Inaugural Address

March 22, 2018 - Thomas M. Evans, PhD

Welcome, acknowledgments, thank you and introductions

Mr. Lutz and the Board of Trustees, Sr. Teresa Maya, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and dear Sisters, my friends and colleagues in the faculty and staff, the students of the University of the Incarnate Word, who are, of course, our reason for being here, and loyal alumni… I am honored and humbled by your trust.

Thank you, Dr. Martin.  What an extreme pleasure and privilege it is to have you here today and to be introduced by you, my mentor and one of the greatest leaders of higher education in our time.  Thank you for all you have done for higher education and, not incidentally, for me personally.

And thank you to all in attendance at this inauguration ceremony.  As you have welcomed me today and over the past 10 months since my selection as president, so too do I welcome all of you in a spirit of most humble gratitude. I am especially grateful to the past presidents of the University of the Incarnate Word.

And, in the spirit of Texas hospitality in this, the Friendship State, I welcome those who have travelled from afar to join us today: presidents, chancellors and representatives of other colleges and universities, my colleagues in international education and friends. To those watching from other Incarnate Word locations, muchas gracias, danke schoen, and merci beaucoup. Thank you for your interest and for your time this evening.

And most heartfelt thanks to my family: my in-laws, Doug and Susan Roberts and sister-in-law Christy Ritter, her husband Wilbert and my nephew Taylor; my sister and brother-in-law, Alison and Mike Hellmund and my niece, nephew and godchildren, Olivia and Christian; my wife Lisa–whose love and support continue to make all the difference in the world for me in every aspect of my personal and professional life – and to our boys Walter and Leland, who make me proud and inspire me to work harder for their sake and for the sake of future generations.  I thank you for returning to Texas on this adventure with me, and for your trust and love. 

Last but not least, thank you to my parents, Mary and Jim, who instilled in me a deep appreciation for education in general, who inspired me to live abroad, to learn other languages and to explore and appreciate all the world has to offer.  Most importantly, thank you for teaching me through your own examples of faith to pray Psalm 19:14 on every possible occasion that: “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, always, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” I pray that today, especially, in service to the Word made Incarnate and to His University.

Before beginning my address in earnest, I would ask you to consider that inaugural speeches are what current Harvard President Drew Faust called during her address “a peculiar genre.”  She elaborated by saying, “They are by definition pronouncements by individuals who don’t yet know what they are talking about.  Or, we might more charitably dub them expressions of hope unchastened by the rod of experience.” 

Please go easy on me with that chastening rod, and I will work hard not to earn too many lashes. I endeavor to learn fast, especially inspired as I am by this community and the people around me to serve this worthy innovative and historic institution with passion.

Honoring our Past

Setting the Stage: Kennedy and Cap Over the Wall Speech

History. That’s where I would like to begin.

Allow me to take you back — not very far back…in fact, less than 1 year ago — when the University of the Incarnate Word launched a new School of Osteopathic Medicine at Brooks City Base.

Our newest School is located in what is called the Kennedy Hill Building.

It was there that, during the late 1950s, Brooks Air Force Base transitioned from a flying training center to a center for modern medical research and development and education. Specifically, in the summer of 1959 the School of Aviation Medicine returned to Brooks and became the headquarters for a new School of Aerospace Medicine.

The School of Aerospace Medicine put San Antonio on a big stage — its researchers aided NASA with Project Mercury and the facility served as a back-up site for lunar samples brought back to Earth on the Apollo missions between 1969–1972.

Onto that stage, at the very same lectern used to dedicate our School of Osteopathic Medicine, President John F. Kennedy dedicated the School of Aerospace Medicine on November 21, 1963.

Many of you will recognize the significance of that day — yes, this was the day before President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. This proved to be Kennedy's last official act as president.

President Kennedy’s remarks that day became known as the Cap-Over-the-Wall speech. In his remarks, he told a story of Irish writer Frank O’Connor who when as a boy exploring the countryside with his friends,

…came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall – and then they had no choice but to follow them.

Kennedy applied this metaphor to a new horizon:

He said: “This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. With the vital help of this Aerospace Medical Center, with the help of all those who labor in the space endeavor, with the help and support of all Americans, we will climb this wall with safety and with speed-and we shall then explore the wonders on the other side”

The President did not live to see those wonders and the fulfillment of his dream.

The United States of America reached the moon in 1969 and, as a nation, we continue to throw our scientific and now interstellar cap over the wall.

Each of us gathered here today, continues to receive some part of the return on President Kennedy’s courage and vision.

Connect Cap Over Wall/Incarnate Word History

Re-visiting John F. Kennedy’s cap over the wall address — and re-considering the continuity of the University of the Incarnate Word launching a medical school — led me to think about the history of the University of the Incarnate Word, and about its many acts of similar daring, vision and courage.

One doesn’t have to look very hard to find parallels throughout our distinguished history.

Imagine the courage of Bishop Claude Marie Dubuis, faced with the desperate needs of the sick and numerous orphaned children, and unable to find assistance from anyone within a reasonable distance. How Bishop Dubuis must have prayed for the right words when he sat down to write to several religious orders in France including his friend Mother Marie Angelique, Superior of the cloistered Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons, France.

Bishop Dubuis certainly threw his cap — or miter, perhaps — over the wall when he wrote:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the persons of a multitude of the sick and infirm of every kind, seeks relief at your hands.”

Mother Angelique, moved by this pressing request, accepted into the monastery three young French women who had responded to this call. After a short period of preparation, the three young women threw their collective caps (wimples, I suppose) over the wall when they left one shore for the unknown shore of Galveston, Texas.

Imagine the courage of Sisters Madeleine Chollet, St. Pierre Cinquin and Agnes Buisson from the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Galveston who — in the face of a cholera epidemic — heard the call to travel to San Antonio and establish Santa Rosa Infirmary, the first Catholic hospital in the area. Over the wall, indeed.

Consider the Sisters, as the Congregation grew, deciding to expand their ministries beyond health care and hospitals, to establish several orphanages and schools, expanding their presence into Mexico in 1885.

They led us over a wall (cultural, psychological, rhetorical, political, and certainly educational) that this community has chosen to face for more than a century.

Or think of the courage of:

Mother Columkille, who founded the Nursing program during her 37 years of service as president.

Sr. Margaret Patrice Slattery who wrote the history of the congregation, including UIW, after giving her own 13 years of service as president from a total of 39 years of service. That history was, I should add, my first gift from the sisters.

Dr. Lou Agnese and his expansion across health professions, online learning, global outreach and graduate and adult serving programs, with the great help of Dr. Denise Doyle, in his 31 years of service.

Again and again, we as an outreach of the Congregation and as the Incarnate Word community have been reaching, scrambling, climbing — dreamingOVER WALLS for more than 150 years.

We have always been, and remain, undeterred by distance, culture, language, conflict, and borders.

We remember the leaders because history steers us to them.  Yet it is the collective work of the many, many members of this community that truly enables us all to go over the wall.

Today is a time to acknowledge and celebrate our proud history. The University of the Incarnate Word has what can be called an inescapable origin story — a legacy of acting on faith and courage, leaving the shores of what’s known and comfortable, and pioneering in search of and in service to a higher good.

I stand before you in gratitude with awe – so pleased and honored to be a part of the present and future of an institution with such a rich past.

Celebrating What Makes UIW Unique

Who We Are and Why We Matter

Today, we are a large and complex university serving a diversity of student populations and multiple constituencies.  Many of you know the crucial role that this University and its people play in the everyday health and well-being of San Antonio, Bexar County, and South Texas — and at the same time we are engaged with people and places far beyond our campus and region.

UIW is distinctive – indeed unique – in the range of educational access, opportunities and programs we offer to students. Our Brainpower Connection takes students every step of the way along their educational journey from Pre-K through middle and high school to post-graduate and professional degrees through one of our five, thriving Catholic Health Professional Schools — including the only faith-based school of optometry in the nation. Our international campuses in Mexico City and Irapuato, Mexico and our study centers in Heidelberg, Germany and Strasbourg, France, provide exposure across the globe. For students who are unable to leave San Antonio for extended periods, our innovative offerings, accessible through technology, bring a blend of classroom instruction and access based on their schedule. We provide all this in a mission-driven experience rooted in our Catholic faith and in the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word’s historic commitment to contributing to the greater good.

We also stand apart in the students we serve and how well we serve them:

Since 2013, Incarnate Word has awarded bachelor’s degrees to more Hispanic students – every year – than any other non-profit institution in the country.

Yes, more than University of the Southern California (with about 19,000 undergrads) and more than the University of Miami (with about 11,000 undergrads).

Currently, UIW awards the highest percentage of professional degrees in health sciences to Hispanic students each year, among Texas institutions awarding 100 or more such degrees.

We are also ranked #9 in the nation on the list of the 2018 Top Military Friendly Online Colleges as well as the 2018 Top Yellow Ribbon Online Schools by SR Education Group

And our recent graduates in Nursing made us proud with a 100% passage rate on the 2017 NCLEX examination. 

