Saturday, February 04, 2012

Polgar, SPICE to leave Tech, cites lack of resources for move

Cover story

Polgar, SPICE to leave Tech, cites lack of resources for move
Posted: Sunday, February 5, 2012 5:29 pm
By Summer Chandler
Contributing Writer

Susan Polgar and the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence will relocate from Texas Tech to Webster University in St. Louis, Mo., in June.

Polgar said eight students, all members of the “A” team of the 20-person Tech chess team have transferred or have committed to Webster University for the 2012-2013 academic year.

“One of the big elements and attractions was — obviously beyond the commitment of Webster to support chess and the chess program — is their global aspect,” Polgar, director of SPICE and head coach of the Knight Raiders chess team, said. “They are a global university. They already have numerous campuses worldwide, from Europe to Asia, and plan to expand that even further. And chess, being perhaps the most international game there is, I think it is a perfect match from that perspective. I think it’s a wonderful fit for SPICE.”

Polgar and her husband Paul Truong, coach and director of marketing and public relations for SPICE, said Webster University’s commitment to growing the SPICE program was one of the primary motivators for the move. Truong said he believes the chess program grew faster than officials with either SPICE or Tech anticipated, which led to insufficient resources to grow the program.

“We are, in a way, the enemy of our own success. I don’t think anybody — us or the administrators of the university — could ever expect how fast the program grew,” he said. “And, unfortunately, when you are a state institution, you know, the president, or let’s say the provost or the chancellor, cannot just make a decision that, ‘OK, tomorrow I am going to give you a million dollar budget for chess.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

However, Truong said he believes the unavailability of resources led to an unfortunate situation that limited the program’s ability to recruit players.

“From the previous president, to the provost, to the vice-provost, to the current administration, they are all very supportive,” he said. “The problem is, their hands are tied. When we have a list of so many students that out of all the universities in the world, they want to choose this location — we don’t have enough scholarships to offer everybody.

“And it’s one of those very unfortunate situations. If we like the status quo, if we are OK with, say, 20 players on the team or in the program, or let’s say having a few Grandmasters, it’s OK. But, we get to the point where we are the No. 1 program in America — and probably in the world — and everyone wants to come here. Something has to give.”

While Truong said Tech, as a state university, was limited in scholarships and methods to recruit world-renown chess players, Chris Cook, managing director of communications and marketing said Tech’s chess foundation is fully focused on recruiting excellent chess students.

“We have — and are still going to have a great chess program,” he said, “that will recruit students not just nationally but internationally as well. We’re focused on our future and toward expansion.”

Cook said the chess program at Tech would not end with Polgar’s transition to another university.

“You have to commend Susan for all she has done for Texas Tech,” he said. “One of the reasons why our chess program is so strong is because of her involvement and we hope to build on that strength.”

Cook said the university will work to hire a new director, a new coach and a new outreach coordinator for the team.

While he did not know if Tech is going to keep the SPICE program in name, keeping a high-quality chess program is a goal for Tech.

“As to a high-quality chess program that is representative of what Susan established is definitely on the radar,” Cook said. “She does leave big shoes to fill, but what she has built here isn’t something we’re going to just let go away. First and foremost, we want the Tech name attached to it, and that’s what were going to do.”

On average, Truong said chess team members maintain between a 3.35 and 3.4 GPA and have a diverse range of backgrounds and majors.

“As a group, it’s a very high score, very high grades,” he said. “Our students are very diversified when it comes to majors, from math, to law, to engineering, to psychology, English, Spanish, finance, business. I mean, you name it, we have it.”

When asked why such a program — a national-champion team with a roster of academically achieving and diverse students — did not receive the resources Polgar and Truong thought necessary to grow SPICE, Cook said the university has to balance the needs of its many successful programs.

“We have a lot of successful programs and they all deserve more, they all do,” he said. “I can’t answer that question on chess accurately without knowing the exact figures. We have other national championships across the board: moot court, livestock judging, meat judging. There are a lot of them. We have a lot successful programs and I think they are all treated very fairly.”

Polgar said announcing the move now does not mean her job at Tech is finished.

“We’re still here and we’re still here until the end of May,” she said. “We still have big challenges ahead of us. Our team will compete in the Southwest Collegiate Championship in two weeks, and then of course we have another big event in Chicago for them gearing all of them up for the (College Chess) Final Four, where we hope to defend our title.

“So, we’re not done yet; we’re still here. Our heart is fully here with Texas Tech and with the students, and to bring more pride to Texas Tech.”

The Tech Division 1 chess team is the current reigning national collegiate chess championship team and will defend the title at the College Chess Final Four, March 31 through April 1 in Washington, D.C.


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