opportunity
KINGSVILLE - August 07, 2008
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University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Steven Tallant has been named sole finalist for the presidency of Texas A&M University-Kingsville. To read “Steve Tallant: In His Own Words,” click here.
KINGSVILLE, Texas (Aug. 7, 2008) – Had Steve Tallant grown up in South Texas rather than the north Texas community of Paris, it is very likely he would have been exactly the type of young person Texas A&M University-Kingsville was founded to serve.
On Aug. 1, The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents named Tallant the sole finalist to become the next president of A&M-Kingsville. The university’s commitment to access and opportunity drew him to apply for the position, he says.
In a telephone interview from his University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire office, the 59-year-old Tallant talked about why he wants to lead A&M-Kingsville and what he plans to do if he becomes president. The Board of Regents may consider the appointment of Tallant to the position of president after the 21 days required by state law for public notice of the appointment with the Texas Secretary of State.
“Higher education changed my life, and I am very interested in the Texas A&M-Kingsville mission of access and opportunity,” says Tallant. “I came from that tradition; without access and opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“Growing up in Paris was a wonderful experience for me, giving me the values that have stayed with me the rest of my life,” Tallant says. “I am very excited about the prospect of coming home to Texas.”
Those values have been with him throughout a multi-faceted career that began in social work, moved to career military service, then to academia, where he has spent the past 14 years. After graduating Paris High School in 1967, Tallant went on to Paris Junior College, earning an associate of science degree as a pre-pharmacy major in 1969. At that point, he faced two choices, he says.
Into the Armed Forces
“I was an individual without a lot of means – I worked in a factory all through school to pay for my education,” Tallant says. “After I earned my associate’s degree, I could have continued working in that factory and transferred to East Texas State” – today’s Texas A&M-Commerce – “or I could enlist in the military and use my G.I. Bill benefits to further my education.
“I chose to enlist in the Navy, and it was a wonderful experience, opening up the entire world of ethnic and cultural diversity to me.”
Tallant’s naval service eventually took him to Naples, Italy, where he worked for NATO. While there, he was encouraged to go back to college, which he did in 1975 at the University of Florida where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology. He then went on to the University of Utah, earning a master of social work degree in 1977.
“I wanted to be a social worker because I knew that not everybody had equal opportunity,” he says. “I was drawn to social work because I wanted to be an advocate for people who did not have equal access.”
After working in a residential treatment center for adolescents, he made the decision to take his skills back to military service. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and spent a total of 13 years working in social work, first on bases in South Dakota, Illinois, Mississippi and the Azores, a politically autonomous region of Portugal. During this time, he also earned his terminal degree – a Ph.D. in social welfare in 1985 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His final post was The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where he was chief of Air Force Family Research, examining issues and programs for military families. Retiring from the military as a lieutenant colonel in 1994, Tallant moved into higher education, joining the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC).
Transitioning to UWEC
Tallant was professor of social work from 1994 to 2000 – and earned the College of Professional Studies’ annual “Outstanding Teaching Award” each year. He also earned the Excellence in Teaching Award, considered the highest faculty award at the university. It is based on alumni survey and is presented by the UWEC chancellor and the president of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation Inc.
In 2000, he became associate vice chancellor and director of graduate programs, and in 2004, he was named associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. He served two terms as interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs – May-November 2004 and again from 2005 to 2007 – prior to being named to the position permanently in April 2007. His continued focus on students was recognized with the Ronald N. Satz Award for Student Advocacy: Outstanding Service to the Student Body, presented by the UWEC Student Senate in March 2006.
The decision to apply for the A&M-Kingsville presidency
After 14 years of progressive advancement at UWEC, Tallant is poised to lead Texas A&M-Kingsville. “I have been a chief academic officer for four years, and I am ready to be a president,” he says. “But I didn’t want to be a president just anywhere. I wanted to go to a public university that has a tradition of providing access and opportunity. That’s why I was interested in Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“I believe in public higher education; it provides both an individual and a public good. For the individual, the research data show all the benefits of a college degree related to increased lifetime earnings. We know that people with a bachelor’s degree earn about a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those with high school educations alone.
“That is important, but just as important is the public good realized from a college education,” Tallant continues. “The research data also show that college-educated citizens contribute more to their communities through the taxes they pay and through charitable donations. They are less likely to be incarcerated, have healthier lifestyles, spend less on health care, are more likely to vote in elections – in general, participate in their communities at a higher level. As a society, public education is vital if we want a vital democracy.”
The City of Kingsville also played into his decision. “I also wanted a small-town setting. My wife and I like being near a metropolitan area so we have its advantages but we don’t want to live there,” he says with a laugh.
Tallant’s wife Karen currently works part-time in the UWEC registrar’s office. The couple has two sons. Matthew is 29 and earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison this past May, one in history and the other in classical humanities. He plans to enroll in graduate school. Sean is 26 and earned a business degree from UWEC and lives in Minneapolis.
The couple’s other “children” are their two clumber spaniels; the dogs compete in confirmation, obedience and agility. Dr. Tallant also is a board member of the Clumber Spaniel Club of America.
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