Former VP Newsom leaves lasting legacy Texas State

By Meagan Singletary
University News Service
June 6, 2008

Folklore, horny toads, bats and travel are a few of the things Rollo Newsom said he would occupy his time with now that he has retired after serving Texas State University-San Marcos for 42 years. While Newsom has been on modified retirement since 2000, he will officially retire effective August 31.

Rollo Newsom was still teaching at Memphis State University when he attended the Southwest Social Science meeting where he met former sociology chair Maurice Erickson. Newsom was looking for a job and was offered one by Erickson. Prior to this, Newsom had applied for a teaching assistant position at the University of Texas, a practical move as he would be attending school there working on his Ph.D. in sociology. Newsom accepted the opportunity given by Erickson even when he later received news that the teaching assistant position at UT was his. Decisions like this reflected Newsom’s character.

“That’s the integrity of the man that I’m talking about,” said Sylvia Newsom, his wife of 48 years. “He honored his commitment and it was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Sylvia Newsom attributes her husband’s success and long career at Texas State to his leadership and ability to bring people together.

Newsom began teaching at Texas State in 1966, when it was called Southwest Texas State College, as an instructor in the sociology department.

“That first year was an absolute delight,” said Newsom although at the time he had just started his doctorate at UT, taking classes at night and teaching during the day. “We had a very heavy load. That first year I taught five classes every semester, but when you’re young you can do a lot of things. It was very, very difficult in terms of time and the children were quite small then so they required a great deal of time.”

Despite late nights, early mornings and a congested schedule, Newsom still describes his first year at Texas State as fun, exciting and a thrill.

Newsom received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1973 from UT and used it, along with his own ambition, to advance through the ranks at Texas State emphasizing the impact of teaching.

“Of all the things I did, and I was fortunate to be allowed to do so many different things at this university, the one that had intrinsic value to me was in the classroom,” he said. “That’s where I felt most comfortable. That’s where I got personal rewards. We’re not talking about money or anything else. We’re talking about thinking that you’re making a difference.”

Newsom managed to make a difference inside the classroom as a teacher, but also in the other roles he took on at Texas State. He served as chair of the sociology department from 1976-1981 where he continued to lead with his selflessness and change the department for the better.

“He’s always been perceived as fair and acting on the behalf of students and faculty,” said the current department chair Susan Day. “It’s not about him, it’s about the university and the students and his faculty. I would say he’s helped us be who we are.”

Newsom was the first dean of the University College, then called the College of General Studies, from 1983-1986.  In this role, Newsom excelled with his innovative ideas.

“He’s been very influential in this entire university. He started all the programs that the University College is famous for,” said Day.                                           

Newsom also served as vice president for academic affairs as well as on a number of task forces, councils, cabinets and committees including Faculty Senate, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation self studies and University Curriculum Committee.

Of all the things accomplished by Newsom over the course of his career at Texas State one of the most significant was being named distinguished professor of sociology and folklore emeritus in 2000 by the board of regents. Most recently, he co-edited Lone Star Sleuths: An Anthology of Texas Crime Fiction.

Newsom plans on spending his retirement participating in organizations like Texas Horned Lizard Conservation Society, Texas Folklore Society and volunteering with Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area where he gives lectures on the Mexican free- tailed bat.

Susan Day best sums up Rollo Newsom’s legacy: “His impact on Texas State is really quite remarkable. He will leave a mark on Texas State. People will not soon forget Rollo Newsom.”