January 19, 2021
Dear UT Community,
Welcome back! I trust you had a relaxing and meaningful Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. That weekend is the typical kickoff for our spring semester, and as we’ve communicated, for the time being, the spring will look much like the fall. That said, I’m hopeful that as we progress through the calendar year and see the impact of the rollout of vaccines, life will begin to return to normal, or at least “near normal.” Sooner rather than later, we can look forward to a reinvigorated in-person experience here on campus.
We learned during the weekend that the Texas Department of State Health Services has designated UT a vaccine hub for Texas. I am proud to say that this is the result of a broad effort by many on campus who put together a compelling plan for how we can step up to help UT and our broader area. This means that we’ll be allocated more vaccine so we can take on an expanded role in vaccinating those in Austin, especially those in underserved communities, while also leading vaccination efforts on campus. Currently, we have been directed to vaccinate those whom the state of Texas classifies as 1A or 1B — essential health care workers and people who are medically vulnerable. Current students and employees can visit our vaccination distribution page for more information about our ongoing vaccination efforts. Details about how to request an appointment for members of the greater Austin community (who meet the criteria for 1B) will be provided soon.
The rollout of vaccines should fortify our resolve to see out the pandemic. As you heard recently from interim Provost Dan Jaffe, we’ve moved all hybrid classes to be fully online for the first two weeks of class. If you can delay your return to campus, we encourage you to do so in order to give our testing capacity time to accommodate those who are returning. For those of you who can’t, please stay safe, get tested, and follow the rules — remember that we mask up and socially distance not out of a sense of fear or sanctimony, but in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility. We will continue to work with the state and local community to monitor the pandemic, and we will adjust our strategies to match the demands of the day. I’m confident that we can help Protect Texas Together while continuing to produce and disseminate knowledge.
I’m sure your calendars are filling up just as mine is, so here are a few dates to note. On February 4, I’ll be delivering my inaugural State of the University address through an audio broadcast that you can either stream or download from president.utexas.edu.
Additionally, the Eyes of Texas History Committee, which I commissioned in October to study the history of our school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” is due to finalize its report by March 1. In turn, I will share the report with you, as we plan a response to its advice.
Finally, I’m excited to announce that we are planning university-wide commencement events honoring the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021. For the Class of 2021, we plan on celebrating together at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on May 22 at 8 p.m. For the Class of 2020, we’re marking Friday, September 17, on the calendar. Both events will include lighting the Tower and fireworks, and other details will be shared with those classes as they become available. Obviously, procedures for both celebrations could change depending on pandemic conditions, but I’m optimistic that we can proceed as planned.
Leadership, Strategy and Values
With the start of the semester, I’m really excited to see three leaders taking on new roles. LaToya Smith is stepping in as the Vice President for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, and Richard Flores is taking on a newly created position as Deputy to the President for Academic Priorities. Outside of the Tower but not outside of the public interest, Steve Sarkisian is the new Head Coach of Longhorn Football. Although their roles are very different, they are united in their quest for excellence, and I look forward to seeing their positive impact on our university community.
Excellence is at the heart of all we do, and for that reason the university is embarking upon a strategic planning process, with the goal of being among the nation’s very best public research universities, competitive with elite private universities, global in its impact, and preferred by the most talented faculty, students and staff.
Through the strategic planning process, we’ll align on our vision for the university and identify new and exciting opportunities to pursue during the coming decade. To champion this effort, I am assembling an advisory committee of academic and administrative leaders from across campus. I would specifically like to thank faculty leaders Bobby Chesney and Lauren Ancel Meyers, as well as administrative leaders Larry Singell and Darrell Bazzell, who will be leading specific initiatives in support of the plan. They will soon begin engaging with stakeholders from across the university, and we will communicate more details on our approach and findings during the coming weeks.
In addition, this semester, we as a campus will be engaging in a conversation about our core values and identities — that is, what it means to be a Longhorn. An important part of this is creating an academic environment characterized by the relentless pursuit of excellence, the freedom to find one’s passion and express one’s opinions, and a belief in the value of a diverse campus that includes and supports everyone. You’ll be hearing more from our leadership team moving forward on both the values work and the strategic planning process.
Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis
To close, I want to wish our state lawmakers at the Texas Capitol our very best as they meet to represent Texans of all backgrounds and regions during the 87th legislative session. For decades, those under the dome and those under the Tower have been working for a more democratically vibrant Texas. And there is a special energy in Austin during a legislative session. I hope you can tap in to it during your studies. Remember, the university’s official motto is disciplina praesidium civitatis, which can be translated from Latin as, “the cultivated mind is the guardian of democracy.” This semester — as we conduct world-changing research, drive knowledge that grows the economy, and encourage robust debates about hard topics — I hope we remember that we always do so in the service of democracy, indeed as the guardians of it.