In 1978, Trinity President Ronald K. Calgaard hit campus with the intensity of a Kansas tornado.
He brought a directed and sustained energy that dramatically altered the institution's academic image. During the last two decades of the century, he relentlessly pursued the goal of transforming Trinity from a reputable regional institution into a nationally acclaimed, financially stable, primarily undergraduate residential university.
While many decisions made in pursuit of these goals positioned Calgaard as a controversial figure to some members of the university community, Calgaard did help Trinity attain and solidify many of these objectives.
Following his acceptance of the presidency in November 1978, but before establishing residence in San Antonio in June 1979, Calgaard visited the campus three days each month. He inspected every building, including residence halls, storage areas, and physical plant facilities. Calgaard also began to associate names and faces so that by the time he actually assumed the presidency, he could personally greet most faculty, staff, administrators, and Trustees by name. During the same time frame, he read voraciously, perusing Trinity histories, self-studies, financial records, Trustee minutes, and committee reports to familiarize himself with university policies and procedures. His rapidly acquired knowledge of University operations impressed everyone, including Harold Herndon, chair of the Board of Trustees, who told a local newspaper reporter, "Ron knows more about this school right now than anyone I've known in years.”
Calgaard made a series of decisive moves—some met with controversy, others with acclaim—all with the goal of transforming Trinity into a more prestigious, stable academic institution.
He re-organized the University’s administrative structure and faculty, raised tuition, narrowed admissions timelines and raised admissions standards, and oversaw a declining rate of first-year attrition. In order to reach Trinity’s goal of academic excellence, Calgaard recommended that the University concentrate on the undergraduate liberal arts with select professional programs, while eliminating many graduate offerings.
During a period when many schools were seeking to increase enrollment, Trinity would decrease its size, increase its tuition, and become more selective in its admissions process. Simultaneously, the university would recruit faculty with degrees from nationally regarded educational institutions in order to challenge the projected new generation of Trinity students. In short, Calgaard proposed to make Trinity one of the top undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the United States, and he intended to accomplish this feat within a decade.
While Calgaard agreed on the importance of a strong social environment for students, he insisted that they should be able to meet the university's academic demands and still find time for non-academic activities. In response to a student letter, Calgaard wrote, "I believe that the first priority of any quality college or university is to offer demanding academic programs. Academic excellence should and must be the number one priority. This in no way means that the university is unconcerned with the social and personal growth of its students ... I believe that the best academic environments exist where students and faculty work very hard and play hard."
Impelled by Calgaard's energy and his long workdays, the pulse of Trinity heightened. Even on weekends, Calgaard was on campus, eager to talk about his vision for the University. Some faculty members and administrators at work in their offices closed their doors, drew their blinds, and dimmed their lights to avoid a potentially lengthy presidential visit. Religion professor Paula Cooey said that the new president gave "omnipresence a whole new meaning," and longtime professor and administrator Coleen Grissom commented, "I have never known anyone with such stamina, focus, and loyalty. It's intimidating, exhausting, and inspiring."
Grissom would also state for the record that she often “got in trouble” during fundraising chats with Calgaard, stating: “Ron, I’d give money to get you out of my office.”
Fundraising, giving, and long-term financial growth and stability were also major priorities for Calgaard.
He gathered unanimous support from the Board of Trustees in 1981 to launch a $48.5-million capital campaign. Trustee Richard Calvert announced that the ambitious project, titled "A Commitment to Distinction," included $6 million for faculty recruitment and an additional $3 million for projects such as academic leaves, research, and curriculum development. Another $6 million was designated for a scholarship endowment to enable Trinity to recruit talented students regardless of their economic background. The campaign also proposed to raise $16.5 million for library acquisitions and laboratory equipment, $9 million for academic facility maintenance, $5 million for renovation and new construction of residence halls, and $1 million for an endowment to support Parker Chapel. In addition to the basic academic elements, the project called for $2 million to initiate a program of special lectures, concerts, and other cultural events that would enrich community life.
Calgaard also pushed for Trinity to hire experienced professionals to manage Trinity’s endowment funds, and by the end of his tenure, the market value of Trinity's endowment had increased to approximately $600 million.
"I believe that the best academic environments exist where students and faculty work very hard and play hard." - Ron Calgaard.