President Powers Delivers 2008 State of the University Address

Sept. 17, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — The 125th birthday of The University of Texas at Austin is a time to celebrate the many successes of the university, but it also is a time to take stock of challenges, which "are considerable as well," President William Powers Jr. said Wednesday, Sept. 17, in his President's State of the University Address to an audience of guests and members of the university community.

Powers, in his third state of the university address since taking office on Feb. 1, 2006, said the challenges would not be overcome in a single year, "but we can and will overcome them."

"It will take hard work, discipline and perseverance," Powers said. "All of us, from my office to every department and research unit, will need to think very strategically about how we use our resources." He said the university must begin to redirect its resources "into the priorities that really matter," and there is a need to develop new resources.

Powers said he would "continue to tackle our need for more graduate student support" by adding $2 million to the budget for graduate stipends, bringing the annual total to $19 million. He also said he would provide $1,200 per year for travel expenses for faculty members to present original papers at scholarly and professional meetings at a cost of about $2 million a year.

Powers spoke proudly about the university's many accomplishments "since Dr. John Mallet opened UT's doors in 1883 to eight professors and 221 students, mostly from farms and small towns within 100 miles of Austin." He described outstanding accomplishments of faculty members and students who had a stellar year and expressed gratitude to generous donors and the Commission of 125 for their contributions in moving the university forward.

Powers said the university's challenges include four critical areas identified by the university's Policy and Planning Advisory Council, which includes leaders representing faculty, students, department chairs, deans, staff and administration. He said the university is substantially behind its competitors in salary and research support packages to attract and retain faculty and trails its competitors in support packages to attract graduate students. Powers said the university needs space to house faculty, teach classes and do research. He also called for a more flexible admissions standard, along with more robust scholarships, to attract and support undergraduate students.

Powers said his focus with legislators for the new session in January will involve three major areas including increased state funding, retaining the University of Texas System Board of Regents' flexibility to set tuition, and modifying the Top 10 Percent Law for admissions.

"First, we simply cannot compete successfully against the top national research universities without adequate financial support," Powers said, explaining that the university's greatest obstacle today is that it is under-funded in comparison to its national peers.

Powers said the university also should seek modification of the state's Top 10 Percent Law "or we will have a very one-dimensional student body, without students who have exceptional skills not measured by class rank." He said that this year 81 percent of the Texas residents in the freshman class were automatically admitted under the Top 10 Percent Law.

Powers said diversifying the campus continues to be one of the university's highest priorities, and he is pleased with the progress. He noted that curriculum reform is well under way on campus, due to the hard work of the deans, the faculty and the academic staff.

"We received $511 million in external research awards, up 26 percent in two years," he said. "We moved from third to second in the nation in federal funding for universities without medical schools, ahead of Berkeley and Illinois, and trailing only MIT."

He said this also has been a banner year in fundraising, thanks to the deans and the Development Office.

"It's no secret that we are planning a capital campaign in the near future," he said. "Right now, the dimensions of the campaign are not public, at least until later this semester. There will be an announcement very soon. What I can tell you now is that the capital campaign will be big."

The text of the president's speech follows:

State of the University Address
Remarks by President Bill Powers
B. Iden Payne Theatre
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Good afternoon, everyone, and Happy Birthday.

Two days ago we celebrated UT's 125th birthday. As it turns out, this is called our "QuasQuiCentennial." But any birthday is a good time to reflect on where our University stands, to consider the progress we've made over the past year, and to focus on our challenges for the future.

We have come a long way since Dr. John Mallet opened UT's doors in 1883 to eight professors and 221 students, mostly from farms and small towns within 100 miles of Austin. Could he have envisioned that UT would grow into a world-renowned university with 50,000 students, from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries, and would offer more than 300 degree programs? Could he have envisioned that our teaching and research would transform our state and nation, and increasingly the world? We sometimes take that for granted, or think it's just a slogan. It's actually true. We change people. They change the world. We need always to remember that. Our state needs always to remember that.

