September 23, 2020
During the past four months, I’ve had the privilege to serve as UT’s interim President as we’ve worked through challenges and changes that have no precedent in modern memory. These have been trying times. But I’ve seen, over and again, the strength, talent and heart of this community come through. Whether it has been students resiliently dedicating themselves to their coursework in the virtual and hybrid realms; staff members working relentlessly through the summer, on the front lines, to get the Forty Acres up and running; alumni stepping up to support the university and our students in all aspects of its mission; or faculty members continuing to produce world-class research while also reimagining their teaching methods — this has been a collective effort for the ages. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to every one of you for what you’ve done for our university.
Today, I’m humbled and honored that the members of the UT System Board of Regents have given me the honor of a lifetime, selecting me to serve as the next President of The University of Texas at Austin. This is a dream come true for me because it means that I get the chance to go to work with you and put all my energy into helping Longhorn Nation do what it does best — change the world.
As I see it, the job of a university president is to help — and get out of the way when needed! — so that you can thrive. From the alumna with a game-changing startup idea in Dallas, to the first-generation student coming from the Rio Grande Valley to start learning on our campus, I want to make sure that everyone in this community has the ability to maximize the impacts of their talent, share their gifts with the world, compete and win at the highest level and feel that they truly belong as Longhorns. I know we can make that a reality, and when we do, just wait — this university will contribute and achieve on a scale that we have never seen before.
In the here and now, one month into fall semester, we are keeping our focus locked on our education and research missions while doing all we can to protect our community from COVID-19. We have been prioritizing the short term because of the dangers surrounding this disease and the risks it poses to all of us. But as we mask up, social distance and get to work, we also need to start looking ahead and envisioning our future.
One of my favorite authors, Don DeLillo (whose archive is preserved at UT’s Harry Ransom Center), wrote the following lines in his masterpiece, “White Noise” — “It is possible to be homesick for a place even when you are there.” Sitting in my office these days, looking out at a mostly empty campus with everyone wearing masks, I feel like I know exactly what DeLillo means. I miss the Forty Acres as I knew it, pre-COVID, bustling with action and life. I’m homesick for that memory. But what I’m equally aware of is that all of the great things I am missing will one day return, even though they won’t be exactly the same. In fact, they shouldn’t be. We need to use this moment — however strange and unfamiliar — to seek new opportunities and start envisioning a future at UT that builds on our wonderful traditions and all the things that set us apart, while strengthening our operations across the board.
We are based in a diverse and vibrant state with resources like no other and a city that is growing into an absolute powerhouse for tech, business and the arts (we’re already the live music capital of the world!) — we need to find creative ways to leverage these inherent advantages even more. We have an incredible alumni base of over 500,000 Longhorns who are leaders in every field and discipline under the sun — from Darren Walker at the Ford Foundation to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — we need to engage them like never before. We have a world-class faculty that is doing an outstanding job in training the future leaders of our state and nation while leading groundbreaking research — we must give them the resources they need while investing more heavily in retaining top talent and recruiting the very best from around the world.
The Forty Acres is one of the top destinations right now for gifted students and faculty members — I want it to be the destination. We get there by doubling down on what makes us special while growing our partnerships and aiming higher than we ever have before. This will take a lot of hard work, but that’s nothing new for Longhorn Nation. Long odds don’t scare us. Challenges motivate us. Ambition is what drives this university at every level.
I’ve spent nearly 25 years on the Forty Acres. So I know, as one alum told me recently, that you never bet against Texas. I can’t wait to see all that we are able to achieve in the months and years ahead. Now, enough of my talking — let’s go out and change the world!