Rogers leads only public liberal arts school in Texas

Jessalyn Castro

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Bill Spellman visited campus in November of 2015 for the undergraduate research forum. Photo by Eddie Miller

Bill Spellman visited campus in November of 2015 for the undergraduate research forum. Photo by Eddie Miller

Driftwood, terra cotta, old rose, cameo and Cimarron are the colors of the bricks that make up every building on campus and are on file with an MSU supplier and called “The MSU Blend.”

The unique architecture that makes up the campus is a reflection of the type of education received on it, not just with the special bricks but being the only Texas school to be recognized by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.

“COPLAC expresses an attitude about broad-based learning and that’s what I like about it,” University President Jesse Rogers said. “My support for liberal arts comes naturally from my interest in everything.”

In MSU’s 2005 application for membership in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, it states before the introduction, “What MSU has done with architecture it seeks to repeat with education: We seek to create a flexible but unified MSU Blend that recognizes the uniqueness of each student within a carefully arranged and harmoniously integrated academic structure. That structure is represented by our liberal arts core curriculum.”

COPLAC, established in 1987,  and consisting of 28 colleges and universities in 26 states and one Canadian province, works to advance the aims of its members institutions and drive awareness of the value of high-quality, public liberal arts education in a student-centered, residential environment.

Bill Spellman, the director of COPLAC headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, said in terms of membership, the COPLAC Bylaws restrict membership to one institution per state, thus it is significant that under the leadership of Rogers, MSU was admitted to membership as the chosen public liberal arts institution for the State of Texas.

“It was President Rogers who made the decision to pursue membership for Midwestern State University and he has served on the Board for many years,” Bill Spellman

“It was President Rogers who made the decision to pursue membership for Midwestern State University and he has served on the Board for many years,” Spellman said. “The benefits of membership include opportunities for students to participate in multi-campus projects, for faculty members to serve as mentors to students at other campuses, and for administrators to meet for discussion, planning, and collaboration in January and again in June at one of the member campuses.”

Samuel Watson, dean of the college of humanities and social sciences, said he became aware of COPLAC in the mid-1990’s. COPLAC named him a member of the program committee for the organization after MSU was admitted in 2006 and he served from 2007-2013. His last two years of service have been as program committee chairman.

“I learned that there was an organization with these types of universities nationally and that there wasn’t one from Texas. As part of the strategic planning process in the early 2000’s, I suggested that Midwestern State should pursue membership and seek designation as Texas’ public liberal arts university,” Watson said. “The history of Midwestern seemed to align with the goals and values of COPLAC.”

Watson said Midwestern was the first university in Texas to adopt a core curriculum to try and make sure all graduates, no matter what their major or area of interest, were well educated people and could adapt to changing trends in the work force.

“It just seemed to be what we historically had been and it would give us a peer group across the country to share best practices to share ideas with,” he said.

After Watson took the idea to Robert Clark, vice president for administration and institutional effectiveness, the two then presented it to Rogers.

“He [Rogers] agreed and told me to form a committee to explore the possibility of joining COPLAC,” Clark said.

Watson said after consideration and deliberation across campus, Rogers led the effort to join COPLAC and be designated a public liberal arts university by the Texas legislature. He said both goals were achieved and MSU entered COPLAC in 2006.

Clark said since then the education code in Texas has changed to reflect the fact that MSU is the public liberal arts school to represent COPLAC in Texas.

“It’s been a real boon for MSU, in many ways. It’s confirmed what we have felt about this institution for a long time,” Clark said.

The liberal arts education that MSU puts an emphasis on, Watson said, is a philosophy of education, as opposed to a specific set of majors, to be well-rounded.

“A public liberal arts university focuses on liberal education and training our students to read, write and think, as opposed to a narrow specific job,” Watson said. “In a university like this, there’s an agreement that reading, writing and thinking, no matter what the major, are important.”

Watson said in the economy, 10 years from now it is unknown what some of the higher major employment jobs will be because they’ve yet to develop, so with the pace of change that is seen, employees have to be flexible. He said one has to be adaptable and being able to read, write, and think at a high level, one will be marketable, and being narrowly trained in a specific job when that job goes away, you’re not as flexible.

“If you’re a lifelong learner, if you have that flexibility in your skill-set, you’re going to do better in the economic dynamic that we’re all facing,” Watson said.

COPLAC’s influence on MSU has been mutual as Clark said their committee has been involved in many initiatives including the undergraduate research program EURECA that is offered at schools across the nation including this one. He said these kind of programs allow teachers and students to work with each other across the nation to improve their education.

Clark said there was an instance where a woman enrolled at MSU wanting to study French literature, a subject which is not offered on this campus, so she worked with a woman from COPLAC to take that course.

“Never pass an opportunity to learn something,” Rogers said. “You never know how many careers you’re going to have or how many jobs you’re going to have.”



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