Core Values + Resource Needs

You can understand why I often say that we are many parts, but one body; that we are “One Word,” and that we are unique in private Catholic education in the range of which we are united in mission, service and values. 

As importantly, even as we are a university mindful of our Core Values —we also have the opportunity — a calling — to not only continue these Values but to deepen their meaning.

We heed Christ’s instruction to Simon Peter to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:2-11).  So too are we called to go deeper into each of our core values:

  1. Our Core Value of EDUCATION: in which “The University educates men and women who will become concerned and enlightened citizens.”
  2. Our Core Value of TRUTH: in which “The faculty and students support one another in the search for the communication of truth.”
  3. Our Core Value of FAITH: in which “The university is committed to educational excellence in a context of faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.”
  4. Our Core Value of SERVICE, in which “The curriculum includes a global perspective and an emphasis on social justice and community service.”
  5. Our Core Value of INNOVATION, in which “The university is open to thoughtful innovation that serves the spiritual and material needs of people.”

We must continue to be guided by these values as we craft our plans for the future.

Guided by Dignity

How best do we honor this legacy going forward?

How will we throw our own cap over the wall? How will we shape a new world of possibility for University of the Incarnate Word students, alumni and supporters?

Our Founding Order makes clear where we should begin and the direction that we should take:

Our ministries seek to transform people and the community by promoting human dignity in all forms.

Catholic Social Teaching, similarly, begins with the premise that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.

Let me pose a few questions about dignity — fragile and strong, lost and restored — in the real lives of the people sitting here today.

For our high school students and undergraduates:

How do you define the value of school and University, especially at a private values-centered institution?

And how do we as a community help you reconcile the sacrifice and expense with fundamental goals —discovering a sense of self and a sense of purpose, securing a good job, and yes, living a dignified life?

For our adult students:

How do you define the value of returning to school, or beginning that degree that you long desired?

And how do we as a community increase access to learning — online or on campus — while ensuring that the quality of that learning, and the dignity attached to it, never fall short?

For our aspiring health professionals — in pharmacy, physical therapy, optometry, nursing and medicine.

How do you define the value of joining these professions in a time of great scientific advance — and real systemic challenge?

And how do we as a community help you master the art and science of healing and bring cultural competence and unwavering dignity to the bedside?

For our service women and men, soldiers and veterans:

How do you define the value of growing academically and professionally — with all of the challenges (financial, logistical) posed by deployment and relocation?

And how do we as a community stand with you in solidarity and repay to you — tenfold — the honor and dignity you bring to this nation?

For generations of University of the Incarnate Word alumni:

How do you define the value of remaining engaged with this University?

And how do we as a community help our alumni — young and old — face the complexity of career reinvention in a time of industry upheaval and disruptive, unrelenting technological change?

In this world of rapid change, how do we provide a reliable source of connection, mentorship, and belonging?  How do we celebrate the dignity that comes with living for a purpose greater than one’s self?

For our faculty, advisors, mentors, coaches, staff and spiritual leaders:

How do you define the value of making education your life’s work?

And how do we as a community nurture and support you, with purpose and passion, so that you can meet students at every stage of their life and learning, challenging them to reach higher than they might have expected to reach, and model for them an infectious joy for living — the dignity of being fully alive?

Looking to the Future with Careful and Deliberate Consideration

More than a vision, and more than the vows we make to stay true to our Core Values and mission, the work that lies ahead for all of us at the University of the Incarnate Word will naturally require resources — as well as planning, and world-class performance.

Our needs are clear, specific and pressing. High-ability, low income students — our students — are increasingly at risk of not attending college, not persisting, and not graduating. Low income students from less populated areas of South Texas face greater challenges — born into underprivileged families, they are many times denied mentors and role models and may live far from a private college.

There is also a correlation between family income and academic achievement. In part, this is because wealthy families spend $100,000 more — per child —on outside academic enrichment between grades K-12.  The impact of economic inequality is growing. For example, the gap in SAT scores between students from rich and poor families has grown — from 90 points during the 1980s to 125 points today.

Endowed Scholarships

We must continue to educate — and to graduate — high ability, low-income students with a low level of debt. To do this, we must significantly increase endowed scholarships.

UIW enrolls some of the highest numbers of first-generation, Pell-grant-eligible students in the state and nation. Thus, many of our best and brightest students must overcome major financial obstacles to stay in school and graduate. Endowed scholarships will allow us to educate more of the region’s future entrepreneurs, professionals, and leaders.

