NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Visitors to the Steen Library at Stephen F. Austin State University soon will have access to the papers of legendary leaders of the Republic of Texas, thanks to a decision made in Monday's quarterly meeting of the SFA Board of Regents.

The board approved the purchase of a collection of Texas historical documents from members of the Rusk family, including materials from legendary leader Thomas J. Rusk and his brother, David. The collection contains more than 1,000 Republic of Texas historical materials that have been in the Rusk family since the 1830s, and include legal and personal documents signed by other notable leaders such as Sam Houston, Mirabeau Lamar and James Starr.

Thomas J. Rusk was a political and military leader of the Republic of Texas, serving as its first secretary of war and as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto. He was later a U.S. politician and served as a senator from Texas. His brother, David Rusk, served as a sheriff and tax collector of Nacogdoches county during the Republic period. The materials help tell the story of Nacogdoches as well as the Republic of Texas, according to Kyle Ainsworth, special collections librarian at SFA's East Texas Research Center.

"The highlights of the collection are the more than 50 letters received by David Rusk from his older brother, appointments to serve as Nacogdoches County sheriff signed by Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar, and several rare maps," Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth is currently organizing the collection, which is expected to be open to the public in February 2017.

Additionally, regents approved changing the name of the Department of Physics and Astronomy to the Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy. Since the four-year engineering program launched in 2014, the department has seen tremendous growth, according to Dr. Kim Childs, dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics.

During the meeting, Childs provided a report on SFA's STEM program and the national STEM initiative. In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature granted SFA approximately $46.4 million in tuition revenue bond funding to construct the new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building. Regents participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for SFA's new Ed and Gwen Cole STEM Building Monday afternoon following the regents meeting.

In other business, regents heard presentations from three fundraising consulting firms and selected Dini Spheris, a Houston-based firm with more than 47 years of experience, to partner with the university to conduct a professional feasibility study to assess the viability of a comprehensive capital campaign for the university.

Regents heard reports from the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, President Baker Pattillo and Dr. Scott Coleman, chair of the board. The board also received an update on the university's marketing campaign and new SFA website.

During the Monday meeting, the board received a report from the SFA auditor and approved the annual audit report. Regents also approved: 

  • building and grounds policy, financial affairs policy, and academic and student affairs policy revisions; 
  • the final version of the 2018-19 Legislative Appropriations Request, which includes non-formula funding requests of $38,915,895 and $2,493,854 in exceptional item requests; 
  • the ratification of $77,354 additional grant awards allocable to the 2016 fiscal year and $5,512,863 grant awards for fiscal year 2017; 
  • the deletion of more than $1,500 in course and lab fees for fiscal year 2016-17; 
  • minutes of the July and September meetings; and 
  • intercollegiate athletic policies and procedures manual revisions.