President Jay Hartzell
September 19, 2023
Thank you for coming. So many of you support this University in so many different ways. I’m really so grateful.
A special shout‑out to the students. Whatever class you're missing at 3 o’clock, I'll write you a note. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules and being here today as well.
I want to talk to you today about this incredible moment we find ourselves in as a university. I think it's special. I think it's arguably unique — this world-class University in this point in time in this fantastic place. The world is here for us for the taking.
I want to give us a sense of part of what we're trying to do as a community, part of what I think the opportunities and challenges are, and then conclude with why this campus is a special place to make it all happen.
Last summer, I got the chance to do the Summer Reading Roundup. I'm sure some of you have participated in this. It was my first time do it as a professor. This is a program where a faculty member picks a book and incoming first-year students can sign up for an hour-and-a-half session with that professor to discuss it. Ideally, they've read the book.
I miss teaching, so it was something I wanted to do. And the book I picked was “The Geography of Genius” by Eric Weiner. Eric is a little bit of a travel writer. He goes around and visits cities, and the thing he's interested in exploring is, why were certain cities at certain points in time the points of genius?
His notion of genius is something like creative sparks, changing the way we think about the world, design things, operate things. He touches on Athens, Florence, Calcutta and then concludes with Silicon Valley in the ’60s.
Part of what I want to argue today is that I think we have a chance, if there's a version 2 or a second edition of “The Geography of Genius,” to be the next chapter.
So, what is it we can do as a campus community, as a university, in conjunction with Austin and Texas and our alumni, our supporters and the people in this room and beyond to really make this a place of genius?
I want to walk through ways our people are using this special place at this moment in time to make a real difference in the world today.
If you follow higher ed in the papers, you might come away not necessarily always convinced how great we are. The University of Texas holds a special place, but this country holds a special place. This is the world's leading destination for higher education, and we are in a special set of universities that provide that.
We are one of the world's top research universities. How do we know this? Look at the people we attract. I like the quote from [former IBM Chair] Lou Gerstner: We are about the people. And a couple of proof points to give you a sense of that:
This year, we had the highest number of applications to our University ever. Over 66,000 students applied to be part of UT Austin. That's up 10% year over year.
We're serving a wider range of socioeconomic status. The New York Times did a piece looking at students who need Pell Grants to go to college, and if you sort on state flagships — AAU-type schools — we have the highest percentage of them, 29%. That's a big number — 29% of more than 40,000 students are coming from the lowest socioeconomic status, and we have a chance to lift them up en masse.
Furthermore, they're coming from all over the country. One example is Alyssia Menezes, who came to the Canfield Business Honors Program at the McCombs School of Business from Portland. She had this incredible high school career that makes me feel inadequate about my own high school career. Among other things, she founded a group that worried about mental health and tried to encourage middle school students to de‑stigmatize seeking help around mental health. And she was princess of the Portland Rose Court, so one of those all-hitters. She chose us over places like Georgetown, NYU and USC. That's the talent we're attracting on a daily basis.
What about the faculty? Just this year, we hired over 200 faculty. We just promoted about 130 across a variety of ranks and roles at the University. One is Harvey Lederman. Harvey was a full professor of philosophy at Princeton. We were looking for a new professor in philosophy. We ran an ad and looked for people, and over 300 people applied. And Harvey came down to us, and we beat out Chicago, MIT and Johns Hopkins to get Harvey to come.
If you get bored, he has this paper I read called “Uncommon Knowledge” that I think is quite clever, and it reminds me of one of my favorite movies, “The Princess Bride,” with Vizzini the Sicilian: “You know that I know that you know that I know…” It's a great movie. Trust me. It will make you change the way you think about common knowledge. So, people like Harvey are part of our faculty. That is a different experience for our students, but it’s also an incredibly important part of our research environment and the way we introduce knowledge for the world.
Staff. The staff make the magic happen, and those of you who had various roles on campus realize very quickly that the 3,700 faculty are supported by more than 20,000 staff. They're out there every day, worrying about how we advise students, how we admit students, how we take care of the grounds, how we keep the power plant running. Staff applications in the last two years are up over 30%. Staff are wanting to come here and be part of the noble mission we have every day to go out and change lives.