The core of any great university is its faculty, and our faculty had a stellar year.

Adam Heller and Grant Willson in Chemical Engineering won the 2007 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, our nation's highest honor for technological achievement. Rick Aldrich in Neurobiology, Bill Geisler in Psychology, and David Hillis in Integrative Biology were elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Tinsley Oden, director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, and Mark Kirkpatrick in Integrative Biology were elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. Allen Emerson in Computer Sciences won the A.W. Turing Award, the most prestigious award in computing. Allen Bard in Chemistry and Biochemistry won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry.

Diana Davis in Geography, Neil Foley and Cynthia Talbot in History, and A. Van Jordan in English won Guggenheim fellowships. Hope Hasbrouck in Architecture won the Prix de Rome Award to be a resident fellow at the American Academy of Rome. Penelope Davies in Art History was the Hugh Last Fellow at the British School in Rome.

Todd Ditmire in Physics and his team reached Petawatt status at the most powerful laser in the world, an instrument that creates the brightest and most dense energy field in the universe, and will be used to study matter under these extreme conditions. Jay Boisseau and his team at the Texas Advanced Computing Center brought Ranger online—the most powerful supercomputer at any university in the world and which will transform the way computers can tackle scientific questions. Tom Staley at the Harry Ransom Center opened Norman Mailer's papers and acquired David Mamet's papers for the HRC's world-renowned collection. The UT Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Jerry Junkin, toured Europe to rave reviews. I could go on and on.

Our students continued to excel. Sarah Miller in astronomy and physics won a Rhodes scholarship. Zain Yoonas in Middle Eastern Studies won a Marshall scholarship. Dhananjay Jagannathan won a Beinecke Scholarship for graduate studies in ancient philosophy.

Our staff won awards. Utilities and Energy Management received the 2008 Texas Environmental Excellence Award. Landscape Services was awarded the 2007 Gold Leaf Landscape Project for safely relocating trees. And Custodial Services won two prestigious awards.

We lit the Tower orange several times this year to acknowledge awards for our faculty and students. Lighting the Tower for academic honors is a tradition I intend to continue.

We need more space, and as you can't help but notice, we have a great deal of new construction and renovation on our campus. These facilities are critical to our success. We will need to continue to add space and to renovate existing space for the foreseeable future, and I'm happy we made good progress this year.

We completed the renovation of Garrison Hall as the home of the History Department. We dedicated the Biomedical Engineering Building as the home for the Department of Biomedical Engineering and for other faculty in natural sciences, engineering, and pharmacy. The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center will officially open tomorrow. It has 40,000 square feet of space to accommodate conferences and executive education. The Edgar A. Smith Building—the second building in the Blanton Museum complex—is scheduled for completion next month. Completing the Blanton Museum is a testament to President Larry Faulkner's vision and hard work, and will remain a permanent symbol of his leadership and legacy on our campus.

We are renovating the Bass Concert Hall to expand the lobby and to enhance the acoustics so that it will continue to be a state-of-the-art facility. It will be completed in December. Our Student Activity Center is under way on the East Mall, to be completed in the fall of 2010. We added two upper floors to the project, which will house the Department of Anthropology in anticipation of a new Liberal Arts building.

We demolished the Experimental Science Building, and will replace it with a new six-story "green" building featuring modern, technology-enabled classrooms and undergraduate teaching labs for neuroscience and chemistry. The green features will include day-lighting to conserve energy, rainwater collection for irrigation, and a green roof. We need to continue this in future buildings, and beyond that in our programs. It is critical that our campus sets an example of leadership in sustainable use of resources.

And you've all noticed that Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium has been expanded to replace the old north end zone, using funds from gifts and added ticket revenues.

This is a lot of construction, but we need more space, especially for faculty offices, labs, and classrooms. And there is more we need to do. This will be a challenge for our campus over the next several years.

In many ways, it's easier to change bricks and mortar than to change programs and the way we go about our business. But we made progress there as well. I'm particularly happy to report that we have made significant progress in undergraduate studies and diversity, two of my major priorities.

