October 6, 2016
Well into my second year as president of The University of Texas at Austin, I continue to be amazed by the students, faculty, and alumni who make UT such a special place.
During the past few weeks, two great Texas families made transformative gifts to the liberal arts and to medicine that will significantly increase UT’s impact on our students and on the broader community.
Bobby and Sherri Patton of Fort Worth donated $20 million for faculty and graduate student endowments in the College of Liberal Arts. Bobby — an oil and gas investor who is also one of the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers — was a student in the Plan II Honors program before graduating with a business degree. His time on the Forty Acres taught him the value of the liberal arts in a meaningful and successful life, and he wants to pass that along to future students.
The Wong family of Austin contributed more than $20 million to create the Mitchel and Shannon Wong Eye Institute at UT’s new Dell Medical School. The institute will educate future ophthalmologists and provide the best eye care possible. It will also promote research that improves and preserves vision, and help the medical school achieve its mission to transform health care. Mitchel and Shannon, father-and-son partners in an ophthalmology practice, along with Mitchel and Rose Wong’s other three sons — Michael, Patrick, and Shawn — and their respective families, were instrumental in this gift. The Wong family sees this gift as a way “to pay it forward to the next generation.”
Our faculty members, students, and staff continue to demonstrate their talent and potential. This week I attended the annual induction ceremony for UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, which celebrated seven new faculty members from Natural Sciences, Liberal Arts, Communication, Social Work, Public Affairs, and Engineering. This elite group of educators inspires students every day, forever changing their lives for the better.
Through the hard work of our students, the university has reached an important milestone, with 61 percent of our undergraduates earning their degrees in four years. This is a record for UT and the highest graduation rate among public universities in the state. Yet we have more work to do to reach the goal of graduating 70 percent of students in four years. We will continue to invest in our student success initiatives, and I thank the faculty and staff members who have developed innovative programs to boost graduation rates as we continue to enhance undergraduate education.
One of the most profound experiences for me as president was last month’s 60th anniversary ceremony for the first African American undergraduates at The University of Texas. The “Precursors” faced hatred both on and off campus in the segregated society of 1956. But they persevered, and to this day they remain committed to improving the university and helping the current generation of students. The Precursors are a model for all of us as we work to develop a campus-wide Diversity Action Plan. This plan will define our goals, identify shortcomings, and chart a course to advance our shared values. Together, we will make The University of Texas a more diverse place where all voices are heard and valued.
I look forward to seeing many of you in Dallas this weekend as we support Longhorn Football in the classic Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma.
Thank you for your support and passion for our great university.
Gregory L. Fenves