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Setting The Stage For SMU’s Next 100 Years

In an address that recalls the visionary leadership of the University’s founders, SMU President R. Gerald Turner outlines the accomplishments of The Second Century Campaign and looks forward to building on those achievements as the Hilltop’s second century takes shape.

SMU President R. Gerald Turner receives a standing ovation as he announces that the University has achieved its $1 billion campaign goal during the centennial commemoration ceremony September 24.
SMU President R. Gerald Turner receives a standing ovation as he announces that the University has achieved its $1 billion campaign goal during the centennial commemoration ceremony September 24.
Celebrating the centennial of SMU’s opening, President R. Gerald Turner recalls the vision of our founders, outlines campaign accomplishments and looks forward to the next 100 years.

[dropcaps]A[/dropcaps]s we celebrate the centennial of SMU’s opening, I invite you to think with me across the sweep of a century. Imagine the excitement, the anticipation, the sense of pride and purpose as a group of visionaries stood on this North Texas prairie 100 years ago to watch SMU’s very first group of students climb the steps into Dallas Hall. After almost five years of planning and building, the day was both the culmination of a dream and its launch. That remarkable inaugural day, September 24, 1915, was made possible by the twin pillars of leadership and partnership – pillars that continue to support the SMU of today.
One hundred years ago, leaders of what is now The United Methodist Church saw the need for an institution of higher education in the Southwest. And civic leaders in Dallas, recognizing the tremendous benefit a great university could bring to a growing city, worked hard to lure SMU here. Two permanent buildings stood on campus, built with funds given and land donated by our partners in Dallas and the Church: The Women’s Building, now Clements Hall, and Dallas Hall, named for our city, patterned after Thomas Jefferson’s rotunda at the University of Virginia. Its grandeur set the standard of excellence that would guide our first century and that still inspires us today. Whenever I want visitors to understand the grand vision of our founders, I always walk them into Dallas Hall and show them the beautiful dome and oculus of the rotunda. It never ceases to inspire.


Over the five years of this centennial era (2011-2015), we have tried to channel the thoughts and excitement of those individuals who labored from April 17, 1911, when we were founded, to opening day. Each year, during this era, we have celebrated a major milestone in the creation of SMU. In 2011, we celebrated the charter establishing the corporation of Southern Methodist University with a new annual observance of Founders’ Day each April. In 2012, we celebrated the SMU Master Plan that founding President Robert S. Hyer unveiled in 1912. In 2013, we celebrated our libraries during The Year of the Library, as President Hyer named Dorothy Amann in 1913 as the first librarian of the University.
It was a wonderful coincidence to also celebrate in 2013 the magnificent opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. In 2014, we celebrated The Year of the Faculty, the 100th anniversary of the hiring of the first faculty. And this year, The Year of the Student, we are reliving the excitement of those first 456 students who entered Dallas Hall in 1915 to begin their collegiate studies. A critical component of Dallas’ emergence as a world-class city, the creation of its university, was now in place and ready to grow with the city.
Our founders envisioned a particular type of university, located in a thriving city and shaped by its entrepreneurial, “can-do” spirit. It would be dedicated to academic freedom and inquiry, non-sectarian in its teaching, yet grounded in both the spiritual and moral values of the Church and the professional TurnerQuote1and educational needs of the city. The result was to be a unique marriage of faith and intellect: to reunite, in the words of Charles Wesley, “those two so long divided, knowledge and vital piety.” We are the keepers of that grand vision. We hope that those who gather on campus 100 years from now will feel the pride and optimism with which we began the second century, whose conclusion they will be celebrating in 2115.
Either fortunately or unfortunately, none of us gets to choose the era in history in which we live. But having the opportunity to live in Dallas at this special time of connection to SMU by alumni and friends, we have a dual responsibility. First, we have to finish well by bringing SMU’s first century to its best possible conclusion. I could not be more proud and grateful for the way we collectively – our University, our alumni, and donors and partners across Dallas, North Texas and the world – have done just that. Our founders had the imagination to see farther than anyone thought possible. Yet, I suspect they might be astounded to see the SMU of today.
We’ve grown to 101 buildings on 234 acres at our main campus and expanded east across Central Expressway, plus added satellite campuses in Plano and Taos. We have a great diversity of students from all 50 states and 90 foreign countries. As testament to the increasing quality of the students we are attracting, those taking the ACT now average 29.5 while those taking the SAT average 1309, a 165-point increase in the last 20 years. We offer 104 bachelor’s, 113 master’s and 27 doctoral research degrees in seven degree-granting schools. Several faculty members have been elected to prestigious national academies. We have nearly doubled the number of endowed faculty to 111.
With great excitement and gratitude, we competed for and were selected to be the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which has expanded our tradition of attracting world leaders to our campus. DallasHallDallasSkylineThe beautiful Meadows Museum, celebrating its 50th birthday, is hosting world-class exhibitions never before seen in the United States to augment its incredible collection of Spanish art. Our student scholars are engaged in research projects designed to benefit not only Dallas, but also cities and communities across the globe.
As we complete our first century, our Cox School of Business ranks among the top business schools nationally and globally, and we are ranked by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as an institution with “high research activity.” The Dedman School of Law and the Perkins School of Theology also offer top programs among their competitors. In 2014, our undergraduate music program was ranked No. 1 in the nation among programs at comprehensive universities and dance was ranked No. 6. Dedman College, Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and Lyle School of Engineering also have unique, nationally renowned programs.


