TCU’s chancellor knows when he will retire, but he eyes a national title before then

Mac Engel
·15 min read

Victor Boschini’s white “TCU Rose Bowl” champions hat from 2011 sits behind his desk, and at one point over the last year, when the job security of the longtime TCU chancellor appeared shaky, he had more made.

“During the pandemic I had the hats made so I could send them to students and donors,” he said in his office. “I sent a little note with the hat and just said, ‘Remember how great this was?’”

Alumni and donors certainly remember it, but current students were probably watching The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon back then. Boschini is 65, and he realizes he doesn’t have much more time left before he retires. He’d like to squeeze in one more Rose Bowl type moment before he leaves a job he’s had since 2003.

He said he plans to retire in 2026, “If I make it that long,” he said. “I never thought that was an issue, until lately, if I can do it. The emotional toll was much harder than ever before.”

The popular, personable and charming chancellor survived the year with a few scars from the criticism he took from the faculty and staff during the pandemic. The biggest was the faculty discussion last summer on whether to issue a vote of no confidence in Boschini’s leadership.

The faculty was upset over the school’s reduction of its 401k plans, retirement packages and how it handled the class schedule during the pandemic.

Ever the optimist, Boschini believes his relationship with the faculty can be repaired, and that he envisions campus life will return to “normal” in the fall. He’s planning that classes will once again be an in-person experience.

He covered all this and an array of other topics in a lengthy interview on Monday.

Star-Telegram: In hindsight, did we over react with closing everything the way we did?

Victor Boschini: I think so. I totally do. I think we totally underestimated the mental health crisis that we’re going to have, that we’re already in. Our [TCU’s] mental health center cases went up 44 percent from September to September. I think we did damage, specifically K through 8 that we’re never going to be able to repair.

S-T: How is your relationship with the faculty right now?

VB: It’s always been the same. It’s always been really good. The difference now is everyone is mad at everything, and so they are lashing out. Or they were, at everything they could lash out at.

I just think people are frustrated. They are in a crisis, in trauma, and they need something to be mad at and The Man is the best person to be mad at. It’s part of life.

S-T: Does the relationship need to be repaired?

VB: Always. I don’t think you can ever take that for granted.

S-T: The faculty and staff are upset over compensation. Can the relationship be repaired without restoring their pay and compensation to the previous levels?

VB: I think so, but you’re asking the wrong person.

S-T: You almost got the dreaded vote of no confidence. Were you prepared for that scenario?

VB: Yeah, but a vote of no confidence for me wouldn’t be that bad because I’m at the end of my career. It’s not like I’m going to go to another college. What would be hard is that nobody wants that feeling, that the people you work for don’t have confidence in you. That would break my heart.

One thing I’m very proud of; we didn’t release one freakin’ person from TCU. Show me a company that didn’t do that around here. Everybody has the same job with the same salary, and got a raise this year. They only got the raise for half a year, which I totally get that. We lost $50 million last year.

S-T: The hurt feelings are tied to money, so can you separate that and feelings towards you?

VB: It’s hard, but check any other school that pays more than 8 percent [on their 401k] without a match? Let me think, nobody in the Big 12 or the 11 schools I’ve worked at. From the 11.5 percent to the 8 percent, it’s the highest in the Big 12, and without a match, which is extremely rare.

Going to 8 percent, we still had more than 20,000 applications for the 140 jobs that were open. It’s market driven. If this is such a terrible place to work why are so many people trying to come here to work?

S-T: Is it because of the place or the fact that job openings in college education are hard to come by?

VB: No, I think it’s because it’s still such a great place to work.

S-T: Was the emotional toll of all of this all related to COVID closures and cutbacks?

VB: Yes. It just got worse and worse and worse. It was hard. I don’t sleep. I used to weigh 193, and now I weigh 178.

S-T: Are you afraid of retiring?

VB: No. I’m going to love it. I’m a big attitude guy, and if you have a positive attitude you’ll make it work.

S-T: TCU wants to add 1,000 students, and some faculty fear that tenured track positions will go down while the number of students will go up.

