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A Campaign as Big as Texas: Donors invest record $1.63 billion in support of students, faculty and programs


When Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, gave his first State of the University address in September 1998—at the height of the largest economic boom the nation has ever seen—he raised eyebrows by saying that the university’s capital campaign should not be solely about raising money. More important, he said, was to demonstrate how philanthropic resources invested at the university are leveraged into social and economic rewards that benefit everyone.

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“I suggested it ought to be a time for us to focus on purpose, quality and achievement,” Faulkner says, “and I urged that we foster a sense of ownership of The University of Texas at Austin among all the people of Texas. Without a doubt, we have met those challenges.”

And then some. The We’re Texas capital campaign officially closed Aug. 31, reaching a final tally of $1,626,021,256—the largest, most successful campaign ever for a university without a medical school. Still, Faulkner prefers to frame the achievement in terms of impact rather than dollars.

“The campaign was a collaborative effort,” he says, “one that drew together the expertise, the leadership and the generosity of many people, many groups and many organizations. The result is that the university made remarkable strides in terms of excellence and stature.”

Looking back, the spring of 1997 was a pivotal time for the university, as President Robert M. Berdahl left to become chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. One of Berdahl’s foremost achievements during his presidency, beginning in 1993, had been to lay the groundwork among the university community for its largest-ever capital campaign. He brought Larry J. Lollar aboard as the university’s first vice president devoted exclusively to development—a word synonymous with fund raising in higher education—and together they are credited with building the modern fund-raising infrastructure that exists today.

Though the campaign was well into its planning stages by 1997, its future was placed in doubt with Berdahl’s unexpected departure, followed months later by Lollar’s exit. Fortunately, Peter T. Flawn, a fund-raising veteran who had helped raise the university’s stature with the Centennial Campaign during his 1979-85 tenure as the university’s president, agreed to return to the helm as interim president while a successor was chosen. He appointed Johnnie D. Ray as vice president for resource development and the campaign was started as scheduled on Sept. 1, 1997.

The We're Texas capital campaign reached a final tally of $1,626,021,256--the largest, most successful campaign ever for a university without a medical school.The plan was to raise the audacious, Texas-sized sum of $1 billion in seven years—a goal that would be reached in less than five. The “We’re Texas” theme caught on quickly, the two words succinctly capturing the tradition and pride of the university and the state, and served as a rallying cry for an army of volunteer leaders. The Development Board, key to the university’s fund-raising efforts since its formation in 1937, was augmented by six new regional Leadership Councils consisting of business and civic leaders from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, South Texas and West Texas.

With Faulkner’s 1998 arrival from the University of Illinois, where he had been provost, the campaign began to hit its stride. Knowing when he took the position that fund raising would be a large part of his responsibilities, Faulkner immediately immersed himself in the challenge of getting to know the university’s vast family of constituents. He and his wife Mary Ann traveled throughout Texas and the nation, meeting thousands of alumni and friends and learning firsthand their hopes and concerns for the university’s future. He also convened an executive council, led by the campaign’s volunteer chairman, Dallas banker and philanthropist Ronald G. Steinhart, to serve as a sounding board for new initiatives and to provide advice on campaign-related issues. The president’s engaged, personal style in these interactions would become his trademark over the next six years.

The $1.63 billion raised—representing 520,000 contributions from 130,000 individuals, 7,300 corporations and 600 foundations—has funded hundreds of new student scholarships, dozens of professorships and chairs to expand the faculty, numerous campus enhancements and research initiatives that push the frontiers of knowledge. The campaign has made possible state-of-the-art facilities for engineering, computer science, biology, psychology and the geosciences. The university also was able to acquire major new collections of art, photography and important historical resources.

The campaign was a collaborative effort, one that drew together the expertise, the leadership and the generosity of many people, many groups and many organizations. The result is that the university made remarkable strides in terms of excellence and stature. President Larry R. Faulkner“The capital campaign did a great deal more than enhance university programs, improve facilities and help more young people get an education,” says Steinhart.  “It empowered the university to make even greater contributions to the economic, cultural and social well-being of Texas and the world at large.”

Ray, who left the university to pursue another opportunity as “We’re Texas” was winding down, says the campaign brought home for a lot of people the realization that private support is a part of the landscape now for public universities.

“The campaign gave us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from other universities,” he says, “and to clarify and affirm our identity and values. It certainly allowed us to enlist and engage our volunteer leadership in a way that we’ve never done before. People have a lot more equity in the institution now, and they know much more about us than ever before.”

That increased awareness has translated into a broad range of enhancements. Examples of the campaign’s impact can be seen throughout the Forty Acres and beyond:

The campaign had an impact in almost every college, school or unit of the university.

Chart showing allocations for capital campaign funds to programs and research, buildings and infrastructure, students and faculty, totaling $1.63 billion

The $1.63 billion has funded hundreds of new student scholarships, dozens of professorships and chairs to expand the faculty, numerous campus enhancements and research initiatives that push the frontiers of knowledge.

“We have had several transforming gifts as a part of the capital campaign,” says Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.  “Chief among these were $5 million from June and Virgil Waggoner to establish the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research and a $5 million gift from Gail and Jeff Kodosky to establish an endowment to support UTeach.

“In both cases the original gift made possible the establishment of a program that brought in matching funds from grants and other gifts and that changed the college and the university.  In both cases these programs, in very different ways, are having national impact on incredibly important societal problems. A third transforming gift, of course, is the Jackson bequest which will result in the formation of a new separate college of geosciences, and the opportunity for the university to have a major impact on many critically important earth science issues in the future.”

On an individual level, the campaign has changed lives and opened doors.  For Tracie Harrison, a single mother with a dream of getting a Ph.D. in nursing, getting financial support and becoming a Harrington Dissertation Fellow made all the difference in her quest. 

“The University of Texas at Austin believed in the work I could do,” says Harrison, who did groundbreaking research on the effects of aging on women with paralytic polio and is now an assistant professor in the School of Nursing.  “Most important, however, it provided the inspiration that kept me going when I feared I could not write another word or think another thought.”

As Faulkner intended, the “We’re Texas” campaign has linked in the public’s mind the long-term fortunes of the state of Texas with the quality of The University of Texas at Austin. Although the seven-year effort has officially ended, he says the fundamental truths that made it necessary in the first place are not going away.

“We have made amazing progress, and it’s appropriate that we take time for celebration and recognition,” he says. “But as we look to the future, it is clear that our work is not complete. The university still faces tremendous challenges as we seek to educate the leaders of tomorrow, and private support will always be a primary agent of our excellence.”

Jamey Smith and Sheila Allee

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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