What about alumni support? I see some familiar alumni faces in the room today. One example I'll bring to light is Steve Winn. Steve is a graduate of the University with a love for science. His family has a love for science, and he founded a real estate company called RealPage Analytics that did very well. He was trying to find a way to make a difference and got connected to the College of Natural Sciences and started worrying about integrated biology.
As Texans, we aspire to be the top at what we do, and Berkeley is thought to be ahead of us in the race to be the top integrated biology department. One of the things that distinguishes Berkeley is they have more field stations. They have more places for their faculty and their students to go out and do research.
So, Steve took part of his ranch — Texans have ranches — and gifted it over to the University, along with funds to enable it to become the hub of what will be a thriving field station network. It's a chance for us to now have new places and ways for our students to do the fantastic work they do on a daily basis.
And Steve was not alone. If you take the entire year of giving that many of you were part of this last fiscal year, we raised about $830 million as a campus, so thank you!
That's part of our ongoing capital campaign, and that campaign now is on track thanks to many of you doing both the work and the support. One of the statistics I really like is that the campaign has had so far over 183,000 first‑time donors to the University. So thank you!
Back to the people. The people are coming together. The people want to be here. The people want to work together and find a way to make a difference. We've got the talent. Now, what are the kinds of things we think we can address as a campus and as a university?
Arguably, there's no bigger challenge in society than health — health and wellness, health care, medicine. How do we find ways to enable people to live happier, longer and more productive lives?
Those of you in this room probably are aware this campus for a very long time didn't have a medical school. And here we are, reaching the 10th anniversary of the Dell naming gift. The med school is up and running and in many ways thriving, but it's time for what internally many of us have been calling Chapter Two. What is the next phase of growth for the med school, and what can we make happen?
Part of it, as I was arguing before, is we attract talent. One of the things we attracted was a fantastic new dean, Claudia Lucchinetti, who joined us from the Mayo Clinic, where she’s had just an amazing career of 30 years.
We're also attracting physicians. Since the med school's founding, we've attracted 450 new doctors to the program and to the school. They're not random doctors. They turn out to be really, really good.
One of the examples is Carlos Mery. He’s a physician who is part of a team along with Chuck Fraser and some others doing pediatric heart surgery. Within the last year, they did the seventh-ever partial heart transplant, on an 11-month-old boy. We're only the fourth institution in the world to have pulled that off.
Think about the kind of a situation that family is going through, that baby is going through, and the difference a world-class physician and a team can make. We're not done with just pediatrics. Just this last year, we hired George Arnaoutakis from the University of Florida, and he's leading the adult cardio program. The people are special and we're able to attract a different kind of person to go address the challenges we face in health care.
Now we've got the people, and the question is, where do we do it? A sense of place is also important. And we as a university have been lacking the physical facilities to do deep specialty care at a world-class level. If you look around the country, that kind of care is delivered through academic medical centers. That's where it's done in an integrated way, a patient‑centered way. They bring together cutting-edge research, expertise and clinical care. And as we announced in August, we are now going to have one.
We are the biggest city in the country without an academic medical center. It makes sense. The city has grown so quickly. We couldn't necessarily support it, but now it's our time. And it's time for our people in Austin no longer to have to leave Austin to get that kind of care.
It's also a way for us to bring new energy in terms of health care. Not only are we going to have our dedicated UT Austin hospital, but it's going to be side by side with a hospital run by MD Anderson. We're able to bring one of our sister institutions in the UT System into Austin, Texas, to be part of our academic medical center. And we all know it's the No. 1 cancer care facility or hospital system in the world. So, to have them here side by side on our campus caring for Central Texans is exciting and important.
That is the microcosm of the place, but now I want to zoom out one more level to, the place is in Austin. The fact that we are in Austin is also a special opportunity for health care.
There's a quote many of you have probably heard. I come from down here, and I'm not a hockey person, but Wayne Gretzky has this quote about skating to where the puck is going. When you think about where health care is going, it's going toward more data‑enabled care, more AI, more robotics, more machine learning, more technology‑enabled ways to solve hard health care problems. That lines up incredibly well for our University.
