KETR

A New Perspective: Introducing Dr. Ray Keck

Aug 3, 2016

Dr. Ray Keck wears many hats; he's a husband, a father, a student, a mentor, a university administrator, a president, and an organist, for starters. But in his own words, when he looks back at his life, he finds, "teacher," to be the most accurate way to describe himself.

In August, with encouragement from Keck, 88.9 KETR is resuming production of The President's Perspective, a monthly half-hour chat with top university official at Texas A&M University-Commerce, a program which spanned seven years, but which has been on hiatus since the death of Dr. Dan Jones.

Topics on this program include a general introduction of Keck, a brief conversation about his career and his life, and an introduction of his wife, Mrs. Patricia Keck.

Transcript:

Jerrod Knight:

Hello, and welcome to The President's Perspective, a monthly half-hour chat with the interim president and CEO of Texas A&M University Commerce, Dr. Ray Keck. I'm Jerrod Knight. On today's program, we invite you to lean in and learn a little about Dr. Keck, who comes to directly to A&M Commerce from the president's post at Texas A&M International in Laredo, Texas. We'll chat about what he's already done since arriving on campus in June and what he plans to do throughout his interim appointment. We'll also meet his wife Patricia and talk about their planned living arrangement in Commerce, something unique in modern times.

First, we must acknowledge that this radio program is different from what it has been in that past seven years. This program was originally conceived jointly by 88.9 KETR and the A&M Commerce marketing department as an opportunity to provide insight to the station's vast and interested audience into the professional and, occasionally, personal life and times of the late Dr. Dan Jones, who was our university president until April of this year. It was determined that Dr. Jones died by suicide on the morning of Friday, April 29, 2016. Up until that day, this had been his radio program, our radio program, each month. Dr. Jones' death and what would eventually be ruled the cause shook this station, just as it shook the institution, the system, and each and every life he touched throughout his career. His absence from our routines is felt each and every day, but with the blessing and encouragement from his friend and colleague, and our new interim president, Dr. Ray Keck, we will continue The President's Perspective, and we will keep its mission: to inform the communities of northeast Texas of the latest developments and top priorities from the desk of the President of Texas A&M University Commerce. Dr. Keck, welcome to KETR's studios and to The President's Perspective.

Dr. Ray Keck:

Thank you, Jerrod. It's wonderful to be at this magnificent campus and this beautiful city. You've already eluded to the circumstances that brought me here. No one could have foreseen this, no one could have wished for this, no one could have imagined this. After Dan's passing, the chancellor reached out to me, asked if I would be willing to come and serve as interim president. I was just finishing 15 years as president of Texas A&M International in Laredo. 15 years is a good time to exit. The chancellor joked and said, "You know, they want you to stay. Now is when you need to go." Perhaps that's true. In any case, I knew Commerce well. The McFarlands, Keith and Nancy, were good friends of Patricia's and mine. I'd been here in previous years. A nice thing about the A&M system is that all the universities very much form a partnership. All the presidents are good friends, so Commerce was not a strange place to me, even though I'd never lived here.

Jerrod Knight:

It's certainly a different place from a time when you weren't here, but the fact is that you've had an opportunity to learn it since you've been here. You've learned the people and you've had the opportunity to meet so many folks. I know, because I know a few folks and they all know you already.

Dr. Ray Keck:

It was good to be able to come on June 1st, because not many students around, summer sessions in progress, so I could walk around the campus, learn the buildings, enjoy the beauty of this spot, and meet the administrators, faculty, people that were here, in anticipation of students returning full force in late August.

Jerrod Knight:

What led to your having been the president of an institution, which naturally led to your being president here now?

Dr. Ray Keck:

I am a teacher, I'm a faculty member. If asked at the end of my life, what have you done, I think I would say I was a teacher. That was my goal. I consider that the exalted calling for all of us in this profession. Slowly, I drifted towards administration because I saw things I wanted to make happen or see happen or encourage to happen or support happening, that weren't. Slowly, at first I was department chair, and then provost, and then, finally, president. At some point, you either have to step up and say, I'll help make these things come about, or you have to step aside and be quiet. I did not opt to do that.

Jerrod Knight:

Right, right. You can see yourself in the leadership role, and then obviously that's been the perfect place for you all this time. Professionally, are there any major accomplishments you'd like to point to that helped to make you particularly qualified to lead this campus at this time?

