Remarks as prepared for The University of Texas System Board of Regents meeting on May 12, 2016
Chairman Foster, Vice Chairmen Hicks and Hildebrand and members of the Board of Regents, and Chancellor McRaven — thank you for the opportunity to speak today and to outline my vision and priorities for The University of Texas at Austin.
I begin by sharing the stories of two students here today who illustrate how we serve the state of Texas.
Before she enrolled at UT last fall, Kelsey Mumford had taken college-level classes at her Lago Vista high school in statistics and computer science through UT’s OnRamps program. OnRamps offers dual enrollment courses to thousands of high school students throughout Texas each year. Once on campus, Kelsey was offered a position in a molecular genetics lab — thanks in large part to the skills she had developed through OnRamps. She is now double majoring in biology and nursing. Kelsey is a Student Government representative and an intern with Model Healthy Campus, a collaboration between the UT’s Wellness Network and the new Dell Medical School.
Our second student here today, Gustavo Molinar, came to UT from Houston three years ago, never having set foot on campus before freshman orientation. He became part of the University Leadership Network, a program that has received national recognition for providing first-generation students like him community support, leadership training, targeted interventions, and financial incentives for success. Gustavo has served as an orientation advisor, is currently a resident assistant and a lead mentor, and works as a peer mental-health educator. He has guided 20 fellow mentors through leadership training and initiated, managed, and implemented the first “mental health promotion week” while double majoring in psychology and health and society.
Vision for The University of Texas at Austin
Kelsey’s and Gustavo’s stories are among the 50,000 written every day at The University of Texas. Significantly, their undergraduate education was not only built around 15 hours a semester sitting in classrooms. They are infused with the types of discovery and service that are essential to the residential college experience at a research university, experiences that need to be part of every UT undergraduate student’s four years on campus.
These two stories demonstrate my vision for UT that I laid out to the Board of Regents a little more than a year ago during the presidential search process. It was an honor to be selected by the Board to lead this great university — and much has happened during the past year.
• We have argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend our holistic admissions process and fight for the benefits of diversity in higher education.
• Relocated the Jefferson Davis statue from the Main Mall and are in dialogue with student leaders to improve inclusion and the campus climate.
• Hired three deans; a men’s athletics director, Mike Perrin; a vice president for research, Dan Jaffe; a senior vice president and CFO, Darrell Bazzell from the University of Wisconsin; and an executive vice president and provost, Maurie McInnis from the University of Virginia.
• We grieved with the entire campus community after the heinous murder of one of our students, Haruka Weiser.
• Finally, since the day I started as president we have worked hard in a deliberative process to develop rules for concealed carry of handguns that comply with the law while promoting safety on our campus and are consistent with our great university’s values. I will work with you to continue the process as the Board decides on the policies I have recommended.
Yet even as we address the challenges of the past year and the ones expected to come, we must remain focused on advancing UT to become one of the top public universities in the nation.
With 27 million diverse residents and the 12th largest economy in the world, our state is a global leader in economic opportunity, innovation, creativity and discovery. As the UT System’s flagship university, UT is central to the state’s potential and to its future. We must continually strive for excellence in teaching and research to have the greatest impact and value to the people of Texas.
To achieve this vision, I have three broad strategies. First, redesigning the undergraduate educational experience; second, increasing the impact and influence of our research and scholarship; and third, transforming health care.
Redesigning Undergraduate Education
At many universities, the undergraduate curriculum is structured exactly as it was a half century ago – with students focused on earning semester credit hours by sitting in traditional lectures or laboratories.
This model does not fully reflect the educational opportunities that we know are important for educating students, nor does it recognize the role of technology in learning. We are innovating on the traditional model by infusing research and discovery into undergraduate education.
This will help our students graduate in four years and aligns with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60X30-TX strategic plan, under which students will complete college as well-rounded, educated citizens prepared for successful careers. And I congratulate the Coordinating Board Chairman Robert Jenkins and Commissioner Raymund Paredes for their bold plan.
The key is experiential learning being integrated into the curriculum. We know this works from the Freshman Research Initiative for science students. Today, departments in four colleges are creating new opportunities for students through service learning, internships, and research as part of the degree programs.