As we build out an academic medical center, it won't be like those others. If you think about UT Southwestern or the incredible complex of care in Houston, they've got a lot, but they don't have the Cockrell School of Engineering. They don't have one of the top 10 computer science departments in the world. They don't have the Oden Institute, which is the top computational science program in the world. And if you combine our expertise in those domains with world-class clinicians and researchers, I think special things are going to happen, and it will be fun to watch and work on.
Now I want to talk about what Austin can become. If you think about Austin as you know and love it, this is that technology hub, that place where a venture capitalist, innovators, creators have all come together. And I would argue now is the time for that to extend to the life sciences. I know this is part of the vision of our mayor, Kirk Watson. He was around at the formation of the medical school, part of what made it happen.
I know the city is excited about it. I know the business community’s excited about it. Now, one of the ways that we can rally behind this idea is with an academic medical center, with a top medical school in conjunction with the other assets of this University to really make Austin the next hub for life science technology and innovation.
We're doing our part, and we’ve been working to convene leaders. I see Jim Breyer in the crowd. Jim in conjunction with UTIMCO hosted a conference last spring where we brought together 150 corporate leaders from a variety of health and technology companies to talk about which way the world was heading in terms of health and also the sneaky part — maybe now not sneaky now that I'm miked up and talking about it — is talking to those companies about coming to Austin. How do we get them to come here and be part of the specialness here?
We're also doing our work to accelerate more innovation. Many of you have seen now the unit that is working under Jim Davis UT senior vice president and chief operating officer called Discovery to Impact. We have incredible people doing really special things. What can we as a campus do to get more of those things out in the world to make a difference? That's the Discovery to Impact program. And one of the ways it's now being enabled and launched is really accelerating work in the life sciences and health space. We've got a new seed fund, so we've been making investments as a University in positions of companies that have been coming out of our faculty, and two of the four investments we've made are in the life sciences domain.
One is called ClearCam. When we do surgery with scopes, the end the lens can get occluded, and this is a way to — I call it squeegee — squeegee the lens to clear it up so that the physician doesn't have to pull the scope back out and put it back in, which would be dangerous and not good for the patient. It's been used in over 2,000 surgeries so far, and that comes from our faculty, a pairing of faculty from the Dell Medical School and the Cockrell School of Engineering. So, you can see what happens when you pair people together and we support the innovation and get it out into the world.
We also want to use proximity to bring people together. We have an office building downtown we've dubbed Innovation Tower, and we're working to find ways to bring companies to brush up against our people. How do we find ways to get companies to co‑locate nearby our faculty and our students?
The Innovation Tower is one part of that, but there's more to come as we think about our ways to use our real estate to find ways to build better partnerships and better bridges between academics and industry. One of the recent announcements we made was with Karlin Real Estate here in town. We're building out an incubator space, a wet lab space in North Austin. UT will have a floor of wet lab space, and there will be private sector space nearby.
If we have a faculty member, for example, who has something that they thought of and now it's time to launch it, they will have the wet lab to go into. Too often in the past we've lost faculty who have been at that stage in their journey and then had to find somewhere else in the country to go to really support their vision. We now as a university can make that happen and make it happen locally.
A lot of that is around this idea of startups, and this is the time for the University to really become a place where more startups start. And we've got a deep history there.
We know the story of Michael Dell. It's coming up on the 40th anniversary of the formation of Dell Computer that started in Dobie Center. We won't mention the fact that he dropped out of UT to finish it, but it's turned out well for everybody!
That's a high-profile example. Another great example is Amy Porter. She is a UT graduate, also a cheerleader on campus, and she founded a company called AffiniPay, which is a platform to help law and professional services firms do things to run a daily business. Incredibly successful. She has been part of what the Texas Exes put together last year called the Longhorn 100. It's to try to curate the 100 fastest-growing Longhorn-run companies around the world. It's incredible. And it was fun to go to that event and see people love to be around each other, just swap stories and think about their journeys as entrepreneurs.
So, we're working on the faculty side with Discovery to Impact and ways to encourage faculty innovation and faculty startups.
I think in many cases we're making progress on the student side, but we can do more. One of the great pieces of student success has been the Harkey Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, just named last year for John Harkey. Harkey hosts, among other things, an entrepreneurship minor available to students across the entire campus. And in roughly five years’ time, that's gone from zero students to over 800 students minoring in entrepreneurship across the campus.
I mentioned the alumni side, where we have the Longhorn 100 and other efforts there. So great success, but I would say it's a time for us to do a couple of things maybe more forcefully.
One is tell our story. The world appreciates that Austin is home of this. I'm not sure they all capture the role that UT Austin has played in that. How do we tell the outside world this is a place for innovation, discovery, startup, job creation, and the like?
The second part is — and this will surprise a few of you — we can be at times hard to navigate. The front row is all laughing. These are the deans up here. I think as a campus we can do a better job of lighting the way for our students and lighting the way for people to get involved.
How do we help people find a way to explore their entrepreneurial passion? How can we find mentors who want to help students on their journey as an entrepreneur?
That's in the way of startups, but most students will not try to go out and start something right away. Most will try to find a job or graduate school. And this is an area where I think we have incredible potential do a better job. How have we rallied in past to really support our students?
I think one of the most compelling cases in the last decade has been around graduation rates. If you go back to what President Bill Powers set out, he stood up and said we want to get to a 70% four‑year graduation rate as a campus, and that was a time when our graduation rates were in the 40s. And we've made it. This year, we made an all-time high of 74.5% of our students graduating in four years. I think it's incredible. It's better for the students, who come out of here more quickly with less debt. It also, candidly, frees up space. It's a way for us to serve more students because now the through‑put is better, and we have more ways to get students to come to the campus.
Now is the time for what's next. And the next is what happens after UT? How can we as a campus really unite to try to help our students find the right thing to do after this university?
This is something that has happened pretty well. Students have gotten great jobs. The top employers come to our campus because of the talent. They want to come and recruit. I think we could make it easy. There are pockets where it's gone very well, but I think we as a campus have a new opportunity.
We have an opportunity to invest and take it to a new level and deploy more resources to help our students find great positions. And it's not that initial job. It's how do we position them to succeed after that. We all know the world is changing rapidly. The jobs they are going to inhabit are not the jobs we see today. So how can we as a campus rally to help the students be prepared and help the world understand why somebody who has great critical thinking skills and is a great communicator is extremely valuable to their organization.
I'm really excited about this. Provost Sharon Wood and I are going to deploy our resources and ask the deans to take part in that as well. I think it's something where we can more than double the amount of support across our campus to help our students in terms of their career outcome. So, more to come on that, but I'm really excited about this as a big push.
Student success is not necessarily about graduation rates. One of the big challenges has been: How do we keep this University affordable? A three-legged stool if you want: tuition, room and board, and books and materials.
We've done a lot of great work on tuition. It may surprise some of you to know — and I honestly didn't know until this week because I was cramming — our net tuition average paid per student is less than $4,300. So, you think about getting a world-class education from one of the top research universities in the country and the average tuition net of the support they're receiving is $4,300.
That's thanks to a lot of philanthropic help. It's thanks to our Board of Regents and Chairman Kevin Eltife and all they’ve done with the Texas Advance Commitment, and we're not done. We have raised over a billion dollars in new student incremental support to help that continue. We have work to do, but tuition is getting better.
The part now for many of our students that is a big challenge is housing. And here, in part, we're a victim of Austin's success. Austin's gotten more popular. More people have moved in, and that's driven up the cost of housing. Meanwhile, what we're worried about is having students pushed to the outskirts of town. We know from the data that students who live closer do better. They're happier, more engaged in campus, more likely to feel they belong to this place, more likely to pursue extracurricular activities, more likely to have good outcomes, graduate on time, etc. It's incumbent to do all we can to make more of that happen.
How will we do it? We're going to find ways to add more housing supply. This summer, we have a graduate housing complex that will be completed. About 750 beds will be added to our inventory to allow graduate students to live close to campus. Phase 2 is being designed. It's another 500 or so beds. So, over a span of a few years, we'll have 1,200 new beds for the graduate side.
On the undergraduate side, we bought Dobie Center, and we've now filled that up, but there's more to be done. Whether it's through acquisition or construction, we want to have more rooms under the inventory or in connection with the University. Our goal, our vision of the future, is one where all first‑year students live within walking distance, and I think it's something we can pull off. It’s going to take some work and effort, but you can imagine a campus where everybody feels they can walk and take classes and go back and forth throughout the day, and it's a home and not very far from their residence.