By any measure, we indeed have met our first obligation to finish our first century well. However, being blessed to live during this historic time, we have a second responsibility: to launch SMU’s second century with the same optimism, devotion, persistence and unrelenting commitment to SMU’s success and excellence as were shown by our founders. It is our obligation to pour the foundation for our future just as solidly as we did for the many new buildings that now grace our campus. Therefore, ensuring a robust future is the primary purpose of our major gifts campaign during this centennial era. That is why we called it The Second Century Campaign, pointing forward, rather than naming it The Centennial Campaign, which tends to point to the past.
We started with what we thought was a stretch goal of $750 million. You will recall that we went public in September 2008 on the Thursday before Lehman Brothers fell the next Monday! Your support, even in the difficult days of that great recession, was sustained and generous.
[dropcaps]A[/dropcaps]s I said earlier, a university’s centennial is its time to triumphantly close one era while enthusiastically launching another. And you were absolutely committed to our meeting both obligations. Based upon your ongoing commitments, the co-chairs of the campaign and the Board of Trustees raised the original goal to an unprecedented $1 billion, knowing the huge impact such a milestone would have on our entire campus community. Because of your generosity and the hard work of thousands of individuals across the globe, I am pleased to make this historic announcement: Today, on the occasion of SMU’s centennial opening, The Second Century Campaign has received commitments of more than $1 billion dollars. That’s $1 billion, 70 million, and change.
Importantly, other goals have been achieved: Gifts from over 62,000 donors worldwide have helped us to exceed our yearly undergraduate alumni participation goal of 25 percent. And we’ve exceeded our overall alumni giving goal of 50 percent over the course of the entire campaign, reaching 56.9 percent.
Happily, a big part of my job today is to say thank you for helping us meet these historic milestones. Thank you to the campaign co-chairs: trustees Ruth Altshuler, Gerald Ford, Ray Hunt, Caren Prothro and Carl Sewell, who were joined in the past two years by Mike Boone, Board chair. They met quarterly with us and served as role models of giving, while also attending dozens of campaign-related events. (Ruth Altshuler attended nearly everything, mainly to be sure that Vice President Brad Cheves and I did exactly what she told us to do.)


