President Turner discusses Task Force decisions with SMU community

SMU President R. Gerald Turner announces Substance Abuse Task Force decisionsSMU President R. Gerald Turner (right) has accepted 36 of the 38 recommendations recently made by the University’s Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention on programs, policies and issues related to alcohol and drug use. Turner gave an overview of his decision to SMU students, faculty and staff members at a briefing and discussion April 29.

“One of the greatest challenges facing American higher education is the extent of substance abuse among college-age students,” Turner said. While the Task Force report notes that “many of these students bring well-developed tendencies and habits regarding alcohol and drug use with them to college,” SMU must “promote … lifestyles that [support] their health and well-being during the short but important years they are on campus,” Turner said.

“Our goal is not only that [students] earn their degree, but that they receive life-long benefits from exposure to the best of human civilization, the lessons of history, and the knowledge, values and skills necessary for successfully navigating the 21st century.”

The report comes at a pivotal time in the progress of the University, Turner added. “There are few moments in the history of institutions that the entire community is galvanized around a salient, central mission.” SMU’s commitment to increasing academic quality, and the University’s significant strides toward that goal, motivated the Task Force to place its recommendations within that context, Turner said. Some recommendations have been accepted partially or with modifications, limitations or reservations; or will be considered with more study. Two recommendations have not been accepted.

Complete text of President Turner’s remarks
President Turner’s announcement
President Turner’s decision
Executive summary of the decision
The Task Force’s recommendations
• Video of President Turner’s briefing (Part 1 and Part 2) video


Remarks Regarding the Recommendations of the
Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention
By R. Gerald Turner, President

One of the greatest challenges facing American higher education is the extent of substance abuse among college-age students. As noted in the Task Force report, many of these students bring well-developed tendencies and habits regarding alcohol and drug use with them to college. Nevertheless, to enable the highest level of academic achievement among our students requires that we promote as successfully as possible lifestyles that would support their health and well-being during the short but important years they are on campus. Our goal is not only that they earn their degree, but that they receive life-long benefits from exposure to the best of human civilization, the lessons of history, and the knowledge, value, and skills necessary for successfully navigating the 21st Century. For all these reasons and more, SMU and its fellow institutions are laboring to identify policies, practices, environmental conditions, and motivational strategies that will support these goals.

Aware of the seriousness of these challenges, SMU administrators, faculty and staff have monitored and implemented over the past two decades best practices to encourage healthy behavior among our students. Annual conferences and programs have been attended to be sure that our knowledge of the subject was as current as possible. Nevertheless, the unfortunate deaths of three students during the 2006-2007 academic year underscored the ongoing mandate to review constantly our practices and regularly evaluate their effectiveness. As our hearts continue to go out to the families of these students, their loss underscores the seriousness of our challenge as we work to prevent the loss of any student from any cause, but particularly one that might have been averted.

This report comes at a pivotal time in the progress of the University. There are few moments in the history of institutions that the entire community is galvanized around a salient, central mission. The desire to enhance the academic quality of the entire University to continue its rise among the nation’s premier private institutions is clear and uniting. Those who survey our friends, alumni, faculty, staff, and students report that it is clear that the institution has made significant strides and that there is a united commitment to continue these improvements. Therefore, it was important that the Task Force placed its more than 30 recommendations within this context.

As the number of applications to SMU continues to grow, and the average standardized test scores of our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students continue to improve, it is important that SMU continue to enhance its ability to nurture the increasing intellectual strength of our incoming students, while at the same time encouraging them to make healthy choices in their personal lives. As stated in the report of the Task Force, this calls for a stronger, more interactive, living/learning environment, particularly at the undergraduate level. In addition, we must work toward making the living/learning environment of our students inclusive of regular interaction with faculty and academic staff beyond classroom hours.

One of the major strengths of attending SMU has been the availability of many “valued added” components. These have usually been identified as the opportunity for leadership training through the many organized groups on campus; the ability to have internships and placements in business, professional, cultural, and educational institutions far beyond what would be available in most university communities; and the opportunity for smaller classes and more individual attention from faculty and staff. To this list should now be added, in a degree greater than ever before, an expansion of the academic life within the activities of our students. This will require creative programming and the development of innovative individual research and study opportunities.

In addition, it will require that all faculty, full-time and part-time, commit to creating a more challenging, engaging academic environment in which the learning opportunity of a particular course is more important than the ease or difficulty of achieving a high grade. With an 85 point increase in the average SAT over the past 10 years in our first-year students, it is important that all faculty, departments, schools, and the College recognize the difference in expectations of these students compared to their predecessors 10 years ago. Because the first major experience of our students is the general education curriculum, it is important that the review of this curriculum to be led by Provost Paul Ludden during 2008-2009 consider the academic and intellectual challenge of courses developed to fulfill these requirements. Although it is important to select the appropriate categories for the general education requirements, it is even more crucial that these courses provide intellectual excitement and rigor to students in order to orient them early into the intellectual life of the University

Throughout the report of the Task Force is a call for a livelier campus community with more diverse activities, both during the day and in the evenings. In addition to the academic issues discussed above, the activity level would be greatly enhanced by increasing the number of students living on the campus. At the present time, most second, third, and fourth-year students leave campus soon after their classes are completed on any given day. Many of our comparable and benchmark institutions require both second and third-year students to live on campus. As we implement the sophomore residency requirement, this addition of 1,200 residents will provide a better opportunity for having a critical mass of students on campus. After this change has been assimilated, we will be able to evaluate the possibility of adding a third year to campus residential requirements. This will create a greater opportunity for a lively community on campus.

It is within this context of the tremendous opportunities before SMU that the recommendations of the Task Force were received and evaluated. To the extent possible, our policies and practices must encourage healthy, responsible behavior that will help our students navigate the path from adolescence to adulthood, while preparing themselves intellectually, socially, and spiritually to address and embrace successfully their futures. Our institutional policies must reflect as much knowledge and wisdom as is possible on the issues they address. However, ultimately, students are responsible for their choices. If the University can encourage healthy choices and help students recover from unhealthy ones, then another “value added” would exist for students attending SMU.

I thank, again, members of the Task Force, Co-Chaired by Drs. Tom Tunks and Dee Siscoe, for their diligent work across eight months of meetings; the Provost, Vice President for Student Affairs, Vice President for Business and Finance, the Vice President for Legal Affairs, and Vice President for Development and External Affairs for their help, as well as that of their staffs, in evaluating the various recommendations in their areas of expertise. In addition, I heartily thank them for meeting the April 15 deadline for getting their evaluations and observations to me. Although the responsibility for the final decision regarding each recommendation is mine, the advice and input of these individuals was important and is obviously visible throughout the document. We all believe that through the continued efforts of all constituencies of the University, and the ongoing oversight of the President’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention, we can work together to address more effectively issues of alcohol and drug abuse. Thereby, we can encourage a more successful interaction with the remarkable academic environment open to our students during their short 4-5 years on our campus. Our response to the work of the Task Force gives us the opportunity to renew and reinforce these efforts.

About Kathleen Tibbetts

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