Dr. Ray Keck:

Dan and I were close friends. He was five years our provost in Laredo, so we worked together every day. When he and Jalinna and Aislinn came, Aislinn was pre-school. She was a little girl, and we watched her grow up. They became close friends of ours, and of many people in Laredo. When the presidency came open at Commerce, I encouraged him to apply. I thought he was exactly the right combination of vision and practical good sense that a president needs. Of course, he did, and he was selected, and made tremendous changes for the good at Commerce, this campus is beautiful. Keith McFarland began that move in the direction of beauty and Dan certainly completed it, as lovely as any campus in the A&M system or in the state of Texas. Also, there's such a wonderful, warm, good feeling on this campus. People treat each other with respect and are genuinely committed to the mission in a spontaneous and generous way. I certainly think that mirrors Dan's own personality and style.

Jerrod Knight:

Absolutely. Some people say behind, I consider it shoulder-to-shoulder, with every great leader, in this case, the president of the institution, is a support team that is fantastic. I know that you've adopted a lot of the folks who were here surrounding the president's office. I know them to be hard-working folks who care passionately about the success of this institution. Beyond the folks here on campus, sometimes we need support units at home, as well. You've brought one along with you.

Dr. Ray Keck:

I'm blessed among all men. I persuaded a magnificent woman, I'm not sure how, to marry me 40 years ago. Patricia Cigarroa, my wife, and of course partner and guide. Best critic, and also best cheering section. She's here with us today.

Patricia Keck:

Hi Jerrod, I'm so happy to be here with you.

Jerrod Knight:

I'm glad you found the place. We mentioned beforehand, we are kind of tucked away here on campus in the studios, but we're so glad that you came to visit. I was fortunate to meet you at a function a few weeks ago, and we talked a little bit about your background, which is nursing.

Patricia Keck:

That's correct. I have been just wonderfully pleased to visit Student Health Services. That's the area of my expertise. I'm a nursing administrator and interested in seeing community health expanded for populations. Our Commerce Student Health is strong, vital, accessible. I was able to meet Maxine Mendoza Welch and her team, and was so impressed.

Jerrod Knight:

They run a fantastic operation over there. It's inside, it used to be a hospital, it was a hospital wing. In fact, someone came through recently, I was chatting with one of the nurses very recently, and someone came back to visit campus. They wanted to see the space over there, this hospital wing, and walk down the halls, because they said that both of their sons were born in that hospital wing back when it was a functional hospital.

Dr. Ray Keck:

Very nice.

Jerrod Knight:

It's such a neat thing that this campus ... Folks don't know that there's a hospital here on this campus, but it's being utilized for Student Health Services. That's such a fantastic operation, and Maxine has a great staff over there. I'm glad that you saw that. We've also talked briefly about the nursing program here, which is something you were able to meet with Dr. Barbara Tucker and ...

Patricia Keck:

Yes, Dr. Barbara Tucker, and they have a magnificent program over there. In fact, I was able to visit while some classes were in session, and saw a brilliant teaching experience and learning experience that one of the professors was engaging here students in, where she played a tape of the voices that a person suffering from schizophrenia listens to while the students were trying to engage in an everyday activity of an interview, to see how intrusive those thoughts are, how difficult it is to exist with a condition like this. I was incredibly impressed at the work and the innovative teaching styles that are in progress there. Also, by the magnificent building that's about to be constructed, and the simulation lab that's part of that.

Jerrod Knight:

I know that the nursing field in general is, I want to say, on the upswing. Right now, nurses are needed everywhere.

Patricia Keck:

The truth is that the future of health is often community health. The rural health initiatives that are happening here are what's going to make people be able to live healthy, productive lives over long periods of time, rather than focusing just on acute conditions.

Jerrod Knight:

Dr. Keck, you and Patricia are here in town now, yes?

