Chancellor Robert Duncan

Texas Tech University System Chancellor Robert Duncan met with media outlets in his office in the Administration Building on Friday. Duncan discussed several outcomes from the 84th Texas Legislature in relation to higher education, including Texas House Bill 100, the Hazlewood Legacy Act and campus carry.

Chancellor Duncan Q&A header

Q: You’ve been here four years. What has it been like, those four years for you?

A: Four years have gone by very quickly. It seems like just yesterday we started all this with this program. It was very exciting then and it’s still very exciting now. There have been a lot of things. A lot of things have happened at Texas Tech in the last four years — a lot of just natural growth, a lot of also, we’ve had I think a very successful philanthropic activity. Our athletics have really grown, and I think done very well, thanks to Kirby (Hocutt), coaching staff and great student athletes that we have.

This is a really good time to be at Texas Tech. The last four years for me have been really exhilarating, fun, exciting and challenging.

Q: What have been some of the highlights and challenges for you in the four years you’ve been chancellor?

A: I think the highlights would be some of the successes we’ve had in philanthropy, raising funds for things. Not any one person raises all the money around here. Our athletic director, his team, does a great job. We’ve done some good things in visual and performing arts. We’ve done some things around the campus with new ideas, new initiatives. I think the dental school and vet school initiatives are really exciting things that we’re working on. You look back on it, those are big impactful ideas that we believe can be successful and I think it really does do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s kind of solve problems and meet the needs of this region of the country. We’re excited about those projects.

Q: Has there been anything that stands out as the biggest challenge or hardship for you?

A: Anytime you’re running a $2 billion organization, I think the number one challenge is to make sure you have the resources to operate and to excel. That’s one of the major roles of the chancellor’s office and the system is to be able to manage that aspect of it. The state of Texas gives, we get our appropriations from there, and it’s very core what they do, but it’s only about 23 percent of what we do. So, there’s other sources of funds that we have to manage.

We have to make wise decisions as it relates to tuition and the rate of tuition that we charge because we know that’s a significant burden on students as the cost of education goes up in their back pocket. We try to manage all those things and balance them. Philanthropy’s a very important part of that.

The opportunity for students to have scholarships through our endowments is very significant. The opportunity for our faculty to have research grants and endowments to support what they do and their discipline and program as well.

Q: You were a student at Texas Tech, then you went and had a law career, had a career in politics. What was it like for you to make that transition, not only back to your alma mater but into higher education again?

A: Well higher education is kind of politics. There’s a lot of that involved in it. But it’s a different transition. It’s a fast pace, there are decisions that have to be made and I think the key at any job like that is you’ve got to make decisions. You don’t always know you’re right, but you’ve got to make decisions. Fortunately, we have a very good team over here to help do that and different processes that we have to make decisions and I think one of the things we’ve really tried to do is refine those types of processes.

Abbott visits Lubbock

State Representative Charles Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texas State Senator Robert Duncan, and State Representative John Frullo during his Education Roundtable Tour stop in Lubbock on Thursday.

How do you go about running and operating a philanthropic organization, what do you do as it relates to the projects that are under construction. What are your processes for getting those designed and approved. Things like that that we think are very important for proper management.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the last four years making sure as a matured system, we’ve only been around a little over 20 years, so as the system has matured, it’s been very important for us to build in the types of processes that go along with a very sophisticated operation, which we are. We’re a $2 billion organization, so that requires a lot of very careful management.

Q: During your time as an undergraduate student and a law student at Tech, did you ever see yourself sitting behind the chancellor’s desk?

A: Not in my wildest dreams. When we say, “From here, it’s possible,” that really does apply to me. Because that was not in my plan or in my dream, but life has a plan b. Plan b was a very good plan for me. When I graduated from Texas Tech, I wanted to go and be a farmer basically. I loved agriculture, I loved growing crops, I loved that sort of a life. But when I graduated, the ag economy was in the dumps and dad said “you better come up with plan b.”

So, law school was plan b. That just led to opportunities with a law firm that I worked in for over 35 years, and then the political opportunities. And then this job which was kind of a natural (fit) for my political experience working on higher ed committee and then chairing the working group for higher ed finance.

It kind of all worked out together and sometimes God has a plan for you and he had a great plan for me. I sure have benefited from that plan. It’s been an exhilarating career here in the last four years.

Chancellor Duncan's Top Five

Q: Recently, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp published a letter saying there only needs to be one vet school in Texas. Why do you think it’s important for the system to continue to push the need for another vet school?

A: Texas is a state that’s growing and right now we’re over 28 million people. Texas A&M has a class of I think 132 and they’re going to 162 per year. Texas, right now, issues nearly 500 new licenses per year. So, you can just do the math. There’s not enough veterinarians and many of those veterinarians are going into urban, small animal type of practices or family animal practices.

So out here, if you look at it, I don’t think anyone can really disagree that there’s a shortage, with a straight face, really disagree that there’s a shortage of veterinarians that serve agriculture communities and the livestock industry. Feds understand that real well. The USDA is very interested in what we’re trying to do because they have a shortage of veterinarians that work in the packing plants and in the food animal health industry.

If you look around and talk to people in their smaller communities, you know that there is a shortage of vets. Out here, we are in the epicenter, especially in Amarillo, is the epicenter of food animal production. With the feed lots and the dairies that have migrated into Texas and eastern New Mexico in the last 20 years, we’re sitting right on top of where all that is.

The closest vet school is not Texas A&M, it’s Oklahoma State. Then you’ve got Kansas State and Colorado State are all closer to Amarillo than College Station. What we believe we can do, better than anybody else, is we can create a new program, design it for the purpose of being able to recruit the types of students and train the types of students that will be successful in these practices that serve agriculture communities and the livestock industry.

We also believe that that industry needs ongoing support. A School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo not only will provide the veterinarians to populate and mature in those areas, but also will provide the support that those professionals need once they’re out in the practice that they don’t have today. We think it’s a significant need and we believe very strongly that we’re on the right path here and I think a lot of other people do too.

Q: You’ve spent four years as chancellor now. If you could look forward four years, where would you want to see the Tech System?

A: I’d like to see us win a national championship in football, men and women’s basketball, baseball. Those things really are important. Our athletic programs really are doing well and I’m really proud of that.

I would like to see us to continue to grow in our national stature. Right now, people see Texas Tech and they really do believe that we have a quality program. I want to enhance that. I want people when they see the Double T in Costa Rica, or in Dallas, or in Washington D.C. or in Seattle, Washington that they have a good feeling about this institution and about the quality of students and the quality of education we’re providing. All of these expansions and all the philanthropic efforts that we have are really designed to try to grow that national reputation and status.

Q: You graduated from Tech and law school here. Your kids have gone here. It’s really big part of your life. You’ve had family members on the Board of Regents. What does Texas Tech mean to your family as a whole?

A: It is our family. My mom and dad met here. My uncle went here, he was older than my mother. We’ve all benefited from what Texas Tech has provided us — a great education. It’s a great family tradition to watch Texas Tech sports.

We love this place. It’s helped all of us. “From here, it’s possible” really applies to each one of our family members. Our children are really doing very well as a result of the education they got here. I say the education, I mean the culture here makes you grow up and gives you good values and I think that’s part of what the Texas Tech experience is all about.

State of the System

Texas Tech System Chancellor Robert Duncan delivers his State of the System address in the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.

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Q: Has there been anything that stands out as the biggest challenge or hardship for you?

A: Anytime you’re running a $2 billion organization, I think the number one challenge is to make sure you have the resources to operate and to excel. That’s one of the major roles of the chancellor’s office and the system is to be able to manage that aspect of it. The state of Texas gives, we get our appropriations from there, and it’s very core what they do, but it’s only about 23 percent of what we do. So, there’s other sources of funds that we have to manage. We have to make wise decisions as it relates to tuition and the rate of tuition that we charge because we know that’s a significant burden on students as the cost of education goes up in their back pocket. We try to manage all those things and balance them. Philanthropy’s a very important part of that. The opportunity for students to have scholarships through our endowments is very significant. The opportunity for our faculty to have research grants and endowments to support what they do and their discipline and program as well.

We do that, then buildings and constructions. We’ve had a lot of construction throughout the system. The four components, in 2015 the legislature gave us almost half a billion dollars in construction funds, so we’re in the process now of building the tuition-revenue bonds throughout the system. That was a significant win for all of higher education, but in particular our system had some real needs that we needed in construction and that’s helped us.