VB: We’ve added about 600 students and we need to get to about 300 more to get the number we want, 10,500. But the board froze the faculty-to-student ratio. It can never be higher than 1 to 14. We are at 1 to 13 right now.

S-T: Would that still be the same if you reduced a tenured track job but replaced it with an adjunct or part-time professor?

VB: No. We’re not going to reduce tenured positions.

S-T: Are tenured track jobs in academia going to be a thing of the past?

VB: No. I think they are still important. Tenure protects academic freedom, and you need that. A university should be a place where crazy ideas, the conservatives, the liberals, and everything flows at once. It’s the only place left in America where that can happen, and it’s not happening even at universities any more these days because America is so polarized. ... If you are on a campus, you should have that freedom.

S-T: Does TCU’s physical footprint need to grow at all?

VB: No, the only thing we need more of is residence halls and we have plenty of space left on this campus to do that. It’s 260 acres. That’s enough.

S-T: Do you envision TCU eventually reaching Baylor’s size?

VB: Baylor is at 16,100 and, yes, I think some day it may have to. When you think of all the stuff we want to do, the undergrads pay for everything. It’s hard to have Division I athletics, all of these beautiful buildings, a rec center with a flowing river in it. We don’t have that yet. So that number is a possibility.

S-T: What perception of academia gets under your skin?

VB: How long do you have? They say things change really slowly on a college campus. They do. But I have a lot of friends who are in business who say that, and I say, ‘The company I am president of is 150 years old. How old is your company?’ We are the oldest corporation in Fort Worth. Things change slowly but they last. TCU is older than standing armies and countries. We must be doing something right. It moves at a glacial speed, I get that. But it persists.

S-T: Is TCU a company?

VB: No. And that’s another misconception.

S-T: You used the label.

VB: No. It’s a corporation in the state of Texas. It’s not a company and it doesn’t run like a company. People get frustrated about that.

S-T: Do you think that criticism of how universities and colleges operate like a business when the ideal is the development and maturation of a kid valid?

VB: Yes. Sometimes I do.

S-T: Can it be corrected or is it just life?

VB: It’s just life.

S-T: Is there a student loan debt crisis in the U.S.?

VB: Yes. I don’t think we’ve reached that with our students yet because the percentage of our students who go into debt is not as big as most schools, and the amount is not as big as most schools. But I also don’t think it’s all bad to go into debt to finish college. I think you should have some skin the game.

I think these people who say you should not take out loans to finish school, I don’t agree with that. When I finished I had $11,000 in student loans, but that was a lot of money in 1979. (Editor’s note: That would be nearly $40,000 in today’s dollars.)

S-T: A school’s mission is the student, and now many are graduating with potentially life-altering amounts of debt meanwhile universities don’t espouse being called a business yet the top end leaders are often paid like CEOs. How does anybody rationalize or justify that?

VB: OK, I’d say this, it’s market driven. It’s the same thing at TCU. People are mad the professor in the business school makes more than the professor of X. OK, they want them all to be paid the same. No, that’s not how it works. Those salaries are high. I make a huge salary, I don’t deny that. If you think you’re not getting what you’re paying me for, get rid of me. Get somebody else.

S-T: Do you think the criticism of these high-end salaries is fair?

VB: Some of it is.

S-T: Which part is not?

VB: I think it’s fair in that universities could be much more cost efficient. Universities could be a lot of things that a business would espouse and that would help the students. But every student who comes here wants more people in the rec center, in the health center, in the student union, and on and on. More weight rooms. More pools. I never met a kid who came here who said we don’t need anything else.

S-T: When did this change when what schools were selling wasn’t the library, the academics but the dorms, the rec center, and all of that?

VB: It changed in the ‘90s. Students gained a power that I didn’t have when I was a student. When I went to school and wanted to join a fraternity or do something, it was, ‘I hope I can work hard enough so I deserve to get in and do this or that.’ Now the person under 30 thinks, ‘I don’t know if they do deserve me. Are they good enough to have me?’

S-T: Does that make you sad?

VB: Yes, but it’s not bad or good, it’s just different. In my world, I’m 100, but it makes me sad.

S-T: What is TCU’s brand now? Are you a research 1 institute? A small private liberal arts school? Are you selling education? Are you selling the four-year experience?