Dr. Ray Keck:

We are, and we're in the president's house, but we are in transit. One of the things that struck us when we walked around campus the first time was the beauty and the historical significance of Heritage House, the house built in the 20s for the president of the university, smack in the middle of the campus, surrounded by the residential community. It has been restored and sort of a museum, but it's a lovely house. We had thought, this is exactly where the president should be living. Together, we planned to move into it as soon as it is ready. The house, it only requires that the shower be put back in the second floor. Otherwise the house is in marvelous condition. In a couple more weeks, by late August, we should be in it. It is furnished with furnishings from previous eras of the university. There's a chair that sat in President Mayo's office, which appears in a photograph of him, as a matter of a fact, which is a very special treasure. There are a number of other pieces in the house like that. We very much look forward to moving into it and having students there every day, the magnificent garden next to it, the alumni center that joins the garden, it's a natural venue for entertaining students, faculty, alumni, members of the community, politicians when they visit. We're very excited to be moving into that house.

Jerrod Knight:

Parking is fabulous, too.

Dr. Ray Keck:

On both sides. In front and behind, there are parking lots, so one could have a large reception there and everyone could get rather close and get in and get out.

Jerrod Knight:

It's been, as a student here in the early 2000s, it was just a given that nobody would live there, that that was converted into office space, but it's not so small and quaint that it isn't ...

Dr. Ray Keck:

It's not small and quaint at all. This is a house that, when it was built, would have been a grand home. It still is. It's a beautiful home.

Jerrod Knight:

Absolutely.

Dr. Ray Keck:

High ceilings and large rooms ...

Jerrod Knight:

Beautiful staircase ...

Dr. Ray Keck:

Yes, beautiful windows, and it opens onto that magnificent garden on the west side.

Jerrod Knight:

Right.

Dr. Ray Keck:

It's a natural venue for a president's house, and we're excited to get into it.

Jerrod Knight:

We're speaking with Dr. Ray Keck, the interim president and CEO of Texas A&M University Commerce on The President's Perspective. I'm Jerrod Knight. We're also joined by Patricia Keck, who has joined him in the studio. What it is that you know or did you learn or that you saw in this institution beyond the circumstances that required the chancellor to come and talk to you about coming here? What is it about this place that made you feel like this is the next logical step?

Dr. Ray Keck:

There are a number of characteristics of life in Commerce that I think embody the gold standard for higher ed in America, beginning with the strong residential community. There's been tremendous push-back around the country in recent times about college experiences. It's expensive to go to college. It's expensive to open and maintain a college. Is it worth it? Is a Bachelor's degree worth it? Should students dedicate this much of their lives to it? Is it worth borrowing money for? If so, how much? Behind all of that, I fear, is often a movement to downplay or move away from the residential experience of a college career. I believe, and the data's overwhelming, this is essential to the best possible experience for a student, to live on the campus, to live in residential community, close proximity to faculty, to administrators, to people charged with student success and campus life. This is what everyone would wish for his or her child. Commerce has this. It's a beautiful campus with a large residential community. That's one of the reasons why it's so appealing to me to be in Heritage House, because it's smack in the middle of this community. We're going to begin, in fact, this year, a program to eventually embed in every hall, faculty members, so that the proximity between students living in residential life and the faculty is ensured.

Jerrod Knight:

That's fantastic, and it'll be a very inclusive community. This experiment has been run since faculty moved away. Over and over again, there's been these close knit communities among students that they say, the idea is to get a couple of hundred students together and have them live together in this collaborative environment where they live together and they go to class together and they do these things together. Studies had shown that this sort of environment encourages learning and growth, and these students get more from their collegiate experience. It sounds like what you're doing is wanting to expand to the rest of the campus. There's no reason for this to be a small group of students. This can be every student.

Dr. Ray Keck:

It should be every student, and this sort of environment forges life-long relationships. My college mentors continued to help well into my 50s, until finally they had all died, unfortunately. These were men and women that I reached out to through my entire professional life. They willingly reached back because I had a close relationship to them during my undergraduate days. This is exactly what we want for all students.

Jerrod Knight:

You mentioned the idea of faculty living inside the living facilities where the students will be living. Talk about some other things that you've been doing, you've been on campus since the first of June.

Dr. Ray Keck:

Another blessing at Commerce is the terrific athletic program that we have. Again, it's like residential life, there are those who say that athletics are far too prominent in university life in the United States. Perhaps that can happen in a few cases, but I think in most instances, and certainly in Commerce, athletics lift the university and provide a tremendous avenue for community spirit and common experiences. We're blessed here to have a terrific program. The football program this year could very well win a national championship. We begin September 1st, our first home game, we'll have five of those. Each one of those will be a unique opportunity to welcome back alumni, members of the community, and celebrate together the great joy of autumn in East Texas and the football season.

