Picture of Trinity Campus
Reflections, Coleen Wrote
Coleen Grissom's reflections on Trinity's national classification

Once upon a time when I was knee-high to a grasshopper (as we say in East Texas, having absolutely no idea what it means), I finished my coursework for the Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin and accepted the personal offer from Trinity President James Laurie to assume the role of head resident and instructor in English here. Included in my duties: preside at dinner in the “girls’” dining room by tapping a glass to signal the “girls” to be quiet and to stand behind their chairs for the blessing. In the evenings at curfew (8:30 p.m. during the week; 10:30 p.m. on weekends), I flicked the outside lights a bit before closing to signal the “girls” that curfew was approaching.

Dr. Laurie seemed omnipresent. A retired Presbyterian minister, he treated all of us as members of the flock. He knew everyone by name, and, under his leadership, working with the longtime academic dean Bruce Thomas set the standard for a hands-on administration. Along with these two leaders, Ronald Calgaard deserves credit for the creation of what has become a prestigious institution of higher education to Ronald Calgaard. President Calgaard, like Laurie before him, knew everyone by name; he and his wife, Genie, walked the campus early every morning noting anything that might be of concern or need repair. I instructed the staff who reported to me to make sure I heard of these concerns when or soon after the president did. Calgaard was not interested in leading a small liberal arts college that served only students whose homes were within driving distance. He labored toward and succeeded in setting high standards and perhaps even higher goals.

Not surprisingly, some members of the Trinity community had not signed on for this. Those who were neither interested in the pace that was demanded nor in achieving the goal of becoming a highly ranked liberal arts and sciences institution, primarily undergraduate, but with carefully considered and widely respected graduate programs, got the hell out of Dodge. (One can get out of East Texas, but one can’t ever get East Texas out of herself.)

During the Calgaard era, Trinity also widened its recruitment efforts for students, staff, and faculty. No longer did we limit ourselves to recruiting only white people whose homes were in adjacent states. Trustees as well as faculty shared these goals and worked to achieve them, including establishing and maintaining an endowment that helped make the achievement of this first-class ranking possible. Most of the leadership used a term that I once ridiculed, thinking it sounded hokey. “The Miracle on the Hill” was that phrase, but, eventually, I realized that perhaps it might be a bit hokey, but it was also quite accurate.

Knowing my experiences with this institution since I first came here in 1958, no one could be surprised that Trinity has been reclassified as a national liberal arts institution. I consider it well earned, and I take much pride in being associated with an institution that has such a rich past and promising future.

Coleen Grissom, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of English at Trinity University. 

You might be interested in