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SMU and the community
By D Magazine |

BY THE TIME Southern Methodist University had grown into a lusty 25-year-old, it was a veritable “service station” for the Dallas community, a historian recalls. That was in 1940. Today the tanks are overflowing.

Thousands of Metroplex citizens converge on the Hilltop each year to refuel their minds and spirits. A Dallas-SMU partnership, which began with some extension courses, an evening law school and a football team has burgeoned into a relationship of almost bewildering diversity.

These days, everything from tax law to Islamic art to politics and American Indian culture draws students to SMU’s non-credit School for Continuing Education. More than 2,000 advanced degrees nave been granted by the University to adults enrolled in a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program, one of several graduate programs available in the evening. An alumni breakfast series offers regular opportunities for the community to be exposed to faculty thought and research.

In each of SMU’s six schools, continuing education courses are in heavy demand. A University Lecture Series offered weekly by Dedman College attracts area residents to a gamut of lectures by professors, who also lead tours in their subject areas. A Management Center at the Edwin L. Cox School of Business conducts up to 300 seminars and non-credit courses a year. At Perkins School of Theology, ministers regularly upgrade their credentials; a Perkins Minister’s Week annually addresses ministerial concerns and a Laity Week brings in laypersons from throughout the United Methodist Church. Through TAGER, a closed-circuit television educational network, the School of Engineering and Applied Science broadcasts graduate-leveI courses to nine other campuses and more than 35 industrial sites. Among the offerings is a program leading to certification in Telecommunications Systems Management.

In the summer months, more than 15,000 people from Dallas and across the nation attend conferences or other programs at SMU.

SMU annals are filled with stories of continuing education students who never stop learning. Sixty-two-year-old Greenville resident Conway Majors made headlines in 1983 when he received his fourth degree from SMU, the MLA. The part-time teacher at Grayson County Junior College, who returned to SMU in 1975 and has been there ever since, has no intention of resting on his laurels. “I just may start work soon on my PhD,” he says.

According to Associate Provost Judith Pitney, continuing education has been, from the beginning, one of SMU’s most valuable contributions. “In its very first catalogue,” she says, “SMU acknowledged ’a special obligation to the people of Dallas, who have been extraordinarily generous to the University.’ Now as we approach our 75th anniversary, we are seeking new ways and designing new programs to meet the needs of the city in the Eighties.”

Plans are under way to expand the continuing education program through a Division of Evening and Summer Studies, directed by Dr. Robert Patterson. “We see ourselves as a leavening ingredient for both personal and professional growth,” Patterson says, “a means for adults to attain and then maintain the skills, principles and values necessary to be productive and fulfilled individuals.”

Under the new division, evening courses will increase, the summer program will expand and adults will receive centralized advising.

A Distinguished Lecture Series fills McFarlin Auditorium to the rafters to hear speakers such as medical pioneer Jonas Salk, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and opera diva Beverly Sills. Crowds will turn out again this year for columnist George Will, former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, philosopher Rollo May and entertainer Steve Allen.

In 1985-86, a parade of Distinguished Scholars in Residence, offering public lectures in a myriad of disciplines, will include New York Times economist Leonard Silk, theologian Martin Marty and economist Herbert Simon, a Nobel Laureate for his work in artificial intelligence.

Each fall, a Literary Festival features the nation’s most respected authors. Each spring, the Women’s Symposium (the oldest continuing event of its kind in the nation) attracts men and women from the community to focus on the changing roles of gender and their effect on public policy.

Black Emphasis Month draws a diverse audience to hear civil rights leaders Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy Jr. and author Alex Haley. Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and his peers sort out the complexities of the day in a Business Conditions Management Briefing series under the aegis of the Cox School of Business. An Air Law Symposium of international stature brings in audiences from far outside the field of law. Former Braniff executive Howard Putnam is such an example.

At Meadows School of the Arts, 400 performances a year- more than one a day-enrich the cultural lives of the community. This October, renowned cellist and humanitarian Mstislav Ros-tropovich will be in residence when he receives the Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Even when Southern Methodist University moves beyond the confines of University Park, the community follows. At Fort Burgwin Research Center, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, Dallasites study art, photography and writing and the archaeological finds of the area.

When historian Mary Martha Hosford Thomas described the “service station” that was SMU back in 1940, she also described a city proud of its stake in an institution, which explicitly set out to become “a great university.” Dallas indeed had such a stake.

It still does, according to SMU President L. Donald Shields. “What we give-and receive- from all the people who frequent our campus enriches us all. One of our most important missions,” he says “is to be a center for lifelong learning.”

Coming Together: Students who make the grade

TEN-YEAR-OLD Janie Mylinh Dam fled Vietnam with her family in a helicopter airlift in 1975. Meeting the challenge of a new language and culture in the United States, she was valedictorian of her graduating class in Dallas’ Skyline High School eight years later.

As a Miami high school student, Tony McMullin lived with his Cuban grandmother and worked after school to help with expenses. He also organized a corps of teen-agers to teach computer skills to elementary school children and graduated eighth from the top of his class.

Kelly Finnigan was an accomplished ballerina in her early teens. She received a scholarship for professional dance training at a Los Angeles studio during her senior year in a Palos Verdes high school.

These three youths grew up in vastly different worlds, but their lives converged at SMU. As three of SMU’s 91 President’s Scholars, they are recipients of the University’s highest academic merit scholarship. This award is available only to freshmen who have scored 1200 or above on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and who ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes. The average SAT scores for this year’s 31 freshman President’s Scholars was 1401. Twelve of the new scholars were high school valedictorians.

The program, directed by Assistant Provost Judy Mohraz, started in 1982 with 13 President’s Scholars. The present contingent is nearing the goal of 100. The full-tuition scholarship includes participation in one of SMU’s academic programs abroad. On campus, the student scholars have special opportunities for small group sessions with distinguished visiting scholars, who last year included Jimmy Carter, Jonas Salk, Carl Sagan and Madame Jihan Sadat.

SMU has changed greatly since the days when most of its students were native Texans. Now only half are Texans; the others come from all over the United States-and the world. Last year’s enrollment included 385 students from 87 foreign countries. The top 10 states in order of student numbers are Texas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana, California, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Ohio. Almost 50 percent of SMU’s present enrollment receives financial aid through scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs. Enrollment is still not as racially diverse as university officials would like it to be. White students still make up nearly 90 percent of the student body. In an effort to increase minority enrollment, two of SMU’s admissions counselors focus primarily on recruiting miniority students.

Walter Snickenberger, vice president for student affairs, reports that the applicant pool for freshmen grew from some 3,000 to 4,000 (for a freshman class of 1,200) in the last six years. During the same period, the number of freshmen in the top third of their high school classes increased from 65 percent to 75 percent. The composite SAT scores rose from 1,020 to 1,100. Members of last year’s freshman class represented 47 states and 20 foreign countries.

SMU students are becoming more diverse in age as well as geographic origin. Approximately 2,000 of them are older than 22. Several are in their 60s and 70s. One member of the class of 1985 was past 80.

Undergraduates at SMU outnumber graduate and professional students two to one. The total 1984 fall headcount enrollment was 9,266. The breakdown by levels was 6,151 undergraduate, 1,857 graduate and 1,258 professional (law and theology).

Universities across the country are facing fierce competition for top students because of the declining numbers graduating from high school. Many private universities have had to settle for smaller enrollments or lower academic standards. But, despite the competition, the Southern Methodist University student body is getting stronger and more diverse by year.