Endowed scholarships will allow us to recruit students from a broader geographical region, creating an even more dynamic and diverse student body.

The debt of our graduates is currently the lowest in San Antonio for institutions with a history of four-year undergraduate programs. Robust endowed scholarships will allow us to attract, retain and graduate more students on a four-year timetable —and enable more of our students to pursue careers and graduate school unburdened by significant debt.


Concurrently, we must increase our endowment substantially, to levels commensurate with our impact on this region — and on the far reaches of South Texas — and beyond.

We are in close proximity to the two wealthiest public university systems in the nation: the University of Texas System with its $25.4 billion endowment and the Texas A&M University System with its $11.1 billion endowment. Although we cannot come close to those levels, we must double our endowment over the next 10 years to better support our students through graduation.

Student Academic Support Levels

By improving student academic support levels and by providing them with additional resources, we will improve our graduation rates.

Study after study shows that high-ability, low income students in America are under-resourced from the time they walk into pre-school and kindergarten, right up until the time they do — or more often do not — graduate college.

Low-income schools consistently lack the academic options of wealthier schools, especially in math and sciences. High schools serving predominately low-income and minority students have counselor-to-student ratios half the national average.

We currently spend a higher percentage of funds on academic support for students than we do for other core expenses. Still, our peers spend more — on average $600 more per student.

We also need to support study abroad, summer research, mentoring and other proven high-value student experiences that increase retention, persistence and graduation rates.

Gift Announcement

I am so very pleased this evening to announce the largest endowed scholarship commitment to-date in the history of the University of the Incarnate Word designed to do all of what I just described.

Through the generosity of Mr. Carlos Alvarez, the University of the Incarnate Word will receive $1 million dollars toward an endowment to provide high performing and under resourced UIW students with the financial support and mentoring to participate equally with their peers in activities proven to promote high achievement: study abroad, undergraduate and faculty research leading to presentations at conferences and meetings, professional internships, service-learning, and preparation for graduation and professional school including guidance in applying for prestigious fellowships and scholarships.

Please join Mr. Carlos Alvarez with your own support in helping us get Over the Wall to the other side, so that we can forever change the lives of our students, the entire South Texas region and our nations.

Call for Planning

To advance our mission and effectiveness, we are developing a Strategic Plan for our next phase that will be true to the guiding spirit of our founders.  The purpose of this plan will be to define our most critical institutional strategic priorities and ultimately the fundraising priorities that derive from those strategic priorities. It will also be tethered to a realistic financial plan. The process will be inclusive and transparent, involving faculty, staff, students and, of course, trustees who will ultimately be asked to approve the plan. For all academic matters, we will rely on the collective wisdom of the faculty. I also envision this process as both encouraging innovation and fostering collaboration across existing reporting lines.

We have taken the following preparatory steps.

A new Task Force on Inclusion & Diversity will ensure that we continue serving the underserved and elevate the dignity of every human person.

Provost Kathi Light will work with faculty, staff and students to improve the current student experience and to enhance how we attract future students and faculty to the University.

A new Task Force on Campus Planning will ensure that students arrive at a campus — a living and learning environment — designed to bring out what’s best — what’s divine — in each and every person who calls this campus home. This Task Force will also think critically and creatively about how we develop and sustain a high quality physical environment for the university, taking care to be truly distinctive with the amazing blessing of our geography. For example, we want to make the most of the San Antonio River.

Situated at the source of the San Antonio river, our campus stands adjacent to the headwaters of what has made the city of San Antonio truly world famous and endearing to all who visit.  In fact, it was on the River Walk that when Lisa and I were engaged, she said the most endearing statement possible.  Holding hands while strolling, she said to me, “I hope we are holding hands walking this river together when we are old and grey.” Twenty-five years later, we are getting closer to that goal, Lisa, and this move really helped. It is my desire that our students might enjoy their learning in an inspiringly attractive and unique place - one that from the time of being an undergraduate to being old and grey, they might enjoy love and learning along the banks of an extended Spirit Reach of the River Walk through our very distinctive campus.

We will also make plans to do the following:

To become an ever more premiere if not the premiere provider of educational service to those who serve us - men and women of the military and veterans – so that we can, to paraphrase the old slogan, “Be all that we can be”.

To create distinctive pathways and new pedagogies that intentionally connect our programs within our unique system in order to create more value in intellectual and charismatic terms but also in terms of financial and time savings for our students and their families. For instance, we hope that students in the health professions can pursue their desired major while benefitting from related courses drawing from the humanities and liberal arts.

