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My Vision for The University of Texas System

My Vision for The University of Texas System
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I stand here before you, honored by your trust, and deeply inspired by the charge you have placed in me as Chancellor of our beloved University of Texas System. In this first decade of the 21st century, the opportunity to lead The University of Texas System to the very forefront of teaching, research and health care is unbelievably exciting. Through our collaborative efforts, channeling energized creativity guided by classical wisdom, The University of Texas System will seize the moment and transcend the issues of our time.

Our country is at war, and it is experiencing many challenges, including: a declining economy, joblessness, health disparities, a strained environment, immigration challenges, border violence, depleting energy resources and a troubled public education system. Everywhere we turn, the media confronts us day in and day out with disturbing images besieging our psyche. It is exactly at this time that what we need most is clear vision, coupled with the power of imagination, to find amazing solutions aimed at benefiting mankind and preparing our students to become the global leaders of tomorrow. We have incredible resources to imagine better and to serve as the compass for our state, our nation and our international community in moving forward with certainty and conviction, even through these difficult times.

Since its founding, the United States has tied its national pride to the power of education to forge a better society. This has remained a constant through hundreds of years and is just as true in the 21st century as it was at our country's inception. Without question, our universities remain the nation's greatest treasures, which regardless of everything else, have not diminished in value. We must protect this legacy, this foundation of excellence that the UT System is built upon. The question given our challenging times is: "What is ours to do?" not only to continue the power and richness of education, but to take it to new heights of discovery so that Texas serves as a catalyst for positive change. Our universities are critical for a great America and the beauty of its innovative spirit. Congress is, at this moment, asking the National Academies of Sciences to identify what Congress can do to ensure that the United States continues to maintain research universities of excellence. We must also ask this of ourselves, deeply respecting the past, while we envision the future.

Before all else, I believe that we must recognize what should not change in the UT System. As stewards of our incredible institutions, we must cherish what has worked in our pursuit for excellence and what is timeless, despite our open and ever-changing world. Some things should not change, even when the mantra ringing in our ears tells us otherwise. That is part of being an institution of higher learning, passing on to our children the constancy of a rich heritage...what the best minds preceding us have left behind...the teachings of Plato, the revelations of the Renaissance, the genius of Whitman and Emily Dickinson, the history of diverse societies and cultures — the love of learning, which is at the very heart of our mission, our spirit and our heritage. Several elements of this can only take place in a classroom setting, regardless of the ability of the Internet and technology to augment learning. It is in the classroom and on campus that the professor and student exchange ideas through the power of the spoken and written word. It is in the classroom and on campus, that students learn from each other and that we gather diversity so that ideas and knowledge are based on inclusiveness and talent. Strengthening the college environment by attracting the best faculty and staff, by a diverse student body, and by maintaining incredible libraries must continue to be foremost within our every institution in order to provide a truly exciting and inspiring community of learning which cultures excellence.

There is much that we must refine in how we design this community. "What is ours to do regarding admissions standards? is a question that comes to mind. Admissions standards must be transparent and clearly defined by our campuses, while also ensuring that we capture and retain our state's diverse talent. I strongly maintain that we must focus on ensuring that our students succeed upon matriculation both in retention and timely graduation. To have students fail because they could not accomplish the work is harmful. We are giving them further debt, in addition to a potential sense of failure that will color their esteem, possibly for life. We have a duty to educate outstanding teachers who will inspire young students to become life-long learners, build relationships with K-12 schools, replicate the power of the UTeach program and partner with community colleges to better prepare students who require a bridge before entering our universities, so that they can make the most of their higher education. It should be a goal that remediation for "at-risk students" occurs prior to entering our universities. Our hope is that students not only succeed, but excel.

"What is ours to do regarding innovations that 21st-century students can benefit from?" Again, we should use whatever resources are possible to augment the classroom. In a time when every student has as an additional appendage, in the form of a laptop, let's take advantage and use it to facilitate language learning, writing skills, research and communication. Education Secretary Duncan urges educators to consider the report on Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning. He writes: "This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide." Studies demonstrate that online learning is most effective when used as a tool to augment the classroom. We must create environments that foster and incentivize innovations in our educational curriculum towards enhancing student success, including information technology and distance education to also augment student access.

But there are more important ways to facilitate learning beyond simply using technology. I believe that there must be an emphasis on personal involvement of faculty with students, outside their role as lecturer. Professors have a critical role to play, for example, at a dining room table on campus, having discussions with students in their personal capacity. One-on-one conversations are vital opportunities to influence young people. I can tell you that I would not be here today had a professor not taken the time to engage with me when he asked me one day if I had ever considered academic medicine. That brief dialogue influenced me profoundly for the rest of my life. Faculty, in other words, interacting with students outside the lecture halls, play a vital role in building community within a university and in inspiring students to reach their full potential.