Part of the way we make this happen is new scholarships. Many of you probably saw that we took part of the incremental housing revenue that we've generated and deployed it to help students with scholarships for the first time. And we deployed over 3,200 scholarships for students to help defray their cost of housing for those living close in the residence halls, which I think is fantastic.
The third leg of the stool is materials. This last year in conjunction with the Co‑op, we had a materials scholarship. We're providing students with the most financial need $250 a year so they can defray the cost of books or materials. So, we're making progress.
But affordability is not just about our students. It's also about our faculty and staff. The last year, we acquired the Boulevard at Town Lake apartments, and for the first time, we're able for some of our faculty recruits to bundle in their offer a housing package where we can have an apartment at a subsidized rent. More to come. We're learning as we go. We're trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. We're intending to build more and provide more housing for our faculty because it is now a key recruiting tool for the best and brightest like Harvey Lederman keep coming our way.
On the staff side, one of the things we're about to implement is for the first time a commuting subsidy. Our staff is trying to navigate ways to get back to campus in the post-pandemic world, and for the first time we will have a subsidy to offset the cost of commuting or the cost of parking as they come back to campus.
Affordable housing is extremely important, but it's tough to scale. If you think of a place that has 25,000-plus employees — how do you provide housing for them all? It's probably insurmountable in some way. Something that scales is financial opportunities. How can we find ways to provide lower-cost financing to let our people access funds so they can get a house, they can buy a car?
Just yesterday, we signed an agreement with the University Federal Credit Union to provide a whole suite of products for our faculty and staff on campus. The goal is that our faculty and staff make better-educated decisions about money and also have a wider range of products available at competitive or better-than-competitive prices so they can take advantage of those funds and go about leading happy lives here in Austin, Texas.
We've got other challenges, and so, one of the efforts we're trying to make as a campus is, how do we rally the incredible breadth of expertise and talent to tackle other hard societal problems? Last week, we were thrilled to announce the Moritz Center for Societal Impact.
This is a center that is going to bring to bear on hard problems faculty and students from across disciplines to try to find ways to make progress. Trying to find ways to collaborate with local communities. Trying to find ways to not only make a difference in Austin and Central Texas but use this place as a laboratory to learn what might scale beyond Austin. This is work that now-Dean Allan Cole of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work started when he was Deputy Allan Cole working with me in the President’s Office. I'm I excited to see this take shape.
One of the things that is important is trying to figure out how to make the adoption process work better. How do you take some of the cases where it's hardest to find an adoptive set of parents and try to solve for that? Think about adolescents or children out of foster homes. The state provided a $12 million grant to support this, and that's one of the first things that the Moritz Center can take on, which I think is just awesome.
Another way we’re trying to lead is through semiconductors. All of you are probably aware of the role that semiconductors play this in our lives. As I’ve joked before, when a Texan can’t buy an F‑150, we have problems. We have now become increasingly aware of the role these little chips play in devices that make life in many ways what it is.
And there are critical national security issues. Think about, not just the fact that key parts of the government or national security are linked to chips, but if you're working for the defense sector, how do you keep the nation protected and free?
As you are probably aware, the federal government has made a big push to put more resources into chips to try to bring back more of that expertise and production process and the whole thing back to the United States. We as a university have played a role in this before. If you go back to the 1980s, UT led the way for Sematech to be formed and come to Austin. It was an early model of collaboration between universities and industry, and it ended up one of the assets we ended up with was a fab out in East Austin on Montopolis [Road]. We still have that fab today.
In a full-circle moment, it's a chance now for the University to reinvest, bring that fab back up to the cutting edge. We formed a new partnership, with now over 20 companies and over 10 universities, to come together to try to address this problem. It's important we think for Texas to maintain a leadership role. It's a chance for our University to step up. And back to the puck and where it's going, it lines up well for us. If you look at the way chips are heading, it's toward, how do you bundle the chips together? And they try to make it so I can understand it, so they talk about Legos.