VB: None of those. Here is our brand — a connection with people on campus that you don’t get other places. I know it’s expensive, but for that $60,000 you are going to leave here with connections you never thought you’d have and will change your life.

S-T: The Supreme Court is currently listening to arguments about potentially paying NCAA student athletes. A justice said that the current compensation for a student athlete on full scholarship is nothing. So he’s basically saying a college degree is worthless.

VB: And that makes me sad. I don’t agree with that.

S-T: Do you think there is a trend now that people believe a four-year degree isn’t worth anything?

VB: Oh, it is. National studies show that. When I was growing up higher education was a communal value, now they think it’s a personal value. It may help you, but it doesn’t help me.

I can still show you 100 studies that show people who earn college degrees live better lives.

S-T: Is higher education in an identity crisis?

VB: I think it is.

S-T: So what is this going to look in 10 years?

VB: We don’t know. Anyone who says they do — things are changing so fast. The only thing I know for sure is that it won’t look like [the way it looks now].

S-T: Is the four-year, 120 credit hours model outdated?

VB: Yes. I think it’s totally outdated. In 20 years from now, you’ll get education when you want it, how you want it, and where you want it. You can do that today, but not to the extent that you will be able to?

S-T: As the chancellor whom do you have to serve first? Board, students or parents?

VB: Students. You have to. If I don’t, we don’t have have 21,000 people applying for these 2,100 slots every year. The students, the alums and the endowment pay for TCU. The endowment paid for 11 percent of our $700 million budget this year, which is a lot, and it’s way less than most schools. Tuition covers the majority.

S-T: It does look like the NCAA student athletes are going to be paid.

VB: Oh, it’s going to happen.

S-T: Are you prepared for it, or do you wait when you know the parameters?

VB: Both. I know it’s going to cost more for every single athlete.

S-T: Are you prepared to pay student athletes from non-revenue sports, say women’s golf, as much as the quarterback?

VB: Yeah. You have to think about that.

S-T: With Title IX is there any way to avoid that?

VB: I don’t know how it would not happen.

S-T: There is considerable discussion that the Power 5 conferences in the NCAA will consolidate in the future. Are you preparing for that, and is TCU vulnerable to not make the cut, so to speak?

VB: Absolutely. I’m a glass-half-full person and that is never going to happen to TCU as long as I am alive. Talk about the last inch of strength in me, so I don’t think it’s a possibility.

S-T: How do you prepare for it then?

VB: Hire quality coaches. Hire a quality athletic staff that isn’t just in it for the money. And I’ve been at schools where they are like that. And you recruit great students. If you do those three things you won’t have a problem.

S-T: Do you think this consolidation will happen?

VB: Yes I do. I think it’s a possibility it will happen when the football TV contract expires in 2025. It may not then, but I think it will definitely will in the next 10 years.

S-T: Are you concerned about the future of college athletics?

VB: Very. Yes. I think we are getting away from what athletics are supposed to be, but — again, I’m 100. Maybe what I think isn’t the right way. Maybe the people under 30 are correct. My way is you get great people, give them a college degree, and they play baseball, women’s tennis or whatever here. Maybe that’s the wrong model.

S-T: To use a Pink Floyd lyric, did money ruin it?

VB: Didn’t help it. Once that’s out of the bag, it’s there.

One thing that bothers me is people say, ‘It’s all about the money. It’s all about the money.’ You know, it’s not all about the money, but it’s a lot about the money, let’s be honest. You want a $3 million coach, five different practice facilities, re-done tennis courts, it is a little about the money.

We have already invested too much in athletics to go back even if we wanted to, which we don’t. We would be throwing away an investment, so we’re going to make it work here.

S-T: Envy or awe when Baylor won the NCAA title in men’s basketball?

VB: Envy in that I want it, but total awe that they did it. I was texting with [Baylor president] Linda Livingstone during the tournament, and when it was all over I congratulated her and said I’d love to have that feeling. She said you will some day. That will make a huge difference for Baylor.

S-T: What is TCU’s next Rose Bowl moment?

VB: We’re going to win a national championship. It would be amazing.