In January we launched the university-wide Project 2021, headed by renowned psychology professor Jamie Pennebaker, to work with faculty to create next-generation undergraduate degrees by redesigning courses, incorporating experiential learning, integrating technology, and rigorously evaluating the results.
We are also developing the TEXAS Extended Campus, an initiative backed by the Board of Regents that gives thousands of students across the state and beyond the opportunity to participate in UT learning experiences.
Accelerate and Enhance Research Productivity
Last fall, I announced a 10-year goal to double sponsored research at UT. To accomplish this, I am working with the new vice president for research, Dan Jaffe, to identify funding strategies, including interdisciplinary opportunities and those that involve centers of excellence. I have also asked him to refocus technology commercialization support. We are investing in our research infrastructure, which is essential for faculty members and students to excel, as well as our world-renowned archives and collections.
Finally, UT’s research mission as a flagship university goes beyond sponsored research, and I want to emphasize UT’s role in scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and creativity in the arts. You heard the moving explanation by our student, Haley Parsa, about the role of the arts. This is important to understand ourselves and society, educate leaders who are critical thinkers, and bring the historical, cultural, and social dimensions to addressing the great challenges of today and in the future.
The faculty is at the heart of our education and research mission. The first year of the Faculty Investment Initiative is helping us recruit and retain the professors and graduate students who will drive this research as well as planning to bring in young scholars from underrepresented communities whom we can mentor as future educators and researchers.
Transforming Health Care
My third priority is transforming health care through the Dell Medical School, which will welcome its inaugural class next month.
We received more than 4,500 applications for the class and will enroll 50 high-achieving future physicians. They will begin their medical education in the brand new Center for Health building, which is being completed as we speak. It will be the first of four new buildings, including the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, to open over the next 18 months.
We have an outstanding founding dean in Dr. Clay Johnston. He has hired nine department chairs and center directors, an assistant dean for diversity and more than 200 faculty members including many clinical affiliates from the Central Texas community.
By building a new medical school from scratch — thanks to the support from Travis County taxpayers and the Board of Regents — we have already begun to rethink established, and sometimes broken, models for health care.
A truly great university must also be an international university with a global reach. So I have embarked on developing an international strategy that projects UT’s work globally and brings the best ideas and people to Austin. I began by leading a UT delegation of nearly 50 faculty members, deans, and program leaders to Mexico City in January and have since traveled to Europe to lay the groundwork for new collaborations. Next month, I will travel to China.
To accomplish our goals, there are two other initiatives: entrepreneurship and efficiency, which cut across all the priorities. By thinking like entrepreneurs, we can identify new opportunities, test bold ideas, bring the good ones to scale, and refine those that can improve UT in terms of education, research and even how we operate the university.
All the while, we must be good stewards of taxpayer and tuition dollars and maximize the value from every dollar we spend. This month, for example, we launched a space allocation study to evaluate our physical campus and determine whether current administrative spaces would be better used supporting our core missions of education and research.
In my State of the University address last September, I also talked about the role of diversity, which is a critical element to excellence. UT prepares tomorrow's leaders for a state and nation that is diverse and interconnected. The university and the nation as a whole benefit when we educate our students in an environment rich in the very diversity that has made this nation great. We are working every day to advance this core commitment.
It is hard to believe a little more than a year ago when I shared with you my vision of what was possible. That vision lines up with the ambitious “quantum leaps” of Chancellor McRaven. UT’s plan also aligns with Gov. Abbott’s commitment to “harness our resources to elevate Texas’ higher education institutions as integral participants in our economic advancement.” The governor has set a goal for Texas to be home to five of the top 10 public research universities. Texas can reach that goal — and The University of Texas at Austin will lead the way in doing so.
Texas has the people, the ambitions and the resources to show the world new ways of thinking and solving global challenges. UT is central to those efforts. And as we approach the next academic year and an upcoming legislative session, I look forward to working with the Board of Regents and chancellor, the 70,000-person strong UT community, and the nearly half-million alumni to make that happen.
Thank you for asking me to do this, and Hook ’em Horns!