Cardinal Cadence Fall 2012

An excellent run

Susan and Jimmy Simmons at the pianoNews that President Simmons plans to resign the presidency spread quickly. Just as rapidly returned heart-felt comments from alumni and friends who described LU’s longtime leader as a positive influence, the best cheerleader, a humble man showing great depth of character, and an outstanding leader. The collective assessment of the tenor of his tenure: we needed so much of what he has been able to provide. He leaves Lamar well positioned for the future and prosperous. His are big shoes to fill.

Indeed.

For 13 years—an exceptional period for a university president—Dr. James M. Simmons has led Lamar in an era of dynamic growth. His impressive tenure will reach 14 years, as he will continue to serve as Lamar’s 10th president until a successor is chosen and can assume the top post in 2013. After spending some well-deserved time with family, Simmons plans to return to the faculty of the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music.

Accepting the presidency was not an easy decision, Simmons has said, for few knew better the challenges the university faced when he took office as president on Sept. 1, 1999. His Lamar career had already spanned nearly three decades, so few knew better the heart and soul of the university and the promise that could be realized by tapping into its greatest strength, its people.

At his investiture, Simmons chose a theme—Building Strength through Community—and through that strength drawn from the campus, community, alumni and friends of Lamar he has accomplished far more than anyone could have imagined.

He previously served as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication and as executive director of university advancement. He began his Lamar career in 1970 as an instructor and director of the marching band. He quickly rose through the ranks, serving as director of bands and as chair of the music department.

A great uniter and friend to all

Simmons took the university from a time of seemingly insurmountable struggles to create a culture of excellence that permeates faculty, staff and students.

He brought the campus together. When agendas were at odds, he helped find common ground and created a shared vision that always featured an unwavering focus on doing what was best for the student.

It is clear to see how his musicianship and teaching experience in classrooms, on stage, in the band hall and on the marching field helped shape him. His leadership was resolute, but adaptive. His vision focused, but flexible. Decisive, but always inclusive.

Simmons has led Lamar through a period of incredible growth—from 7,810 students in the spring he was selected to become president to 14,675 students this fall, setting numerous records along the way. Even in the wake of two major storms—Hurricanes Ike in 2008 and Rita in 2005—Simmons and his team kept classes and graduation on schedule, restoring the campus after substantial damage as well as adding state-of-the-art facilities.

Simmons implemented a master plan to enhance the campus through landscaping and buildings, most notably the five Cardinal Village residence halls, which today accommodate more than 2,500 students. The dining hall, which opened in spring of 2006, and the Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center, dedicated in spring of 2007, further contributed to campus life. Renovations and expansions of several major academic buildings have been completed, are under way or are in planning. Lamar has also enhanced its athletic facilities, with the crown jewels including Provost Umphrey Stadium and the Dauphin Athletic Complex. Vincent-Beck Stadium and McDonald Gym have seen major upgrades, and the LU Soccer Complex opened in 2009.

Simmons knows the importance of private philanthropy. In spring 2008, the university began the public phase of its first comprehensive campaign, “Investing in the Future,” with $46 million raised in an effort that has now surpassed $100 million. Impact of the campaign is far reaching—to include endowments for four named academic departments, gifts to support revival of the Cardinals’ football tradition, establishment of a major student fellowship program and tremendous growth in scholarship and faculty enhancement funds.

Under Simmons leadership the university has made significant strides in academics, with the addition of new master’s and doctoral programs and the university’s first Ph.D. Lamar’s designation as a Doctoral Research University by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is a powerful affirmation of Lamar’s high level of research activities.

Recognizing that online programs are vital to the university’s future, Simmons has continually sought growth in that area. Today, more than 30 percent of LU’s credit hours are generated through online courses; nearly 4,200 of the university’s students learn entirely online, and LU is a recognized leader in online education. The university has continued its online leadership with the first entirely online doctoral program in Texas.

By working closely with area chambers of commerce, local government, business and industry leaders, Simmons helped make Lamar a much stronger catalyst for economic growth in the region.

Simmons is also a leader in community service, having garnered dozens of awards and accolades. He has attracted acclaim as an orchestra leader and as a performer on clarinet, saxophone and piano. Because of his leadership role, those pursuits have taken a back seat, but he often says music is his first love, and he continues to grace the stage.

Simmons is known as an administrator with a strong sense of direction and a keen ability to attract and cultivate talented faculty. His innovative approaches to the pursuit of academic excellence and his winning rapport with students, faculty, staff and the community are defining qualities.

Simmons was the right man for the job when Lamar needed a champion in 1999. He has guided Lamar through one of the brightest periods in its history and has positioned the university for even greater days as it enters its 90th year.

by Brian Sattler

October 2012