A former chair of the SMU Board of Trustees and a trustee since 1976, Mr. Hunt is co-chair of The Second Century Campaign. He has served on numerous other SMU boards and committees, and he received the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1977. Mr. Hunt is currently the executive chair of Hunt Consolidated, Inc. (the parent of Hunt Oil Company).
This Campaign Q&A is the third of six interviews with campaign co-chairs appearing in the final editions of Campaign Update.
Campaign Update: As a co-chair of two SMU campaigns, how do you compare A Time to Lead with The Second Century Campaign?
Hunt: The two capital campaigns, while both highly successful, were quite different from each other. With respect to the first campaign, Gerald Turner had been president for only two years, having begun his tenure in 1995, and one of the first things he discovered was that SMU never had had a successful capital campaign. (A couple of capital campaigns had been attempted in the past but, for different reasons, neither met their goal.) Given that fact, and because he had a strong desire to reestablish a “special” relationship with the greater Dallas community and SMU alumni across the country, he realized just how important the first capital campaign would be. He brought in the best consultants in the country, who specialized in university capital campaigns. He then created a campaign management structure that, literally, had never been used before by any other university in the country. The ultimate result was that both the community and alumni across the country became involved, and the campaign quickly exceeded its initial goal of $400 million, raised the goal to $500 million and, at the conclusion of the campaign, ended up generating $542 million.
While the first campaign proved that SMU could be successful in raising the capital that any great university needs, and that, in fact, it was possible to reestablish special relationships with the Dallas community and also alumni across the country, The Second Century Campaign had an entirely different objective. Its initial goal was to raise an ambitious $750 million, but it already has surpassed that level and established a new goal of $1 billion. “Success breeds success” however, and, hopefully, when The Second Century Campaign officially comes to an end in December, we will have raised well over $1 billion.
In essence, The Second Century Campaign has had as an objective gathering the funds necessary to take SMU from being merely a very good institution of higher education to one that is genuinely great. Thus, the majority of the funds raised in The Second Century Campaign have dealt with broad areas that are directly tied to enhancing academic excellence.
CU: Having led the drive to secure the George W. Bush Presidential Center, can you describe its impact thus far?
Hunt: In short, the impact of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on SMU, as an institution and on the students at SMU – for whom the University exists – has been multifaceted and, in my opinion, truly incalculable.
First, let’s start with the understanding that of the $500 million raised for the Bush Center, which is in addition to the funds raised by The Second Century Campaign, an overwhelming percentage came from people, organizations and foundations who otherwise would have no connection with SMU. Stated differently, the capital that went into the Bush Center did not come at the expense of other programs and activities that are directly tied to the University. SMU’s Second Century Campaign and the campaign to fund the Bush Center occurred separately, and both have been tremendously successful.
When one goes beyond that, one has to ask: What is the monetary value of the numerous media events that occur with regularity at the Bush Presidential Center, all of which end up being very complementary to the University’s activities and image?
On a much more human scale, one of my favorite stories is about a professor in the Cox School of Business teaching an advanced finance course a couple of years ago. The class was meeting on the same day that a major conference was being held in the Bush Center. The then-president of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, happened to be attending the conference. When he was picked up at the airport, he told the person driving his car that he had several hours free before the conference began. He asked if it would be possible for him to drop in on an SMU class or two prior to his scheduled arrival time at the conference. I was not there, but I can imagine the reaction in the classroom when the finance professor turned to his students at the beginning of the class and said something to the effect of: “I had prepared a great lecture for today – but I am going to defer that lecture until next week; rather, I would like to introduce to you the president of the World Bank, who is with us today and is prepared to visit and answer your questions in whatever time is available.”
There are numerous interactions of that nature, and I honestly believe that their value to the University, and SMU’s student body, cannot be measured in financial terms.
CU: You and your wife, Nancy Ann, have supported many programs at SMU, including the Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt Leadership Scholars Program and the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women. Why have these been important to you?
Hunt: The Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center is named after my father-in-law, who became a virtual legend during his more than 25 years on the federal bench. Judge Hunter was probably the single most outstanding man I have ever met. In addition to his absolutely remarkable legal career, from the year that he returned from World War II until the end of his career, he was always active on issues that were of concern to our society, but that often had not yet reached a level of primary focus across the country. He was an extremely sensitive, caring and loving man, and Nancy Ann and I both felt that a legal center named after him, and focused on the victims of crimes against women, would be something he would be very proud of if he were alive today.
With respect to being proud, we are exceptionally proud of the young men and women who have been selected to be Hunt Scholars over the years and the absolutely phenomenal program that they have created. It is true that we have provided the financial support to start and support this program. However, if the individual Hunt Scholars had not been exceptional individuals on their own, the Hunt Scholars Program would be just another University activity – not what it has become today.
Our objective with the Hunt Leadership Scholars Program is to provide scholarship aid for students who have demonstrated great leadership skills in high school but often paid a price in terms of the hours devoted to textbooks versus time spent on nonacademic activities. Academic excellence is extremely important in the Hunt Scholars culture; the average GPA for a Hunt Scholar is meaningfully higher than the average GPA for the SMU student body as a whole. But the fact that they might have been so actively serving in a leadership position outside the classroom, such as president of their student council, the editor of their high school newspaper or captain of an athletic team, may have caused their grade point average in high school to be slightly lower. Thus, they would typically have fallen just below the level that would qualify them for a scholarship based solely on academic accomplishments.
At the other end of the spectrum, for whatever reason, these students would not qualify for need-based scholarships.
Nancy Ann and I, therefore, felt that there was a “void” in the scholarship matrix (and not only at SMU, but at universities across the country). Further, we felt that students who fit the leadership criteria that are utilized in the Hunt Scholarship selection process correspond quite well with the traditional nature of the SMU student body – that is, they are young men and women who are smart, innovative, caring – and who really want to make a difference in this world. They bring extremely important qualities to the campus.
CU: What is your prediction for the University’s future?
Hunt: I truly believe that SMU is producing graduates who are going to change the world. I also believe that SMU, which 20 years ago was in the process of evolving from being a well-respected regional university to being a well-respected national university, is now, in 2015, evolving from being a well-respected national university and becoming one that has true international reach and enjoys respect in academic centers in virtually every corner of the world.
In short, a university can produce the most intelligent and well-educated graduates in the world, but if they do not have the initiative, self-confidence and desire to truly make a difference, the University might as well never have graduated them. My prediction for the future is that SMU will become even more recognized, both nationally and internationally, for producing, year after year, exceptional graduates who will do exceptional things that will benefit our entire global society.