College of Arts & Sciences Dean Tosha Dupras looks back and looks ahead after her first year on the job.
Tosha Dupras arrived on the Texas Tech campus just more than a year ago. She was the newly named dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and several of the first priorities had to do with space and vacancies.
There were too many vacancies in the faculty lines and within the college's upper tier of leadership, and there was not enough room for the approximately 10,000 students across a broad swath of disciplines.
It required the need to listen and learn about the rhythms and cadence of the largest college on campus, while also addressing the simultaneous undercurrent of urgency pulsing through its departments, programs and initiatives that could not go unattended.
“When I arrived, we had eight interim chairs and one chair stepping down,” she remembered. “Out of 15 departments, we had nine chair searches to undertake, so that was one of the things I took on in this first year – putting permanent leadership in place.”
The good news is that work is done. Dupras (pronounced Do-pray) has filled every position with seven permanent chairs and the other two scheduled to be in place in time for the start of the new academic year in August.
“In terms of my philosophy for team building, I came in and wanted to start by observing how everything is operating,” she said. “Now, after a year, I'm thinking about my immediate team and how things are functioning in the dean's office.”
The practice of moving with deliberate purpose is part of the fabric of higher education leadership. It often can be counterproductive to launch immediate widespread changes.
“You want to see how things are functioning and where you may need help,” Dupras said. “The direction of the university, there are a lot of moving pieces involved.”
Two items that will command attention in the near term, though, will be another round of hiring to continue shoring up key areas throughout the college and building online capacities to expand the college's accessibility.
“We've been working with the division of e-learning, and we are hiring positions specifically dedicated to e-learning to help build that out,” she said.
That's part of a response to the space constraints the college is facing. Laboratory and classroom space throughout Arts & Sciences is nearing “no-vacancy” status.
“We are almost at capacity on campus,” Dupras said, “so online is one area that we can grow in terms of giving students a high-quality opportunity to access Texas Tech who would not have been able to move here for face-to-face instruction. We're looking at a different demographic of student who we can provide access to a college degree.”
Dupras came to Texas Tech after serving as interim dean for two years and senior associate dean of the College of Sciences at the University of Central Florida, where she had been both teacher and administrator since 1999.
Since making the move from Florida to West Texas, she focused her attention on the college's staffing needs with almost 40 faculty positions filled in a handful of departments as well.
“The faculty hires were handled at the department level,” she said. “But that was also a very large priority that we had to make sure happened this year.”
The college's infrastructure capacity will expand to some extent when the Academic Sciences Building comes online. The new facility was the site of a “Topping Out” ceremony in May as the final steel beam was hoisted into place. The most recent projections estimate it will be completed by mid-year 2024.
“Potentially, that's what it is looking like,” she said. “There can be delays due to supply-chain issues, but we're hoping to be able to plan classes in that building for the fall of 2024.”
Five Arts & Sciences departments, Biological Sciences, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Geosciences, Physics & Astronomy and Psychological Sciences, will call the new building home. Those impending moves, coupled with roughly $60 million in renovation projects for existing facilities and the History department's move to the English-Philosophy building, will reduce pressure across the college.
“Once the Academic Sciences Building is up, it's really going to have a domino effect on what we are doing in terms of facilities,” she said. “That building needs to be complete before we can do other renovations.”
The projects include significant work in the Chemistry building, the Biological Sciences building and the nearby Biology lecture building. Likewise, an architectural firm is in the process of drafting plans for a reimagined Science building.
The moving around leads to a natural question about Holden Hall, which not only houses the college's administrative operations, but also serves as a point of nostalgia for almost every Texas Tech student.
“I think what happens with Holden Hall depends heavily on how the Science building is reimagined,” she said. “Because it is so early in the process, it's difficult to talk about what exactly is going to happen with any building. One of the things we know for sure is our History department will move to the English-Philosophy building, which will be renamed the Humanities Building in the spring.
“That will in the short term free up space in Holden Hall for what we call swing space. As we do renovations in other spaces, this will create temporary space for faculty while renovation is occurring in other buildings. There will be a lot of coordination involved because we're talking about a lot of different spaces.”
Dupras acknowledges that Holden Hall occupies a special place in the heart of most Texas Tech students because they likely have had a class within its walls.
“I think what you can say is that almost every student on campus has taken classes in Holden Hall,” she said. “And if you are a major in the College of Arts & Sciences, you take a lot of classes there. From a student perspective, everyone knows where it is, and as far as the college itself, this is one piece because we are literally everywhere on campus and at Reese Center (west of Lubbock).”
The sprawl is not only geographic, but it is also sewn into the very genesis of Arts & Sciences, where vastly different and demanding disciplines are housed beneath a common umbrella.
“It is definitely the most diverse college in terms of the discipline areas,” Dupras said. “We have the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, mathematics, all sorts of different needs. As dean, the important role I have is understanding what these needs are.
“How can the college support the needs in all of those areas so they can be successful and grow? It is a huge opportunity to understand how these areas function and work as far as the needs of our students and faculty. For example, what a chemist needs may be very different from what a linguist needs to conduct successful research.”
Regardless of the discipline, there are needs as the college continues on a trajectory of growth. Strategically prioritizing them will fall to Dupras and her leadership team as her second year begins.
“The core reason we're here is our students,” she said. “The way I envision going forward is everything built around a pinnacle of student success and what that looks like, supporting them to be successful. Everything stems from that – growing our departments and supporting the growth of dynamic research our faculty are doing.”
It also includes recognizing existing strengths and enhancing them as well as specific hires that align with the broader mission and vision of the university.
“We have these fantastic research programs that can attract top faculty and keep the amazing faculty we already have in place,” she said. “That bolsters the success of the university and what we can do for our students and the experiences we can give them.”
The college will continue to focus on building out its Office of Student Success in terms of resources and reach. Likewise, it will keep strengthening its philanthropic appeal through a growing network of alumni.
“What can we do to keep up the cutting-edge research that is going on and the facilities that support it,” she said. “The way I see this is as a large ecosystem that feeds in centrally to student success.”
In 2025, Arts & Sciences will have a major occasion to celebrate the broad scope of its achievements, when it marks 100 years as one of the four original colleges on the Texas Tech campus.
“We are planning and looking at our celebration within the midst of celebrating Texas Tech's 100th anniversary,” she said. “We are not the only college that will be celebrating in 2025. One thing we're hoping for is the colleges can come together jointly to celebrate those individuals who first entered our colleges in 1925.”
That remains in the not-too-distant future. For now, Dupras can look at the not-too-distant past with a great sense of appreciation for where she is and what she gets to do.
“It didn't take very long for me to recognize the true passion students and alumni have for Texas Tech,” she said. “I don't know what I was expecting, but it took me by surprise, the level of passion people have for Texas Tech, and it didn't take long to see the grit and determination our students have.
“Students get a lot out of being here. This place is a gem in West Texas.”
Location, though, is only part of the collective appeal. The real aces up the sleeve are the people.
“The other thing I was happy to learn is we have a lot of faculty who have been here 20 and 30 years,” she said. “Our president (Lawrence Schovanec) has been here over 40 years. That speaks a lot about the institution and living here in West Texas. Within a couple of weeks of being here, I realized I had made the right choice coming to Texas Tech.”