More than 50 years and counting…


Courtesy of Sena Leese's Facebook

Mike and Sena Leese

Dr. Mike Leese, Dean of Students/Associate Vice President for Student Affairs

In the fall of 1963, I moved into Ferguson Hall, and to this day, I’m not sure how we survived on the third floor west side in a non-air conditioned residence hall. I also don’t remember that we ever thought or complained about it, nor two people in a small room with bunk beds and gang showers at that time. I was, however, smart enough to move to the first floor, east side my sophomore year.

Having had the opportunity to work with staff, consultants, architects and contractors between 2012 and 2016 to build five new residence halls, I often comment that the new halls are much more like hotels than Bender, Ferguson, Hunewell, the no longer used Moody/Gough and now demolished Lewis and Chamberlin.

Reflecting on the above, I think the main difference then and now is community. With only 1,400 students in 1963, and Tarleton State University just that past spring graduating its first class as a senior college, everyone pretty much knew everyone else. We didn’t go home often on weekends because we made plans with each other or in the organizations in which we were involved.

I met my wife of now 50 years at Tarleton, she as a junior transfer student, who had already been named editor of The Grassburr, and me as a sophomore and editor of The J-TAC. We met on the second floor of what is now the Howell Education Building in the Student Publication offices, and well, the rest is history.

We came back to Tarleton after two years teaching on the Texas Coast, and totally by accident and invitation, Dean Ballow (as in the baseball field) asked me to become Director of Student Financial Aid at the beginning of fall 1969. I’ve always said, it’s amazing that students received any aid that fall semester.

That was the beginning of 48 years in higher education, and all because of my involvement in extra-curricular activities as a student. It’s very rewarding now that several just-graduated Tarleton students are in graduate school, or in their first jobs in Student Affairs. There is no undergraduate major in Student Affairs, but there is a lot of preparation that comes naturally with student leaders, who make the decision to spend their lives helping other college students.

How has Student Affairs at Tarleton changed from 1969-2017?  In many, many ways. All through the 1970’s and 1980’s, there was a lot going on, but mainly because of athletics, student organizations, rodeo and individual student initiatives. The Texan rider rode around the track at Memorial Stadium when the Texans scored, the Purple Poo were there, but dressed somewhat differently and the Plowboys became a part of Tarleton’s tradition and spirit in the 1980’s. Duck Camp, Orientation and Transition Week had not yet begun.

The Tarleton Center was the Student Center then and many large dances were held in The Cave in the basement. Tarleton also sponsored many large name concerts in Wisdom Gym during this 20-year period. The opening of Bostock’s and City Limits, as well as higher concert prices, brought an end to concerts on campus, as well as most dances.

In all honesty, Student Affairs staff is huge now compared to what it was “back then.” Each area then had one director and maybe an assistant director. Each floor in the residence halls had an RA. There were no RC’s, GA’s, Coordinators, etc. The staff reporting to the Vice President for Student Affairs was less than half of what it is now. The bookstore was in the Tarleton Center, where the Registrar’s Office now is; Rec Sports was in the west gym, where Graduate Studies and IT now are; the Dining Hall was where the Campus Green now is and the Health Center was where the Welcome Center now is.

In between round one and round two of my time at Tarleton, after spending three and a half years at Texas A&M, I was at Southwestern University in Georgetown for 19 years. I mention that, simply to say that my 19 years at a private university makes me appreciate how much President F. Dominic Dottavio’s private college experience has meant to Tarleton in the past 9 years. Never has Tarleton experienced greater growth in the number of students, buildings, programs and state and system-wide recognition. I believe that Dr. Dottavio’s ability to combine his private school background and state school resources, and especially his one-on-one relationships with students, has made Tarleton what it is today.

I studied at Tarleton under President E. J. Howell, who called me into his office one time because he didn’t like an editorial I had written, I served under President Trogdon, who came to Tarleton in 1966 when I was editor of The J-TAC and I had the opportunity to write an article about he and his family coming to Tarleton and I served nine years as vice-president of Student Affairs under President Thompson. All made their positive marks on Tarleton, but none to the extent of President Dottavio.

As Tarleton matured into a senior college, from the 1960’s through the early 2000’s, we still referred to ourselves as the step-child of The Texas A&M University System. This year, as we celebrate Tarleton being the founding member of the System and our Centennial year, we can be proud of Tarleton now being the crown jewel of the Texas A&M System. The completion of the pedestrian mall on the new Rudder Way, the construction of a new Engineering Building and major renovations at Memorial Stadium all speak to that “crown jewel” status.