We will also work to create pathways and opportunities for UIW students with other CCVI sponsored ministries which will strengthen our personal and professional bonds with our brothers, sisters and cousins in other sponsored ministries of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word such as: Visitation House, Incarnate Word Academy, El Puente Hispanic Ministry, the Headwaters at Incarnate Word, Women’s Global Connection, the Village at Incarnate Word, the Incarnate Word Foundation, and last but certainly not least, with CHRISTUS Health.

And we will unite and identify our programs in ways that make us ever more One Word, that will make us better known and improve our reputational standing. Simply stated, we intend to tell the “better story” and to tell the story better.

Obligation to prepare 21st Century Students

With our collective expanded reach and more robust resources comes an obligation — to address humanity's pressing problems and to prepare each and every student for a life of advanced learning, greater purpose and a shared sense of dignity. This too will require focus and resources to graduate students with 21st century relevant characteristics:

I think of The WordInvestigator — and our need to prepare students to better analyze data and apply quantitative reasoning to a range of needs and opportunities. To ensure that our students have the right preparation and tools to bring a new era of data analysis to every field, across the sciences and the humanities. Not just in accounting and biology, but also in psychology, nursing, medicine and music.

I think of The WordMaker — and our need to prepare students to wrestle with objects, materials and information. To build on our successes with and our commitments to communication arts, design, fashion and a fast-evolving convergence between technology and the human experience.

I think of The WordCommunicator — and our need to prepare students to wrestle with methods and modes of communication unimaginable save for science fiction, yet surpassed beyond the imaginations of their authors. The complexity of the digital age and its implications for speed, attention and substance challenge us in ways that are not yet understood.  Navigating a way forward will require an ability to separate meaning from flash and connectivity that truly connects for good rather than divide to destroy.

I think of The WordConvener — and our need to prepare students to wrestle with different points of view, cultures, social and political debate, and conflict. The need to continue the legacy of our founders, who instructed us about the importance of seeing complex human systems and challenges from different perspectives.

I think of The WordInnovator —and our need to prepare students to lead in business, technology and health sciences in ways that improve the lives of others.

Mostly, though, when I think of our students, I think of The Word — Incarnate — and of a God who loves us and who loves the students entrusted to our care and service.

Closing Remarks

Thank you for your attention and patience. I hope that as we walk out together, we carry a better understanding of who we are and why we matter. And I hope that you will lend your time, energy and treasure — and take your place in our efforts to lift The Word.

I am confident that together we will prepare our students for a life of advanced learning, greater purpose, and unmistakable dignity that will sustain our legacy. and tell our story — begun by Bishop Dubuis, advanced by Mother Angelique, Sisters Madeleine Chollet, St. Pierre Cinquin and Agnes Buisson and hundreds and hundreds of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

The lives and examples of our founding order, have shown us the path to human dignity — the way we might sustain ourselves on some wilder shore of existence; less in need of everything we think keeps us safe and comfortable.

For my part, I pledge to you the following:

I will work to see each student graduate with the lowest possible debt, and secure a career that lifts their lives, the lives of their families and the communities they serve.

I will care deeply for the well-being of every student and their families.

I will do all that I can to facilitate and support the fine work of the faculty and staff.

I will strive to see every student succeed by asking the questions that allow them to live life to its fullest sense, with the genuine abundance of God’s love and grace.

It is that love and grace that powers the kind of audacious hope — so well captured by John F. Kennedy’s words — that blazed a trail to the moon and back.

I believe that force, that hope, is pulsing through each of you gathered in this room today.

It’s a force that instructs us to teach our students to be stronger and more faithful than any of the doubters in our midst. It’s a force that leads us to teach young people how to fight with their lives — not against imagined or real enemies, but against any force that would deceive them into asking smaller questions and living smaller lives.

It’s a force — truth, faith, love — that calls us all to follow their heart’s design and grab hold of our individual and collective dignity.

With God's will and your help (and constant fervent prayer) we will harness this force and get there together.

We will lift the University of the Incarnate Word — and allow it to become a beacon shining for the world to see all of life’s possibilities and promise of the abundance that awaits.

To paraphrase President Kennedy, “It is an era which calls for action and for the best efforts of all those who would test the unknowns and the uncertain in every phase of human endeavor. It is a time for pathfinders and pioneers…”

This University has officially tossed its cap over the wall of education, and we have no choice but to follow it.

Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. With the vital help of this board, the faculty and the staff, with the help of all those who labor in the education endeavor, with the help and support of friends and philanthropists, we will climb this wall with safety and with speed – and we shall then explore the wonders on the other side.”

Thank You. Praised be the Incarnate Word!