October 6, 2020,
Dear UT Community,
Last week, I finally (and with much gratitude) moved past the public announcements and well wishes around becoming the new president of The University of Texas at Austin and started to settle into the routine of the job … if there is anything “routine” about what we’re doing right now.
During the past few days, Gov. Greg Abbott, the U.S. Secretary of the Army and our Natural Sciences and Engineering researchers came to campus to open a new robotics lab, where we will collaborate with the U.S. Army Futures Command. We also celebrated UT’s receiving the Seal of Excelencia, presented to only five colleges and universities this year, for our commitment to Latino students. And, I took part in UT’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life’s Great Conversations, which challenged us to set aside partisanship and reflect on our shared civic values — and was a great prelude to national Free Speech Week, which we will mark on campus later this month.
I also spoke with scores of students, faculty, staff and alumni who are united in their desire to make UT the greatest public university in the country, even if they have different views about how to get there. From my 25 years at UT and first 10 days in this job, I believe that these diverse passions and unique perspectives can and will, ultimately, bring us together through meaningful conversations and actions.
That’s why during the coming months, I plan to engage our campus in discussions about our culture as a university and the shared values that define how we interact with one another. And I will work collectively with you to establish a vision for UT to continue changing the world for generations to come.
That conversation will build on our absolute commitment to UT being a welcoming and inclusive campus where every member of our community knows they belong.
This past July, after hearing concerns from Black students and others and leading many heartfelt discussions with students, alumni, staff and faculty, I announced a series of measures that we have already begun to implement. Although change takes time, we are making meaningful progress. Just last week, we:
approved the first $1 million in new funds to expand student recruitment, outreach and community engagement in Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley to reach and support talented students from underrepresented communities;
finalized signage that will appear on the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building showing its change in name from RLM;
I understand and appreciate the deep passion surrounding our alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas.” As we move forward and continue to perform and sing “The Eyes,” it is critical that we understand the full history of the song, share that history broadly and provide context around its meanings, origins and roles during the past 120 years.
I have asked Professor Richard Reddick, a Texas Ex and Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach in the College of Education, to chair a committee that will chronicle the full history of the “The Eyes” and recommend ways we can openly acknowledge, share and learn from it. The committee will be composed of diverse alumni, staff members, faculty members and students, including current or former athletes and Longhorn Band members, and will draw upon the expertise of the many historians and higher education scholars here at UT.
Our important work to ensure that every person on our campus – regardless of background – knows and feels they are welcome at UT will not be completed in a few months. It will take years – and will take all of us participating. For the history of “The Eyes” in particular, I have asked Dr. Reddick for his committee to complete its work by January so it can inform our conversations about the UT community’s core values and vision for the future.
Amid the challenges around us, so many of you continue to reinforce how many great things are happening at UT with your words, actions and accomplishments. Keep them coming.
I remain committed to our university doing even more, and I hold fast to the belief that you should never bet against Texas. So thank you to those who have and continue to share your thoughts, concerns and ideas with me — and I look forward to fuller conversations about our values and vision during the coming year.
Sincerely yours, and Hook 'em.