Jerrod Knight:

They go hand in hand, don't they?

Dr. Ray Keck:

Yes.

Jerrod Knight:

Texas is such a football-oriented place, and the fantastic opportunity we have here on this campus because the campus is so much more than football. It's a music program that is unmatched, unrivaled in the state. It's the nursing program, which is on the rise and soon to be one of the most magnificent facilities anywhere. It's every other successful program and every other start-up academic program. We're trying things, but football has the unique ability to draw people in and get them engaged in something that they might not otherwise have been. There's evidence in the cost of a Super Bowl ad that folks will pay lots of money to let football introduce an audience to their product. In this way, we have this fantastic advantage in a successful football program.

Dr. Ray Keck:

We do, but now you mentioned music. My first week, David Scott, the chairman of the music department, walked me though the magnificent music building. You can't build a nicer building for music than we have at Texas A&M Commerce. I'm extremely impressed by it. I can't wait to hear the students play. Everybody tells me, when you hear the band at halftime at the first football game, you're just going to be blown out of your seat. You're absolutely right. The music program is first class and the facility is absolutely unsurpassed.

Jerrod Knight:

Have you been over to try your hand at the organ yet?

Dr. Ray Keck:

No, I have not. I sat down quickly on one of the practice organs, but the Methodist church right across the street has a magnificent organ, and I've received word indirectly that I should make contact and come and practice. In all truth, the last three months have been so full, meeting people and getting my feet on the ground, I haven't had time to think about organ. That's got to change, because I very much like to practice the organ.

Jerrod Knight:

I started to say, Dr. Ray Keck is also an accomplished organist who has a background in music. You even teach organ, or have taught.

Dr. Ray Keck:

I have taught organ, played, [performed recitals,] played in church since I was 11 years old, very fortunately. I think one reason I wanted to become a teacher is I had such magnificent teachers, and my organ teachers pointed me to J.S. Bach. As a teenager, I started learning the works of J.S. Bach for the organ, and now almost 60 years later, those pieces are just as luminous and exciting, as wonderful as they were the first time I heard them played.

Jerrod Knight:

For so many of us, I happen to enjoy and dabble in music myself, but I can see where there's some confusion between the piano, which seems relatively simple compared to the organ. They're not the same thing at all.

Dr. Ray Keck:

I think pianists would be all over you for saying relatively simple.

Jerrod Knight:

Comparatively speaking ...

Dr. Ray Keck:

Visually, yes. The visual looks much more completed. Yes, the organ has multiple keyboards and the pedals and the stops and the buttons and the shifts in sounds.

Jerrod Knight:

Those are all the reasons why.

Dr. Ray Keck:

Yes, but to play a piano well is still one of the most challenging things a musician can aspire to do.

Jerrod Knight:

A musical background probably informs your style of thinking. There are so many ways where an arts background can form critical thinking and your leadership skills, so we look forward to the way that this campus can benefit from what you and Patricia bring to it. The fall semester is upon us. The next month of this program, we will be well into the fall semester. We'll have students on campus. We'll have the football season underway. There will be a buzz about campus as we haven't seen in a very long time. We notice here that parking becomes more available in the summertime, but things will be happening and we're looking forward to it.

Dr. Ray Keck:

Next month, I'll be able to tell you we're in Heritage House and this last week we've been covered up with students walking through, talking, sitting, chatting, which is exactly what we want.

Jerrod Knight:

That's fantastic. We're looking forward to it. Thanks to our guest, Mrs. Patricia Keck.

Patricia Keck:

Thank you, Jerrod.

Jerrod Knight:

Dr. Keck, I look forward to next month's episode here on ...

Patricia Keck:

Thank you very much. A joy to be here.

Jerrod Knight:

The President's Perspective is a monthly half-hour chat with Dr. Ray Keck, interim president and CEO of Texas A&M University Commerce. Find archives of The President's Perspective and other local programs from 88.9 online at ketr.org. While you're there, consider making a monetary contribution to local public radio. You can click donate up in the top right hand corner to get started. This program is produced at 88.9 KETR's studio facility in historic Binnion Hall on the campus of Texas A&M University Commerce. I'm Jerrod Knight. Thanks for listening.