S.V. Sreenivasan has been phenomenal. It's one of those cases where we said we want to do it. He is one of the world’s leading experts and is on our faculty. How do we get this to work? S.V. came in and has put together a team, and we've been working on it now, and he calls it heterogeneous integration or advanced packaging. How do we bundle the chips together to increase progress? We'll end up with an innovation fab that can do small runs of chips at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus site and a defense fab that can make chips for our defense partners.
At the Sematech site — you can think of something like a time share. What are ways that companies and universities can use a 65,000-square-foot cleanroom to try to make innovation and advances in the chip space? We're blessed not only by people like S.V. and his colleagues around the University, but also because we have this chance. We're one of the few universities with a 65,000-square-foot cleanroom, so we have a moving start. And if you think about where the federal dollars will be invested, we think we have a real advantage.
The state saw it our way too, and the state deployed $440 million from the last budget cycle to this effort and gave us, UT Austin, those resources. That's how we're taking that plant up to speed. We've combined it with $120 million from the last cycle, so it's over a $550 million investment from UT to bring those facilities up to the cutting edge and be part of the next wave of innovation in that sector.
Now I want to come back to a sense of place.
Back to the people and this place is a special place and now what I want to zone in on is the campus. If you think about campus, my guess is you think about when you went to college or where you went. There is something about the physical surrounds of where it happens. It facilitates the relationships. It facilitates ways we interact with each other to figure out what we want to do with our lives. So, campus is important.
And if you go back to the book “The Geography of Genius,” you can think about it a little bit like the Agora in Athens. It's a place where people come together. It's like the marketplace of ideas, if you will. So, it's important to us, and we can do more both to celebrate it, but also to invest in it.
One of the things that we are as a campus is home for the arts. Our performing arts enterprise holds over 500 events a year, which is just incredible. If you go into the art space, we have the city's best museum in the Blanton. We had an incredible opening of their new grounds over the last summer. The public art space from Landmarks — many of you have probably seen some of those installations. Just inspirational.
It's not just art. It's also music. Austin's known as the live music capital of the world, but part of what makes it special is the people. We need ways to support and develop the next generation of musicians as a campus, as a city, as a community.
In the last year, a beloved professor, Michael Adams, passed away. We went to the memorial service, and [singer-songwriter] Darden Smith told this story, and once we finished crying about it, it was really cool. Professor Adams had an assignment in class, and Darden handed in an empty blue book with a cassette tape — and the students will have to have explained what both those are.
Professor Adams comes back and says, “Darden, come see me in my office.” He said, “So, you like songs. I'll make you a deal. The deal is in lieu of your assignment, you can turn in a song, but the song has to relate to the assignment. And I'm going to grade it, and I know songs.” Darden says that was a time that somebody believed in him as a songwriter.
We left that service and a few of us reached out to Darden and said, “Would you come in and talk to us about this idea? We’d like to have a songwriter in residence. We’d like to have someone who comes and performs some, brings their friends and performs some, and most importantly, I know that among our 52,000 students that we have people with stories to tell. How can we support them and help them get encouraged so that they perhaps have a chance to be the next Darden Smith and find a way to make a living out of this great thing.
I'm thrilled that Darden is here. I'm excited that he is the first songwriter in residence. And if I'm here, he won't be the last. I'm really excited to see how our students take advantage of this opportunity to learn from people like Darden.
Part of what makes this a special kind of campus is our athletic enterprise. We talk about it as the front porch. I also sometimes talk about it as connective tissue. It binds us together and brings us together as Longhorns. It's something to rally behind and bring us together. We had a pretty good year. A couple of national titles. Twelve conference titles. But for a flock of geese, maybe the third Director’s Cup in a row. [Texas Rowing finished fourth after a flock of geese interfered with their tournament race.] A heck of a year.
But again, it's not just the student-athletes who are tremendous and how we support them as they go and compete for us. There are also ways to make athletics an even more integral part of the campus environment, and this is part of what [Athletics Director] Chris [Del Conte] and his team have been working on. How do we use the athletics enterprise as a laboratory? How do we help it become even more of a learning opportunity for our students?
One of the things that Athletics is working on is, with the dissolution of the Longhorn Network, how might Moody [College of Communication] students come in and learn to produce sports and use that as a way to learn as they go and find ways to produce content that we as Longhorn Nation get to consume and enjoy.