Curriculum reform is well under way, due to the hard work of Dean Paul Woodruff, the other deans, the faculty, and the academic staff. I'm very proud that our campus tackled this issue in an open and forthright way, and that we have moved ahead.

Attending to our undergraduate curriculum was the first strategic initiative of the Commission of 125. We need to work continually to make sure that we are giving our undergraduates the very best educational experience we can offer, and I think we are going about it in the right way. In fact, during our recent accreditation, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools cited our curriculum innovations as a model for how other universities should proceed.

The core idea of our reform efforts has been not to try to do everything at once. Instead, we created a structure and a process that will enrich our undergraduate experience over time. And we will find funding sources so that we don't finance this reform on the backs of already strained departments and faculty. The central vehicle is the new School of Undergraduate Studies, but it goes beyond that. The process is succeeding because of the deans, associate deans, and faculty in all of our schools, colleges, and departments.

The initial step has been the First-Year Signature Courses. This fall some 2,800 freshmen are enrolled in these courses. Another 1,000 students will be enrolled in the spring. Half the freshmen will experience these courses this year, and most of them will be in small seminars taught by senior faculty. Next year we will have more students in these courses, and the following year all of our freshmen will be in them.

To accommodate these smaller classes, we built six new seminar rooms on the second floor of the Main Building, adjacent to the lobby of the Life Science Library. These seminar rooms will bring freshmen back to the Main Building for class work—not just to pay their bills.

We are also opening a new Strategic Advising Center. It will help students with more than just meeting degree requirements; it will also help them plan for life, and plan for life on our campus. It will add to the excellent advising our students already receive for pursuing degrees in their chosen colleges and departments.

Generous support from Joe Jamail, B. Rapoport, Ardon Moore, AT&T, the University Co-op, UT Athletics, and others are making these new programs possible.

In addition to reforming the core curriculum, we are also offering more research opportunities to our undergraduates. The Freshman Research Initiative in the College of Natural Sciences is putting more than 500 freshmen in authentic, year-long research experiences as part of a course sequence that leads to their degrees. Faculty are engaged with these students in the full experience of research, from concept and lab work to writing and publication. This is an example of how our campus, even aside from the core curriculum, is making the undergraduate experience richer and more meaningful.

The Commission of 125 told us to do a better job of giving our students a fulfilling and rigorous undergraduate experience, and we are. As I have said on other occasions, our late congressman, Jake Pickle, remarked that, when he came to the Forty Acres, he saw the world for the first time in Technicolor. It is critical that we give our current undergraduate students the opportunity—in more modern parlance—to see the world for the first time in high definition. And we're doing that.

The Commission of 125's second strategic initiative is to empower leaders of departments and research centers. In 2006 and 2007, I announced that we were funding new initiatives in the Departments of History and English. Those efforts are bearing fruit. Chair Alan Tully has been able to recruit six new faculty members in History. One of them, Jacqueline Jones from Brandeis, is a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of the Bancroft Prize in American History, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. History was able to increase the number of graduate students on scholarship from 38 to 62. And it was able to sponsor prominent symposia and visiting scholars, and to create the Institute for Historical Studies.

Similarly, Chair Liz Cullingford in English has been able to recruit exceptional faculty and graduate students, including the celebrated poet Dean Young, who will hold the new William S. Livingston Endowed Chair. Young is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As a result of enhanced graduate student recruitment and support, first round acceptances by graduate applicants in English soared dramatically. And UT was host to a very successful national conference on narrative literature that highlighted our scholarship and collections.

There are major advances in other academic areas as well. The Butler School of Music received a visionary gift from Ernest and Sarah Butler. The Butler School has already started a new division in collaborative piano that attracted 80 applicants its first year on the strength of its new faculty member, Anne Epperson.

The Department of French and Italian will be transformed with a bequest of $8.5 million.

The Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences will also be investing in new faculty and student talent through gifts from two generous donors totalling $24 million. These gifts put the Institute halfway to its goal of $48 million. And there are additional commitments by donors for the future.