In raising a billion dollars, SMU is joining a very elite club. Only 33 other private universities in the United States (and only Rice in Texas) have ever conducted campaigns of this size. Even more important is what those dollars will enable: more student scholarships to attract the best and brightest seekers and thinkers for the future, more endowed chairs and professorships to retain or recruit the very best to our faculty, and continuing facility and program improvements to enrich our campus experience, including our intercollegiate athletics programs. And we still have until December 31, when the campaign officially ends. So, it’s not too late to join those whose support we celebrate!
This year’s Commencement speaker, former President George W. Bush, said, “SMU is dynamic, diverse and destined for continued excellence.” We intend to fulfill that destiny by continuing to improve teaching, research, creative achievement and service as we rise in stature. How strong was Harvard in 1736 as it began its second century, or Princeton in 1846 at its centennial celebration? Compared with those years of existence, we are just getting started. But we have come a long way. This next century will be a time of crossing boundaries and borders as we continue to grow into our commitment that world changers are shaped here.
We will cross the boundaries of current knowledge with our research and advanced computing capability. For some of you, your time at SMU was defined by the smell of baking bread from the Mrs Baird’s plant across Mockingbird. The southern tip of that site is now home to our new Data Center. SMU recently TurnerQuote3moved into the top 25 in the country in our high-performance computing capacity. This allows us to analyze massive amounts of data, and through computer modeling, it facilitates innovative and interdisciplinary research – from the liberal arts and sciences to engineering and communications and fine arts.
Use of big data in an interdisciplinary environment is a major emphasis of the current draft of our new 10-year strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees at its December meeting. New faculty endowments will help us recruit and retain the talented faculty attracted to SMU by this new resource. Therefore, cross-disciplinary research and teaching, empowered by advanced computing approaches, will define our new scholarly productivity as we move into the first decade of our second century.
Reflecting the growing interest in interdisciplinary studies, our students are choosing double and triple majors and seeking global experiences. SMU’s latest Truman Scholar, Rahfin Faruk ’15, for example, majored in economics, political science, public policy and religious studies with a minor in mathematics.
We will cross the borders and boundaries of geography as we become even more global. One hundred years ago, we offered one educational site: here on the Hilltop. Ten years ago, we offered 18 education abroad programs in 12 countries; today our students choose from more than 150 programs in 50 countries, and that expansion will continue.
We are increasingly crossing boundaries between the campus and community. We are expanding engaged learning programs, sending faculty and students to conduct more than 200 community projects in places like West Dallas. In that community, our Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development is supporting the School Zone, helping give children the educational and societal tools to break the cycle of poverty. And we will continue to welcome citizens from the community to our campus for professional development and cultural opportunities.


Although technology and communications will continue to revolutionize the way we live and work, some things will not – and should not – change. SMU will continue to be a bustling place of activity, but also a serene place of beauty, where students experience a personal, supportive campus community, captured so well in the words of Jimmy Dunne’s song, “SMU, In My Heart Forever.”
Our classes will continue to be small, allowing meaningful faculty and student interaction. We remain committed to a broad-based liberal arts education surrounded by outstanding professional schools. We will continue to affirm that a liberal arts foundation provides an irreplaceable window into understanding humanity and how to address complex problems, regardless of one’s professional pursuits.
We will continue to develop joint programming with the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which already has begun to be the incredible resource that it will become during our second century. There, world leaders will continue to work to resolve current and future challenges, often in partnership with SMU’s Center for Presidential History and the Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College.
Finally, we will continue to enrich our academic programs with a growing focus on ethics, knowing that leaders who are both well-educated and grounded in enduring values will become those who help society progress. We offer one of only seven human rights majors in the country. We have no higher calling than to shape ethical world changers of tomorrow.
So, in summary, we will:

  • Cross new interdisciplinary research barriers with advanced computing.
  • Provide more opportunities for students to combine academic majors.
  • Cross geographic borders by increasing the number of students who will study abroad.
  • Connect more closely the University with the city, strengthening the relationship of town and gown.
  • Expand the study of ethics in all we do.

We will remain attentive to emerging opportunities, knowing that as a private university we can adapt swiftly, ever mindful of our mission, but open to new ways of fulfilling it.
A university, like a city, is never finished. Universities evolve, and ours has evolved in a wonderful way. SMU’s first President, Robert Hyer, when asked when SMU would be completed, replied: “When the TurnerQuote2City of Dallas is completed.” Today, SMU and our host city are both more mature, more dynamic, more diverse and more international than our founders could have asked or imagined. Yet, Dallas and SMU are both far from complete – still evolving, still becoming ever more important to our country and beyond.
Our church founders would have wanted us to note that the Bible speaks of at least two great strategic locations: in the midst of the city and a city on a hill. The Psalmist says the Lord “is in the midst of the city … she shall not be moved.” And, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “a city built on a hill cannot be hid.”
So, from our Hilltop, in the midst of our city, it is our time and our calling to get the second century under way so strongly that the bicentennial will be even greater than this centennial! As we reach back across 100 years to join hands with those founders of SMU, we also reach forward for the hands of those who, in 100 years, will reach back for ours, in appreciation for what we have enabled. This extension forward and backward vividly shows that our work is truly designed for the betterment of humanity across the ages. As President Hyer said at our founding: “Universities do not grow old, but live from age to age in immortal youth.”
Thank you for committing so much of your time and resources to ensure that SMU can move with great confidence into its second century, with full assurance of our commitment: “World Changers shaped here!”
View video of President Turner’s address

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