How do we use athletics to bring in more students into the fold? We all know that thousands go to football games, and I think that's just tremendous, but there are other venues and avenues and competitions on campus. I think the experience in Gregory Gym with women's volleyball is unmatched. How do we find a way to get students to feel like they're part of campus, to feel a bit more Longhorn pride and spirit? And I think it runs that gamut from the fine arts and performing arts to athletics.
The third thing that they're working on: How do we better support our student-athletes after UT? And this very much echoes our focus on careers that I talked about earlier. I think we can do even more to make sure that our student-athletes in this age of all that they're wrestling with are well positioned post-UT to lead a full, productive, meaningful and happy life for whatever that means for them.
The last thing I want to talk about is more the physical surrounds of campus. And let me start off on the western edge. If you look out, the West Campus [neighborhood] we see today is not the West Campus of the past. When we were here as students, it did not look like that.
Now, part of that's great. More and more students are living close. They're able to go back and forth, and that's wonderful. But it's got real-world, contemporary, big-city challenges. So, how do we help West Campus be the safe, vibrant, appealing, exciting place that we know and love?
One of the things we've done is to invest in what is now known as the West Campus Ambassadors program. We announced this over the summer, and UT is funding a pilot. People out there in the neighborhood, finding ways to keep it clean, cleaning up graffiti, hauling off trash, but also providing a sense of comfort and safety for our students.
They can walk them home. They can walk them across the street. They can perhaps subtly intervene in a situation that looks uncomfortable. And I'm really excited about the way it's unfolding. I think if you drive down the Drag today, it already looks different. They've hauled off over two tons of trash. They've cleaned up thousands of pieces of graffiti. They've provided over 100 student escorts back to their residences, which I think is great.
The last part I would characterize as, how do we make campus the most inspiring place it can be? One of the most recent additions has been the Stedman Family Gardens. If you haven't done it in a while, drive down MLK, look up University Avenue, and you will see something truly special, from the flowers to the sculptures to the students taking Instagram pictures. It is now that kind of hallmark destination on our campus.
I think we can bring more of the campus up to that standard. Now, where are we going to start because it is a big campus. It's not really 40 acres, right? We're going to start at the Tower.
The Tower is extremely important in lots of ways. It's important in part because it's a symbol. It's that thing when you get here you think: Now I'm at The University of Texas. When people run stories about us, the most common picture is the Tower.
We did some research for this project and talked to many first-generation students about how they think of the Tower? The things you hear are wonderful and inspiring. They say things like, “You know, I always wondered, could I make it to a top university? And then I'm on campus, and I look up at the Tower, and I think I've made it.” It's something special. It is a common shared experience. It's one of those things that binds us all together.
But it's in disrepair. It was opened in 1937, and I don't think we've touched it since. Except maybe the crickets [campus has recently experienced a large infestation of crickets]. So it is that time when we as a campus can rally together and make the Tower the symbol and the place it needs to be. I'm excited about it. Our Board of Regents is excited about it. They set aside resources for us to do it. We have some of our first lead gifts to make it happen.
But our goal is, just like in the past, for our students to have a chance to walk around and think, look at that object, that Tower, that thing. Here's how I feel connected to it. Here's how I feel connected to the University. Here's how I feel special to get to be here, and here's what it means to me.
The last thing I'll leave you with is something that came up in conversations with our leadership team. Think back to when the Tower was built, coming out of the Great Depression. In the early 1930s, it was designed and conceived of, and think of the city at that point in time. There was the State Capitol and … the State Capitol.
And people sat around and thought, I know what — let's build a giant tower. Think of the bravery, think of the boldness, think of the brashness, think of the audacity to think that this is going to become one of the world's great universities, and we're going to embody it and symbolize it with the construction of a tower that opened in 1937.
I think in some ways we have the same spiritual kind of moment. We have a chance now, staring at the future, to be bold, to be brash, and take a little risk. We have a chance to propel this University and our students and our alums and our research in a way that has not been done before.
Thank you for all you do as part of that. For those that get to be part of the journey, I want to encourage us all to get there together. This is a team sport. I'm really grateful for all you do for us. And with that, take care and Hook ’em!
[Note: President Hartzell delivered this address extemporaneously. These remarks have been lightly edited.]