The Commission of 125 recognized that we will move ahead as a campus mainly through work in our departments and research units. I agree with that, and these are just a few of the examples of how we are doing it.

Diversifying our campus continues to be one of our highest priorities, and I am pleased with our progress. Last year's freshman class was the most diverse in our history, and this year's class looks like it will be comparable. We opened a new admissions center in Harlingen to help recruit students from the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. We hired 37 new minority faculty members and we retained all 11 minority faculty members who received offers from other institutions. The Graduate School awarded 73 graduate student fellowships, totaling $1.4 million, to target broadly defined diversity issues. And this doesn't include the other diversity-oriented graduate student fellowships in the various colleges and schools.

As a strong symbol of our campus's commitment to diversity, we installed a statue of Cesar Chavez on the West Mall to honor one of the 20th century's most courageous civil rights leaders. The dedication ceremony brought together hundreds of people to celebrate his life and legacy. This coming year we will dedicate a statue of Barbara Jordan. These representations give a broader, more inclusive picture of our contemporary world.

This has been an outstanding year for research. We received $511 million in external research awards, up 26 percent in two years. We moved from third to second in the nation in federal funding for universities without medical schools, ahead of Berkeley and Illinois, and trailing only MIT.

We had a banner year in fundraising, thanks to our deans and our Development Office. We received $360 million in gifts, the largest amount ever in our 125-year history, and more than double the amount three years ago.

So our 125th birthday is a time to celebrate UT's successes. And they are considerable. But this is also a time to take stock of our challenges. And they are considerable as well. We will not overcome them in a single year, but we can and will overcome them. It will take hard work, discipline, and perseverance. All of us, from my office to every department and research unit, will need to think very strategically about how we use our resources.

To this end, and to involve campus leadership in the operational decision-making of the University, we formed the Policy and Planning Advisory Council—PPAC—made up of faculty, students, department chairs, deans, staff, and administration. PPAC met regularly all of last year to take a hard look at how we measure up against our peers, and to recommend how we should use our resources in the most strategic ways. PPAC spent a lot of time gathering data, identifying needs, and establishing priorities. I am pleased to report that their priorities were in alignment with my own priorities and those of the Commission of 125.

Four critical areas emerged in PPAC. They won't be surprising. (1) We are substantially behind our competitors in salary and research support packages to attract and retain faculty. (2) We are substantially behind our competitors in support packages to attract graduate students. (3) We need space to house faculty, teach classes, and do research. (4) And we need a more flexible admissions standard, along with more robust scholarships, to attract and support undergraduate students.

We do need to generate new resources for these purposes, and we will. But we can't just wait for others to solve our problems. Moving ahead will take a team effort from everyone in the UT community to ensure that we are spending our own resources on the things that matter most. That is hard for a decentralized campus to do, but we have to do it, and we have to do it without undermining the great benefits of having a decentralized campus where the departments, schools, colleges, and research units lead the way.

We can't do it all at once, but we need to make progress every year. We started in the last two years by putting resources into History and English. This year we will continue, but with wider targets.

First, we will continue to tackle our need for more graduate student support by adding $2 million to the budget for graduate stipends, bringing the total to $19 million annually. We need to continue to do that until we are competitive with our peers.

Second, we will tackle our need for more faculty support with new resources and policies for faculty travel. For every tenured faculty member, every tenure-track faculty member, and every senior lecturer with five years of service, we will provide $1,200 per year for travel expenses to present original papers at scholarly and professional meetings. This stipend will be guaranteed. It will include lodging and meals, not just transportation and registration. And it will cover extra child care expenses incurred because of the travel. This new program will cost about $2 million per year, but making our faculty more visible at scholarly and professional meetings will be worth it.

This is what I mean when I say we have to begin to redirect our resources into the priorities that really matter.

And we also need to develop new resources. It's no secret that we are planning a capital campaign in the near future. Right now the dimensions of the campaign are not public, at least until later this semester. There will be an announcement very soon. What I can tell you now is that the capital campaign will be big.