Experimental Science Building II Construction

A crane operates over the Experimental Science II Building construction site on Aug. 29, 2017.

For example, on this campus, on the Texas Tech campus here in Lubbock, you’ll see the experimental science building two, or ESPII as we call it. A beautiful building, it’s going to be very much state-of-the-art for research, for laboratories, for students, for faculty. It’s a real exciting time.

If you go to the Health Sciences Center, you’ll see we’re expanding that facility with a new gross anatomy lab and classroom space as well as some administrative offices, and then also a center where we can have events, an event center, which will be very important for what we do in continuing education and other things through the Health Sciences Center.

Q: I know you’re from the West Texas area, you’ve grown up around Texas Tech and it’s been a really rich family tradition for you. What has it been like for you, not just as chancellor but as someone that’s seen it from the ground up, see it grow, expand and reach into four institutions within the system now?

A: Well, it’s kind of part of our life. I feel like it’s part of my family – Texas Tech. I’ve been around for all those expansions serving in the senate. When John Montford was chancellor, we kind of invented the idea of a four-year medical school in El Paso which has come to fruition. We were able to have the benefit of having Angelo State University join our system. It’s a $130 million endowment that they have and the finest regional college educational opportunities of any in the state. We’re real fortunate to have that.

Plus, to see the medical school. When I started at Texas Tech in 1971, there weren’t any medical students. The first class was in 1972 and it was only 36 first-year students in Drane Hall. I had the opportunity to watch as they built the Health Sciences Center here and, of course over the years living in Lubbock and leaving the legislature and working with Tech, I’ve seen all this grow.

It’s just been part of our life, a very important part of it. I feel very invested in this institution and in the faculty and students and I just love it very much.

Q: You mentioned Angelo State a little bit. Over the last decade they’ve seen record growth in their enrollment, their degrees awarded. What’s it been like for you as chancellor to see that growth and help them continue to grow and be a very vital part of the Tech System now?

Angelo State University seal

A: I’ve got great leadership down there. Sometimes you stay out of the way and let those guys work. I think we have a great collaborative operation in the system and working with Dr. (Brian) May and his team has been really fun. He’s very creative and I think the community there, especially since ASU has been in our system, I think the community fe­­els like there is autonomy there — that that institution has the opportunity to seek its vision without being held back and they’ve certainly taken advantage of that and really done a great job.

Dr. May is an outstanding fundraiser. He’s inspired a lot of external investment in the institution which has been critical in its growth. He and his team have come up with ideas that have been able to allow them to grow at times when other institutions weren’t. He’s very much a visionful institution and has carried it out. We’re real proud of what they’re doing at Angelo State and real proud that they carry the name Angelo State University, a member of the Texas Tech University System. We’re real proud of that association.

Q: You mentioned they have a really good autonomy and can thrive and survive on their own. You’ve mentioned that before about all of the member institutions of the Tech System. Why do you think that autonomy is so important for the system and each individual institution to have?

A: Each of our institutions are unique in what they do. The leadership that we appoint for those institutions, those people are in the best position to know what is needed to transfer that into a vision for the future. Each of our presidents have really done a nice job with that. Now, we’re involved. We work and coordinate very well with our leadership and we collaborate and we come up with joint ideas and things like that. But at the end of the day, it’s very important for a higher institution to follow the vision of its leader which is its president.

It’s our role as the system to provide them with the resources that they need and to be able to achieve that mission. That’s what we’ve been doing as a system and that’s how the system has evolved over the years. As a new system, there was always some kind of a discussion, dialogue, whatever you want to call it – argument maybe, about how much control the system should have over the general academic or Health Sciences Center.

As we’ve evolved over the years, we’ve seen that autonomy really works best. Not that any other thing worked poorly, but now that we’ve grown and we’re stable as a system, you can really benefit from allowing the presidents to pursue their vision, communicate their vision to the system and to the board, but at the same time to pursue it with resources we’re able to help provide for them to do well.

Q: There are a lot of big projects going on throughout the system — the expansion at HSC, the Mental Health Initiative that Tech and HSC are working on, the vet school, dental school, expansions at HSC El Paso. Are there any projects you are personally most excited about that are going on right now?

