2022 State of the University Address
September 20, 2022
President Hartzell presented his remarks after an introduction by Faculty Council chair Jen Moon.
An idea can change the world.
The University of Texas began as an idea enshrined in the Texas Constitution. Years later, eight professors and 221 students brought that idea to life, and in an unfinished building where the Tower now stands, they held a grand opening ceremony for a university at the frontier of higher education.
From that idea, our university has grown to more than 20,000 faculty and staff members, 52,000 students and 550,000 living alumni. We have evolved from a university of the first class to a university that is world-class, and today, we’re a recognized leader on the global frontier of higher education.
One year ago, we announced UT’s most audacious idea yet: to become the highest-impact public research university in the world. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “If you do not hope, you will not win that which is not hoped for.”
We are a university that dares to hope and commits to bold action. And we are well positioned to make our idea a reality. Based on the input of thousands of talented and diverse faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners, we launched a powerful 10-year strategic plan called Change Starts Here.
This plan is our road map for turning our idea and our hope into reality. Distilled, it calls us to attract and empower the best students, faculty and staff, take advantage of our strengths and location, foster an environment where ideas can thrive and, ultimately, change the world.
I would like to thank everyone here today for your commitment to this great university. Thank you to our dedicated faculty and staff. Thank you to the Texas Legislature, our governor and elected leaders, and our Board of Regents for your enduring support. Thank you to our alumni, supporters and the people of Texas who help fuel our mission. And thank you especially to our students, who trust us with their futures. Your curiosity, enthusiasm, perspectives and ideas bring this campus to life, and you inspire us with your achievements.
Thanks to all of you, UT Austin is poised to achieve incredible impact at scale.
Our priorities today are advancing our vision for tomorrow, which is to capitalize on this historic moment of opportunity – fueled by the most outstanding people and the burgeoning strengths of our city and state – and to redefine what it means to be a top public research university in the 21st century. Already we are accelerating our investments in students, faculty and staff; expanding university-affiliated housing options; increasing economic opportunity for the great State of Texas; and transforming our teaching and research to achieve maximum benefit for society. Throughout this address, I will highlight important milestones on the way to accomplishing this vision and a preview of what is to come.
Increasingly, UT is the first choice for top talent. We are the flagship university in Texas and among the 10 best public universities in the nation. Dozens of our undergraduate and graduate programs rank in the top 10 nationally. Four hundred twenty-three of our incoming freshmen were valedictorians.
As we attract more high-potential students, we must invest in their success. Scholarships help us continue to provide an exceptional, cost-effective education. We are grateful for the generosity of so many supporters that make these scholarships possible, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation for their transformational $100 million investment.
This fall, UT admitted its largest incoming class in history: 9,109 first-year freshmen. Total university enrollment has reached an all-time high. First-generation college students now make up approximately a quarter of our undergraduate population, and we are serving more students from historically underrepresented groups than ever.
Because health and well-being are proven drivers of student success, we are committed to serve the “whole student.” Knowledgeable and passionate Longhorns across campus are bolstering our mental health services portfolio. We have seen a nearly 30% increase in students seeking help, and through enhanced outreach and new pathways and resources, we are able to serve them. For example, the My Student Support Program provides all enrolled UT Austin students – in over 160 countries – with free, 24/7 real-time and appointment-based counseling services. Additional counselors are reducing wait times and bolstering treatment plans. And we are working to create an environment where we can talk about mental health and help each other before issues become too serious.
I am proud to tell you that UT’s graduation rates have hit historical highs. Our four-year graduation rate of 73% represents a 20% increase over the last decade, and our six-year graduation rate now tops 87%. And, with the help of the Dell Foundation and some very talented faculty and staff, we are closing the gaps in graduation rates across historical divides based on socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity.
Our four-year graduation rate of 73% represents a 20% increase over the last decade, and our six-year graduation rate tops 87%.
Our students want to be here because of our exceptional faculty and staff, which is why our strategic plan calls for us to be a premier employer and career destination. This year, we made a $53 million investment in our people – the largest recurring commitment in UT history. Also, we are accelerating efforts to promote retention, professional development, and health and well-being, from innovative programs like the College of Liberal Arts’ Staff Leadership Academy to a forthcoming paid-leave opportunity linked to wellness goals. Looking forward, we are reimagining talent management with the creation of a new role: the Vice President for People and Talent. This leader, who will report to me, will help transform UT’s approach to human resources, foster professional growth opportunities and strengthen our competitiveness as an employer.
We have stellar leadership in academics as well. As the leaders of our colleges and schools, our deans will be instrumental in helping UT accomplish its strategic goals. In the last academic year, five new deans joined their ranks.
Our faculty are the core of this university and the foundation of our educational and research pursuits. They are a testament to the fact that UT attracts and empowers the very best people.
When we talk about investing in our people, we must include tenure. Tenure allows our faculty to focus on the incredible rather than the incremental. It is an essential tool for attracting world-class scholars that enables them to take on big ideas, work on the hardest problems society faces and strive for profundity, not simply production. Public research institutions have not wavered in protecting tenure, because it provides time and freedom to cultivate world-changing ideas.
In 1980, Nobel laureate and Cockrell School of Engineering Professor John Goodenough invented the lithium-ion battery. Decades later, now we see the ramifications of his discovery: Professor Goodenough’s work powers the laptops, mobile phones and electric vehicles that power our world.
Teresa Hubbard, a professor in Photography Studio Art, began working with collaborator Alexander Birchler in the 1990s. Almost 20 years later, they were invited to showcase their work at the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious and important art exhibitions in the world.
Our faculty members’ current work will have influence we cannot yet fathom, but that work will change society for decades – perhaps even centuries.
To generate transformational ideas, we must preserve academic freedom. Inscribed beneath the Tower are the words “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” As Dr. William Battle, UT’s sixth president, said: “truth and freedom are so essentially the foundation of education, character and progress” that those words are “as splendid a call” as we can make. Pursuit of truth, freedom from prejudice, dogma or fear, is embedded in the heart of any world-class academic institution.
To generate truly transformational ideas, we must preserve academic freedom. Inscribed beneath the Tower are the words “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
No other place beyond a top university unites such a diverse and talented population in common pursuit of knowledge, creativity and impact. Yet when we are diverse without sharing our diverse ideas in productive conversation, we lose that which makes higher education great. We must continue to bring everyone to the conversation and engage with courage, open-mindedness, respect and empathy.
As our beloved alumna Lady Bird Johnson said, “The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”
Today, more than ever, a university must stand as a model for civil discourse. Competing perspectives should sharpen our thinking, not our rancor. Discussion should flourish without discord. Our commitment to freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech, the freedom to teach and the freedom to disagree must never waiver. Removing any part jeopardizes the whole. An education worthy of its name confronts us with new ideas and new ways to view the world. At times, it makes us uncomfortable but, ultimately, it makes us grow. For those seeking common ground, I say we are on it. At UT, we can transition from a heated ideological debate to a stadium where, together, we cheer on our student athletes in the nation’s No. 1 athletics program.
Our campus brings together our incredible people and offers experiences that transform us as individuals and unite us as Longhorns. As we continue to roll out our You Belong Here plan, we are amplifying and supporting the ways diverse people, ideas and scholarship can help UT achieve even greater impact.
From the beginning, the Forty Acres has reflected the interconnectedness of Austin and UT, and we continue to lean into what makes our place special. In addition to our stunning portfolio of museums, libraries, fine arts and entertainment, additional food trucks are on the way, plus even more great live music at the new Moody Center and across our campus. Even as we embrace our history, our strategic vision calls us to create inspiring spaces that advance learning, research, collaboration, and turn them into world-changing ideas. To that end, we are building a campus for the next century. From the recent Gary L. Thomas Energy Engineering building to the Stedman Gardens on University Avenue, the Moody Gardens at the Blanton Museum and the announced project honoring the Precursors on the East Mall, exciting efforts are underway. But perhaps no physical space on our campus is more photographed or recognizable than the UT Tower.
The Tower endures as a beacon for truth-seekers, for academic excellence and achievement, on the very spot where our first learning community gathered. Soon, the Tower will shine even brighter. We are looking forward to an exciting announcement from Chairman Kevin Eltife and the UT System Board of Regents regarding a future restoration and renovation project – the first in the Tower’s 85-year history – that will preserve and enhance its legacy.
As we invest to ensure everyone thrives and feels at home at UT, we have gained significant momentum toward our goal of increasing the supply of housing. In today’s environment, housing is critical to attract and retain top talent. Recently, we have taken important steps toward solutions for undergraduates, our graduate students and our faculty.
Purchasing DobieTwenty21 gives us control over hundreds of additional underutilized undergraduate beds, and east of campus, we have broken ground on graduate student housing. Scheduled to open in Fall 2024, it will provide hundreds of additional apartments. Most recently, we acquired the Boulevard apartments on the Brackenridge tract, and as they become available, we plan to set aside units for a pilot program to help us attract faculty. I am pleased by our progress within the last year, but we are far from done. We will learn from these efforts as we work diligently to solve housing challenges for our people, and these solutions must include increased supply of housing, given the growing demand in our city. That said, we know not everyone can live near campus, so we will all work to give all our students across Austin reasons and opportunities to be on campus.
The National Science Foundation invests more funding in UT than in any university in Texas and more than almost any other university, period – $115 million in the last year alone – and University of Texas institutions ranked number three in the world for most patents granted in 2021.
Meanwhile, our world-class education increasingly transcends our campus. Our Extended Campus program currently serves 85,000 learners annually, and by 2025, it is projected to serve over 100,000 every year. We are using technology to propel more lives forward. Last fall, the new Master of Data Science Online degree program joined the Master of Computer Science Online, and these programs are already serving thousands of students. Today, I am pleased to announce that we will expand our offerings with a Master of AI/Machine Learning Online. Just as our reach does not stop at the campus borders, it also extends to the K-12 space. OnRamps provides dual enrollment and distance learning opportunities for high school students across Texas. In 2012, OnRamps served 166 students. This year, we are serving more than 43,000.
UT is at the forefront of another frontier: the unbundling of higher education. We are crafting degree programs to better reflect our interdisciplinary strengths and allow us to serve more students and serve them better. In addition to breaking degrees into customizable modules, we are enhancing them with micro-credentials such as digital badges that clearly articulate the skills that our students have and make our students even more competitive job candidates. Education is accelerating its shift from a one-time experience to a life-long engagement as we skill, upskill and reskill large portions of the workforce such as those tens of thousands of our Extended Campus learners.
I have talked about our exceptional people and how important it is to invest in their success and bring them together in productive, inspiring learning spaces. However, as a top public research institution, we have set our sights on generating impact, which means we must invest beyond our people and our campus and apply top-flight research and thought leadership toward a better future for everyone.
Our research is among the best and most sought after in the world. The National Science Foundation invests more funding in UT than in any university in Texas and more than almost any other university, period – $115 million in the last year alone – and University of Texas institutions ranked No. 3 in the world for most patents granted in 2021. The ultimate value of our work, however, is its potential to solve great challenges and achieve transformation at scale.
For instance, we have the resources and the talent to take a multifaceted approach to addressing the mounting teacher shortage. While we cannot train or graduate enough teachers to fill the pipeline, we must play a role in fortifying it. The College of Education is on a mission to help, partnering with an Austin school district to pilot an early career teaching mentorship program and collaborating with academic, government and nonprofit entities statewide on research and solutions. Programs and research like these make differences at scale and show the power of a university like ours. Another example comes from Professor David Yeager’s research, which shows that growth mindsets can motivate students to overcome challenges at every stage of the educational journey. His findings hold potential for our teachers, as well. Thought leadership scales.
In that spirit of scalable impact, our strategic plan hones our research and teaching focus in areas that align with UT’s strengths and Texas’ assets: energy and the environment, technology and society, and health and well-being.
UT is widely recognized as the best energy research university in the region, if not the nation. Our portfolio encompasses technologies to meet our current and future energy needs, while mitigating their environmental effects. Nearly 30 energy centers across campus produce research and discovery, and our Energy Institute connects them. Last year, engineers and scientists created an enzyme variant that, in a matter of hours, breaks down plastics that would otherwise take centuries to degrade. This breakthrough has the potential to supercharge industrial recycling and solve one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems: the billions of tons of plastic waste building up in our landfills and our oceans.
UT is widely recognized as the best energy research university in the region, if not the nation. Our portfolio encompasses technologies to meet our current and future energy needs, while mitigating their environmental effects.
Like the Energy Institute, our Bureau of Economic Geology takes a strong, collaborative approach to serve Texas and the world and generate high-impact research and innovations. For two decades they have been an international leader in carbon capture utilization and storage research. Now, the bureau is working with industry and government to explore implementing these solutions off the Texas coast, making coal and natural gas use cleaner while also creating economic advantages for Texas.
Meanwhile, we are pursuing ambitious teaching and research that accelerate technology’s benefits to society – as well as our understanding of its human dimensions and implications.
One current effort holds great potential for Texas and the U.S. Amid concerns over the supply and demand for semiconductors – and in anticipation of this summer’s CHIPS and Science Act – our faculty of engineers and scientists founded the Texas Institute for Electronics, or TIE. This public-private partnership between the State of Texas and more than two dozen higher education institutions – and over 20 corporate entities statewide – will position Texas as a leader in the effort to restore American semiconductor manufacturing, innovation and packaging while securing the supply chain, enabling company formation and job creation, and bolstering national security.
We have a tremendous opportunity to make Austin the next major hub for health care, and life science technology and innovation.
As education and curriculum transform to reflect the interdisciplinary trajectory of our teaching and research, I am thrilled to announce that we are about to make another exciting investment. Over the past five years, our School of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences have established a world-class Robotics research and graduate-student training program. Now, we look forward to introducing a new undergraduate Robotics program, with a goal of getting it up and running in time for this year’s admissions cycle.
While we bring interdisciplinary scholars together, it is incumbent upon research universities to show courage in the ideas we discuss, and to seek and promote the truth. The new Civitas Institute will prepare civic-minded leaders by applying world-class scholarship and thought to the teaching and understanding of values that serve as the foundation for a free and enduring society. Another interdisciplinary research initiative, The Global Disinformation Lab, studied refugee movements from Ukraine to Russia by comparing commercial satellite imagery of border crossings with open reporting. They recently found that Russian state media significantly inflated the number of Ukrainian refugees that entered the country, perhaps by as much as thousands a day.
While we shed light on current events, our teams also illuminate the past. The Blanton Museum of Art received its first National Endowment for the Humanities for this fall’s exhibition, “Painted Cloth: Fashion and Ritual in Colonial Latin America.” In Central America, research teams including art history professor David Stuart are unearthing new knowledge about the ancient world – including the recent discovery of the earliest known Mayan calendar fragment. The humanities disciplines at UT are changing the way we think about the world through their profound cultural and historical insights.
At the same time, we are changing the way we think about the future of health. We have a tremendous opportunity to make Austin the next major hub for health care, and life science technology and innovation. To seize this moment, we are capitalizing on the strong technology environment and ecosystem of venture capitalists, innovators and startups, as well as our groundbreaking research and advances from across UT Austin, including the Dell Medical School.
Much like UT’s original teachers and students, we are embarking on a new frontier – one of health and patient care – with exponential possibilities for Central Texas and beyond.
Some may ask how we will go from a still-new medical school to a top-tier academic medical center, and the answer lies within the power of UT Austin to bring talent together and provide world-class clinical care to this region. We have helped train and attract hundreds of new doctors practicing in the area, including UT alumnus Dr. Charles Frasier, whose team performed the first pediatric heart transplant in Central Texas. Many UT-affiliated doctors now provide care at more than 80 local clinics and hospitals and treat local low-income patients with the very best medical practices. We have more than tripled the number of accredited training programs, many of which are in areas of need identified in Central Health’s Equity-Focused Strategic Plan.
We are also working at the forefront of revolutionizing cancer care. The Center for Computational Oncology, directed by Professor Thomas Yankeelov, is developing “digital twins” for patients, using new modeling techniques to predict the patient-specific responses of breast cancer tumors to treatments such as chemotherapy. This work exemplifies what we can achieve by applying UT’s strengths in computational AI, machine learning and data science to complex challenges.
Unleashing technology-driven life science and health care solutions is part of the original vision for Dell Med, and now is the time to hit the accelerator as a university and as a city. UT Austin will use some of its land to create a district for leading talent to work in startup-oriented lab spaces, push the envelope of emerging technologies, create companies and jobs, and ultimately bring discoveries and cures to market. On this new frontier, patient care, outcomes and innovations that once seemed impossible will be increasingly within reach.
Just as the founders of Texas invested in the idea of UT, we are grateful to our alumni and supporters for continuing to invest in our ideas. To fuel our pursuit of becoming the highest-impact public research university in the world, we announced the What Starts Here fundraising campaign – one of the largest in higher education and the largest ever in Texas – with the goal to raise $6 billion by fall 2026, with $1 billion allocated for student scholarships and success programs. Thanks to our supporters, we are well over halfway to our goal.
As we mobilize our strategic plan to propel this extraordinary institution to new heights, we are grateful to our donors and Board of Regents, our students, faculty and staff, our legislators and government leaders.
To Executive Vice President and Provost Sharon Wood, wherever she is sitting (there you are), I would like to extend a special thank-you for your service to UT. Your leadership has been invaluable to shaping and pursuing our ambitious strategy.
History has shown that The University of Texas at Austin is a place where our outstanding and diverse learning community exchanges, hones, tests and refines ideas to ensure that the best ones go out to achieve impact at scale. In a similar way, that process transforms us into leaders who continue venturing out to the edge of what is possible on the ever-expanding frontier of higher education.
Our ideas change the world.
Thank you and as we like to say, Hook ’em.