There are three major items that I will focus on with legislators at the new session in January and that I have already been discussing with legislators since the last session. They are increased state funding, retaining our Board of Regents' flexibility to set tuition, and modifying the Top 10 Percent Law for admissions.

First, we simply cannot compete successfully against the top national research universities without adequate financial support. UT's greatest obstacle today is that we are underfunded in comparison to our national peers. Within our 12-member national comparison group, we rank 9th out of 12 in per student funding from tuition and state general revenue. Minnesota has $6,000 more per student than UT. The University of North Carolina has $6,500 more. UCLA has $7,500 more per student. Since 1990, state support for UT's academic budget has actually decreased by about 1 percent annually when adjusted for inflation. We need long-term, reliable, sustainable funding from our state legislature, and I have been working with them for their support.

Tuition is a key part of our financial equation. No one enjoys raising tuition, but in spite of the recent increases, we are still a good value. UT's tuition is 7th out of the 12 universities in our national comparison group. In the absence of state support that keeps up with inflation, our Board of Regents must retain flexible control over tuition, rather than have it set in legislation. In this process, we are committed to protecting low-income students from tuition increases through financial aid.

And we need to modify the Top 10 Percent Law. This year, 81 percent of the Texas residents in the freshman class were automatically admitted under the Top 10 Percent Law. That's up 10 percentage points over last year. By this time next year, projections indicate that all Texas students enrolling in the fall will be admitted under this law, and some Top 10 Percent freshmen will be forced to enroll in the summer. By 2013, and that's only five years away, we will be forced to reject all graduates of Texas high schools who are not in the Top 10 Percent.

We need to modify this law or we will have a very one-dimensional student body, without students who have exceptional skills not measured by class rank. The musician or the dancer. The student body president, the newspaper editor, or the gifted leader who is in the 11th percentile of his or her class. We must regain control of our admissions process, and we can't do that without modifying the Top 10 Percent Law.

So those will be the main issues in the upcoming Legislative session.

Let me close by asking all of us to reflect for a moment on the soul of a great university, and to reflect on how our University makes this a better world. Today, higher education is facing a challenge all around the country. There are those who believe a university's value is measured only by its short term contributions, by whether we solve an immediate social or technological need. We do that, and it's important that we do it. But this is only a small fraction of what we and all great universities do, and have been doing for a long time. Our biggest transfer of intellectual property, by far, is when we graduate thousands of students every spring and send them into the world. Our biggest contribution to innovation is when we do basic research. Our biggest contribution to leadership in our society, and our noblest endeavor, is when we engage our students in the great issues of human existence: in the lessons of Plato, Homer, Cervantes, Augustine, Dickinson, and Buddha. Of Newton and Einstein. When we instill the thirst for inquiry into the humanities, the arts, and the sciences.

Every technological breakthrough in genetics or computing depends on an earlier generation's basic research in the double helix or quantum mechanics. Every leader today had his or her life transformed on a college campus a generation ago. These are the contributions that sustain our way of life in the long run, and even sustain our economy. In 2025, will Texans look back to our generation and say that we helped build the foundation for leadership and innovation that push their generations forward? I hope so.

We accepted this noble mission 125 years ago. American universities have done this for the life of our great nation, and they are the envy of the world. UT has done this since its opening ceremony on a hot summer day in September of 1883, when Dr. Mallet addressed the faithful 300 who had come to the unfinished Main Building to witness the seedling of a university being planted on College Hill. He told the audience, "If Texas is to have a university of the first class. . . its development must be the result of the united efforts of the people of Texas, of the State government, of the Board of Regents, of the faculty, and above all, of the students of the university."

That was true 125 years ago. It is true today. We all need to nurture the soul of this noble enterprise we call the University of Texas, so it will give sustenance not only in our time, but for our children and grandchildren and many generations to come.

Happy QuasQuiCentennial.

For more information, contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of the President, 512 475 7847.