A: One of the things we want to do, and I’m excited about this, is to grow our endowment. We don’t talk a lot about that and it’s not that we’re going to have a campaign that says “we’re going to grow the endowment.” But right now, our endowment sits at about $1.26 billion and it generates about $52 million a year for our campuses or for our students and faculty either through scholarships or faculty support endowments. Growing that to $2 billion by our 100th birthday in (2023) is a significant goal that we’ve set.

When we do that, we’re going to increase the amount of money that we generate for our institutions from 50 to 52 million to about 80. That’ll make a significant difference. Plus, as far as rankings are concerned with endowments, it’ll put us at a very high level in the country. That’s what we want to do. It’s an exciting thing. It’s not something that gets a lot of headlines, nor should it, but it’s a goal that we have.

Also, I’m real proud of these expansions, the three we’ve talked about — the dental school, the vet school and the Mental Health Initiative. All of these are coming at really critical times.

If you look at the dental needs, dental health is very important to personal health and overall health to an individual. There’s a severe and significant shortage of dentists in the El Paso and West Texas region. For many years, they’ve said “well we can educate in Houston, San Antonio, and they’ll come to West Texas.” But they don’t.

It was the same thing with the medical school in the early 60s. They said, “we can educate physicians and they’ll come to these regions.” Well they don’t. We watered that with a medical school, with a dental school and as well as with a vet school. You’ve got to have a purposeful program to be able to, a program that’s designed to be able to develop to attract students and to develop a curriculum to support those students as they graduate into these regions to work and be productive. We’re doing that with a dental school and we’re doing that with a vet school. It’s a real exciting time.

Then, mental health is an issue that’s always going to be something we have to tackle. Three years ago, at the urging of regent (Ron) Hammonds on our board, we kind of pulled everybody together at the Health Sciences Center and at Texas Tech and started talking about our programs and what do we have as it relates to mental health programs and education and research and treatment as well.

What we found was we had a lot of great things — the center for addiction and recovery, our psychology department at Tech is second to none, we do family counseling, we do psychiatry, we have a great psychiatry program and research programs over at the Health Sciences Center — but none of them are working together. It was a totally siloed concept.

So, we started working together trying to come up with ways to collaborate, which gives us more ability to attract resources. Recently we’ve created the Texas Tech Mental Health Institute. Both Texas Tech and the Health Sciences Center have come together and have hired a director, Keino McWhinney, who will be over this. His job is to identify and pull together collaborations.

And then there’s some opportunities at the state level for us as well to be able to do some needs assessments as well as some planning for some long-term mental health services in this region. I think Texas Tech, one of our niches is rural healthcare and assistance to rural communities. I think we can focus in that area, that’s our niche, and we can really do a lot of good things there.

Another thing that’s excited me and what we’ve always wanted to do is take advantage of this close collaboration that we could have between our two Health Sciences Centers and Texas Tech, which is a national research university. So, several years ago we created a collaborative research fund where I fund it out of my budget, Texas Tech funds it, we all put together equal amounts, about 50,000 a year, to provide a fund for faculty teams from the Health Sciences Centers and Texas Tech to compete to see basic research or even applied research. We’ve seen that be a successful program to bring together scientists from both the general academic institution and the Health Sciences Center which is very significant.

Another area we’re really focused on is federal relations. A very important part of what we do in the system is to coordinate those sort of governmental programs were we’re trying to access the federal government and access the opportunity for research funding for our faculty. One of the significant measures Dr. (Lawrence) Schovanec, I think, has emphasized in his strategic planning is improving his federal research dollars. We’ve designed and actually overhauled our existing system. We have a very robust and active federal program.

House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Congressman Beto O'Rourke, TTU Systems Chancellor Robert Duncan, Congressman Jodey Arrington, and TTU Health Sciences Center President Tedd Mitchell attend the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs Hearing in the Texas Tech Systems building on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. The committee discussed veteran opportunities and support in higher education.

Our faculty members and even I have testified in front of Congress on issues that are very important to our region of the state or to the educational mission of our university. Dr. (Tedd) Mitchell has testified in particular relating to veteran’s affairs. Obviously, we’re working on getting a VA clinic here on campus and I think he’s done a great job there. Dr. (Joseph) Heppert recently testified in front of the science, space and technology committee in the House. It was very well received and our presence in Washington is now very well known. That’s a significant thing for us in our ability to grow our federal research support.

(1) comment


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