We too will “dare mighty things”

Dear Texas Woman’s Colleagues,

I hope this message finds you well even as the weather pendulum swings back colder again.

If there is one lesson Mother Nature has taught us over the last couple of weeks it is that we need to be prepared for inevitable change. When the Texas Legislature founded this institution in 1901, the senators and representatives could not fully imagine what we would become in the 120 years since, nor the significant contributions we would make to the economy and society in 2021. As our thinking evolves, so must our institutions. And so, we have. And so, we will. Thank you all for your many contributions that have made our growth and evolution remarkable!

At the behest of our regents, we added an 18th initiative, “Dallas and Houston Expansion,” to our Learn to Thrive: Strategic Plan 2020, v1.4, this past fall. I announced it at the Fall Assembly and set up a task force led by Dr. Kimberly Russell, with representatives from all campuses, to look at “strategies for leveraging two of our greatest assets—our urban campuses positioned in the middle of eminent world medical centers—to amplify the university’s innovation and inter-professional renown, multiply its relationships with nonprofit, academic and corporate partners, and greatly enhance the visibility of the university’s statewide impact,” to quote the scope of the initiative. The group solicited input from the deans, vice provosts, and cabinet members during this initial phase of work.

In its deliberations, the group identified the potential threat of the dwindling number of independent universities in Texas. Last year, Midwestern State University began the process of joining the Texas Tech University System, leaving Texas Woman’s, Texas Southern, and Stephen F. Austin Universities as the only three remaining independent universities of the 38 public universities in Texas. The group worried that we would struggle to hold onto our distinctive identity and mission should one of the current six systems in Texas absorb us.

More even than the threat of assimilation, they identified the opportunity to ride the coattails of the #yearofthewoman and establish the only woman-focused university system in the nation. Such a move would bolster our visibility and compound our impact on the state and nation in developing leaders, particularly women, who have shown us they play a vital role in our global competitiveness, economic growth, and social stability.

These are but beliefs and a vision, much like the founders had in 1901. Like them, we cannot fully imagine what establishing the Texas Woman’s University System would have in shaping the future, but we believe that doing so will raise all boats. In some ways, doing so would just formalize the way we have operated for decades with our three distinct campuses. My title is already chancellor and president, indicative of a system structure, so there would be no change there. In fact, here in the beginning, there would be no material change as much as the permission to think differently about who we are. Similar to our advice for developing student leaders: self-talk makes all the difference in shaping who you will become.

You see, in my almost seven years as chancellor and president, I have received and accepted countless invitations to speak at chambers of commerce, service clubs, and philanthropic functions; to meet with editorial boards and city councils; to serve on nonprofit boards; and to join societies and organizations. The number of invitations decreases rapidly the farther I move away from my home on the Denton campus—most are in the Denton area, many in Dallas, and very few in Houston. Having university leadership engage with its surrounding community through various governmental and nongovernmental entities puts a campus in a position of strength to better weather the effects of events such as we saw in 2020—and already in 2021, a case in point, our inability to establish a vaccination site on our Houston campus.

So, one future strategy the task force identified would be to place new leadership on each of our Dallas and Houston campuses. Such leaders would go to sleep every night and wake up every morning with a primary concern: how can my campus thrive? They would naturally hold deep concern for their local community and advancing the overarching mission of Texas Woman’s University...System...through partnerships among our campuses and with other school districts, colleges, universities, and university systems, as well as businesses and nonprofit organizations in the state. To carry this strategy forward, we have many questions still to answer; this is not a fait accompli.

Finally, bear in mind that becoming a system is not a because-we-will-it action. It is a decision of the legislature and the governor. Prior to hiring former Chancellor Ann Stuart, the TWU Board or Regents tried, unsuccessfully, to establish such a university system. Today, we are represented only in the Denton area. As a system, we could have greater legislative impact. Dr. Lynn Stucky, Texas House of Representatives for the 64th District, and Senator Drew Springer for District 30, plan to file bills supporting a TWU System, intentionally cosigned, if possible, with their Dallas and Houston colleagues. We believe the legislative support for their initiative is strong. But, there is a long road ahead through committees, a legislative vote, and for the governor to sign it into law.

Such is the ideal path forward, but I am keenly aware, especially after last week’s weather disruptions, that the ideal path is not the only path. Our ideal communications plan about these bills was abandoned with the postponement of the board meeting last week, for which I apologize. That was when the regents intended to make a public announcement.

The weather also delayed the filing of these bills and a subsequent delay of a planned university forum, now rescheduled for after spring break on March 18th at three o’clock in the afternoon—details will be forthcoming or may RSVP now. At this forum, we can go into greater depth about our current vision and alternative plans that the Dallas and Houston Expansion Initiative Task Force have proposed should the bill fail this session. I will also be frank, there are questions for which we are still working to find answers, though we have already begun on an FAQ to share after our forum.

Let me reiterate: today’s announcement changes nothing in the short term. The bill itself will not establish new personnel, change titles, or establish budget stipulations for us or the state. In the long term, I believe it will change everything, and for the better. We will effectively gain permission to invest in growth, to set benchmarks for those investments in terms of diversification of revenue streams, and to more effectively serve the entire state—contributing more to the 60x30 plan and sending off more empowered leaders who will also “dare mighty things.”

To go far, we will have to go together. Consider today’s announcement as an invitation to engage in the process should the bill become law at the end of this legislative session. We have much left to figure out, so join us at the university forum to learn more about how you can play a role as we boldly go into the great unknown.

With a pioneering spirit,

Carine M. Feyten, Ph.D.
Chancellor and President

Page last updated 11:09 AM, February 6, 2023