Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the field of Distance Learning
Dr. Smith is a pioneer and exemplar in the field of distance education. He believes that high-quality online courses and programs must be innovative and make the best use of technology. As a leader in the University of Texas System, the state, and the nation, Dr. Smith continues defining and refining distance education.
I am writing to introduce and to nominate Dr. Samuel “Pete” Smith, Jr. for the USDLA “Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the Field of Distance Learning” award. I have worked closely with Pete since 1996 and I have had the opportunity to observe his leadership from many vantage points. As a faculty member who teaches an online course, I have the chance to work with Pete and his staff. More recently, I have had the privilege to collaborate with Pete in his role as a member of our senior leadership team at UT Arlington. Without hesitation, I can attest that Pete is recognized as a leader on our campus, within the University of Texas System and the state, and, indeed, nationally and internationally. As such, I believe he is a deserving recipient of your award.
Dr. Smith is the founding Director of the Center of Distance Education at the University of Texas at Arlington which opened in 1997. This center predates the well-known UT TeleCampus and the Center played a key role in many of the early successes of the UT TeleCampus. After the demise of the UT TeleCampus, Dr. Smith was instrumental in building a working entity from several UT System institutions and UT Arlington agreed to host the University of Texas Online Consortium (UTOC). Today, UTOC continues to provide innovative programs, including the Finish@UT degree which targets working adults.
To say that distance education plays a critical role at UT Arlington is to dramatically understate today’s reality. Like most online programs, UT Arlington began slowly by offering a few scattered courses in key subjects and later grew into complete degree programs and complex consortia relationships. Today, UT Arlington enrolls 49,750 students over the course of a year and 13,290 (26%) of those students will enroll in completely online schedules. Perhaps more dramatically, 20,755 (42%) students will enroll in at least one on-line course. Starting with a single course in 1996, today the Center offers more than 1,300 courses and the library is growing.
At these enrollment levels, it is obvious that online leaning is a critical part of the fabric at UT Arlington. The tuition generated from these courses, provide important strategic revenues for the university. At a time when state funding for higher education is declining, finding alternative sources of funding is essential to the financial well-being of the university. Our growth in online learning has generated enough revenue to fund activities not directly linked to online education. For example, during the past year, revenues from online learning projects have been able to fund the implementation of a math emporium model and computer lab for college algebra and a $1.5 million investment in our Career Center. Neither of these activities would have happened without online education. The net result is that students not enrolled in online courses are benefiting from the success of our online programs.
While it is obvious to those who are members of an organization like USDLA, it bears mentioning that our online programs have provided important opportunities for students to complete their degrees. As an administrator, I am certainly interested in the business model associated with our programs, but I am also interested in how these programs benefit our students. For many of our fully-online students, the only path to completing a college degree is via online opportunities. Even students who are taking just a single course may be doing so to quicken their time to the degree. Cleary, the significant online enrollments at UT Arlington are providing important, life-changing opportunities for our students.
Volume is an important consideration. More important, in my opinion, is quality. Unfortunately, far too many online programs set their sights on scale at the expense of quality. As the person ultimately responsible for online education at UT Arlington, my greatest source of pride is that quality is always are the forefront of our Center’s approach to online education. That tone was set in 1997 by Pete and he has insured that approach is the same today. Pete hires quality instructional designers to work closely with each of our faculty members to develop a course that meets their needs. There is no cookie-cutter approach to course development. Each course is unique to the needs of that course and that instructor. Faculty members are given a gold-glove experience where all that is expected of them is to be the content experts. Pete’s staff provides the tools and the technological expertise to make the course a reality. The process is very much one of developing and designing courses for online delivery, not converting or retro-fitting face-to-face courses for the online world.
Pete’s efforts have paid off. Four times courses developed by the Center for Distance Education have been the recipients of USDLA awards for course design and instruction. The US News and World Report has recognized degree programs developed b the Center as “Best in Nation” (2002 & 2003). NASULGC/Sloan-C recently selected Pete to serve on their National Commission on Distance Education and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has invited Dr. Smith to serve on their distance education advisory panel.
Dr. Smith is also not shy about tackling the difficult projects. UT Arlington has frequently engaged in collaborative programs with other UT institutions. These inter-institutional programs require an extraordinary level of coordination and cooperation at multiple levels of the university. More recently, UT Arlington, under Dr. Smith’s leadership has engaged in a very successful public-private partnership for online course delivery. This partnership markets our degree programs to diverse populations of students and provides degrees in accelerated formats and reduced prices. As a result we are able to drive the cost down for students while also speeding-up the time to degree.
Finally, I would like to comment on Pete Smith the individual. As noted at the outset, I have had the opportunity to work closely with Pete for many years. He is of the highest integrity, diplomatic in handling delicate situations, and a skilled administrator. He is also the sort of person that people want to work for and the importance of this trait should not be underestimated in today’s competitive marketplace. In this instance a brief story will illustrate my point. UT Arlington is located in heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and we have, for years, had a difficult time keeping skilled IT personnel on-board simply because there are so many well-paying private sector jobs in the area. Despite the challenges presented by our location, Pete simply doesn’t seem to have the same difficulty as the rest of campus. When Pete started the Center, he brought with him three young men who had been working for him in the modern language lab on campus. Those same three men (not so young now) are still working for him today. They have had opportunities to leave, but they stay because they are loyal to Pete and the vision he has set for the Center. It is also not uncommon for some of the best talent on campus to find their way to the Center which is well-known as a great place to work. Simply put, Pete attracts, evaluates and keeps great talent. This is a sign of a great leader.
Clearly Dr. Smith is a leader in online education. The programs offered by UT Arlington play a critical role in our mission, they enroll significant numbers of students and the courses offered are of the highest quality. I believe it would be most appropriate for the USDLA to recognize his many accomplishments with their award for “Outstanding Leadership.” Pete has clearly helped so many others gain recognition, it is most appropriate that he now be recognized.
Dr. Michael K. Moore
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies