July 2, 2015
My first month as president of The University of Texas at Austin has been very eventful. I have met with students, faculty members and staffers and have begun traveling the state to visit Texas Exes and other supporters. Having seen every day how deeply people care about our great university, I am even more honored to serve than when I started on June 3.
The eyes of Texas — and the nation — are upon us regarding many issues. Here are a few updates on what has kept me busy during this first month.
Dell Medical School
We reached a major milestone this week in the development of UT Austin's Dell Medical School when the Liaison Committee on Medical Education issued preliminary accreditation for the school. This national recognition allows us to recruit our first class of medical students. We already have received more than 2,000 applications for the 50 spots that will make up the first class beginning in the summer of 2016. Building the Dell Medical School from the ground up, along with our partners including Seton and Central Health, to have a full complement of education, research and clinical care programs makes it unique in American medical education today. The school will transform health care for the people of Travis County, who have our heartfelt thanks for their support.
UT Executive Searches
The university is looking to fill three executive positions. Under the leadership of Dr. Laura Starks of the McCombs School of Business, a 16-member faculty and student committee is searching for a new executive vice president and provost. Dr. Jayathi Murthy, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, is chairing the search committee for a new vice president for research. Dr. Juan Sanchez will be stepping down from that role Sept. 1. Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, is chairing the search for vice president and chief financial officer. In addition, we have three ongoing searches for the deans of the McCombs School of Business, the Moody College of Communication, and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Employee Benefit Changes
Following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last Friday regarding same-sex marriage, campus leaders worked closely with UT System to ensure all benefits-eligible UT Austin employees and retired employees can now enroll their same-sex spouses, as well as dependent children of these spouses, in all health and dental coverages and services that UT offers.
Campus Carry Legislation
There is much concern within the university community about how the campus carry law passed by the Texas Legislature will affect faculty members, staffers and students. The law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, 2016, recognizes the individual needs of each campus in Texas and authorizes university presidents to develop protocols that are appropriate for their institutions. I will assemble a task force later this summer that will work through the coming year to create policies that comply with the new law, protect people's rights and ensure the safety and security of our entire campus community. Our plan will be formed in close collaboration with UT System Chancellor William McRaven and the Board of Regents. This webpage has information about the legislation and will include updates on the task force's progress.
Jefferson Davis Statue
Last spring, Student Government passed a resolution calling for the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis on the Main Mall. After the tragic shootings last month in Charleston, our students and many others renewed questions about the statues of Confederate figures on the "front lawn" of the university. I have convened a task force to examine these questions and propose an array of options for me to consider. The group is chaired by Dr. Gregory J. Vincent and will give me its recommendations by Aug. 1. You can learn more about the task force and its upcoming public forums and provide your thoughts by visiting this webpage.
Admissions and the Supreme Court
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal of the case of Fisher vs. The University of Texas at Austin, which centers on the use of race as one factor in our holistic admissions policy.
Under the Supreme Court's existing precedent, the university's commitment to using race as one factor in an individualized, holistic admissions policy allows us to assemble a student body that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity for all students. Our admissions policy is narrowly tailored, constitutional and has been upheld by the courts multiple times. We look forward to making our arguments before the Supreme Court later this year.
Texas Athletics has one of the finest intercollegiate programs in the country and has long been dedicated to "winning with integrity." After UT launched an investigation earlier this year into several allegations of academic improprieties involving student-athletes, I decided it would also be appropriate to have a complete, independent review of the student services in our athletics departments. The review will be conducted by Gene Marsh, a national expert on academic integrity, who will present his findings to me and issue a public report later this year.
The start of my presidency coincided with the end of the regular session of the 84th Texas Legislature. This was an excellent session for higher education, including UT Austin. Under Gov. Greg Abbott's leadership, the Legislature established a new fund to bring top faculty members to Texas universities — and we are actively recruiting prospective faculty members. Although general revenue appropriation from the state now accounts for just 12 percent of our total operating budget, I am glad to report that appropriation increased 5.4 percent for the upcoming two-year budget cycle. Additionally, for the first time since 2006, the Legislature approved capital funding, including $75 million for the complete renovation of Welch Hall to provide modern teaching and research labs for chemistry. I thank the governor and the leadership in the Legislature for their strong support of higher education.
Finally, please mark your calendar for 3 p.m. on Sept. 17, when I will be inaugurated as UT’s president and deliver my State of the University address at the Bass Concert Hall. A community celebration will follow the speech, and all students, faculty members, staffers and friends of UT are invited to both events.
Until then, I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.
Gregory L. Fenves, President