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University begins academic year with convocation

Despite pouring rain outside, the outlook was bright as Lamar University opened the new academic year with a reception and convocation for faculty and staff on Thursday, Aug. 20. Returning students begin moving in today and classes begin Aug. 24.

ConvocationPresident Kenneth Evans addressed faculty and staff at the start of the 2015-2016 academic year in his third “state of the university” address in the university’s Montagne Center Arena from a platform fitted out for Saturday’s commencement exercises that will see nearly 800 new graduates received diplomas.

Earlier, faculty and staff gathered in the adjacent Cardinal Club Room for an opening reception. After fanfare by the Cardinal Brass Quintet and introductions, Evans shared an update on the outcomes of the 84th Legislative Session for the university describing it as especially supportive.

“Lamar University fared very well in the 84th Texas Legislature; indeed it can be argued that the session was the university’s best in recent decades as all of the university’s legislative requests received support,” President Evans said. “We are very grateful to Lamar’s legislative delegation, as well as to the Regents, Chancellor, and staff of the Texas State University System for their extremely effective leadership.”

Brian SattlerLU’s general state appropriations for the next two years increased more than $21 million; the largest dollar and percentage increase in the Texas State University System, Evans said.  The 19 percent increase is the result of enrollment growth, largely in graduate engineering and online education credit hours.

A large portion of the increase will go to refill open faculty positions or to hire new faculty in growth areas, Evans said. Also, the university will further enhance its recruiting and retention programs and significantly increase scholarship funding and student support.

Of the increase, $3.8 million will fund two years of support for new research centers: the Center for Advances in the Study of Port Management, and the Center for Advances in Air and Water Quality.  

“We are excited about these centers and believe Lamar is well positioned to lead the state and region in these areas,” Evans said. All of the university’s other legislatively supported programs were also continued.

Evans noted that construction would be the norm for the next biennium as state-of-the-art structures take their place on campus. Work continues on the Wayne Reaud Administration Building and construction will begin this fall on a building to house the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship across the street from it. Added to that will be a much-needed science and technology facility funded through state-issued revenue bonds.

ConvocationThe $60 million project will greatly enhance the university’s instruction and research capabilities, Evans said. After construction, the existing Hayes Biology Building will undergo renovation and be repurposed.  A major renovation of the Setzer Student Center will also begin this year, he said.

Evans noted a date-to-date enrollment of 15,100 students taking 157,000 credit hours. “This represents a 202 student increase, date-to-date, over last fall, and once the dust settles, perhaps we will have another all-time Lamar enrollment record,” he said. “Preliminary figures indicate we have 1,500 new freshmen and, again, I am pleased to note the high quality of this fall’s entering class.”  Official enrollment numbers are taken on the 20th class date.

Evans shared several examples of student and faculty excellence during the summer months, including travel abroad and research, and noted with optimism the accomplishments and prospects for each of LU’s NCAA Division 1 athletic teams. Evans praised the academic performance of LU’s student athletes. “They are performing extremely well in the classroom as well as on the field,” he said. “We are living up to the motto of the student athlete. And that’s what it’s all about.” 

ConvocationA number of emeritus faculty members were honored, including the late Oney Fitzpatrick, who was named associate professor emeritus of psychology in memorium.  Also recognized were: Jean Andrews, distinguished professor emerita of deaf studies; Nancy Blume, associate professor emerita of nursing; Christine Bridges-Esser, distinguished professor emerita of English and modern languages; James Esser, distinguished professor emeritus of psychology; Donald Owen, professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences; Dianna Rivers, distinguished professor emerita of nursing; Pamela Saur, distinguished professor emerita of English and modern languages; and Sheila Smith, associate professor emerita of nursing.

The event concluded with a flourish provided by Lamar University cheerleaders and Cardinal Sound Brass Quintet directed by Scott Deppe as they played the LU Alma Mater and Fight Song.