I am pleased that our universities have placed a strong emphasis on enhancing diversity among the student body and that we have modified the Top 10 Percent Law at UT Austin through our Legislature, for this similar important purpose. Our universities need to reflect the face of Texas. Our admission offices need to do their part in actively recruiting the best and brightest students from diverse backgrounds to matriculate into our great universities. We want these students to stay in Texas! We must also be concerned about the diversity reflected by our faculty and administrative leaders. I consider it important to inspire and encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider academic careers, especially across the health professions where diversity in our nations' institutions has been an ongoing challenge.

Having identified what should not be changed but refined, we must also make hard decisions on what must change, especially given our times. We must, for example, think outside the box regarding students and their debt as 45 percent of first-time degree-seeking undergraduate students require loans for their education. Why can't we offer a three year learning option for select undergraduates, especially those with advanced placement or dual college credit? This requires outstanding student counselors and innovative curriculums. This would allow certain students to avoid the cost of tuition, fees and board for a year, providing them the freedom to enter the workforce or pursue graduate school a year earlier while permitting the university to enhance capacity and provide additional scholarships. We need to encourage and embrace innovations in education and curriculum that enhance access and affordability while maintaining excellence. Through our leadership, in other words, we are in a privileged place where we must be fully discerning and open to exactly what our students are facing in order to structure an optimal environment for their development and success. We cannot simply proceed with business as usual. The University of Texas System is first rate, but it must strive for continual improvement if we are to achieve prominence as a world-class family of universities.

We have been given the responsibility, by the public, of ensuring that our universities are at the very center of the evolution of knowledge, articulating its parameters in a spirit of excellence and integrity with the highest levels of ethics and compliance. We must prepare students for the changing needs of our world by providing them the knowledge and skills for solving complex problems in areas such as health care, global environmental changes, economics and energy sustainability, to name a few. The University of Texas at Austin is already poised to tap the full intellectual assets of the UT System in developing "game-changing" technological opportunities in energy. Our faculty lead in the knowledge of carbon-related energy and they must be mobilized to address the many issues we are now facing — including important research on alternative energy sources. The economic future of the State of Texas and our nation depends on the viability of our energy sources. In short, UT should be number one in energy research and in other areas ranging from the physical to the biologic disciplines.

The UT System's health science centers are vital to the health of Texas, the nation and the world. We must be sure to take on a vital leadership role in advising our state and federal government on health policy and public health issues, especially as health care reform looms before us. We must be leaders in developing models that improve the delivery of health care — maximizing patient safety, outcomes and affordability. We must prepare for changes in reimbursements for both physicians and hospitals and tap upon the strengths of our collective health institutions to establish best-practice plan models. And, we must think big in the recruitment of the best clinician-scientists to educate our students, advance research and care for the sick.

Exciting opportunities exist both in Austin and in the Middle and Lower Rio Grande Valley to expand the education of students in medicine and other health professions, graduate medical education, public health and biomedical research. These important efforts will improve the health of society at large, and at the same time, add tremendous new potential to many of UT Austin's, UT Pan American's and UT Brownsville's outstanding departments and schools, including disciplines at other universities. Additionally, we must work to ensure that the pipeline of students entering our health science centers remains wonderfully competitive, diverse, open and bountiful. We must ready our students for careers in which different types of health professionals prepare for a lifetime of coordinated and integrated care which is culturally appropriate. Our health institutions must organize themselves to deliver this kind of integrated care for prevention, as well as treatment. Furthermore, through the research currently progressing within our System and at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, we have the potential to have an unprecedented impact on cancer, giving us hope that here, within the UT System, we can solve and make advances to help eradicate the morbidity and mortality of this terrible disease. We are fortunate to have two NCI-designated cancer centers within the UT System: the Cancer Therapy and Research Center within the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The collective strengths of our health institutions provide the UT System an opportunity to be the very best in our world in health professional education, clinical care and research. M. D. Anderson is already the best in the world in cancer care, research and prevention, and we must protect this status.

Each university throughout the System must establish signature programs, or centers of excellence, consistent with our mandate to be an institution of the first class. Our individual universities, in other words, should be recognized as "outstanding" in certain areas — areas which also have the potential of changing the quality of life. We must be leaders in translating new knowledge from our laboratories to the benefit of every man, woman and child. UT Austin must continue to build its excellence in its goal to become America's best research intensive university. Our emerging research universities must define their paths toward Tier One in a highly disciplined way. Tier One status is not just about reaching one hundred million dollars in restricted sponsored research; in fact, it is a product of the work derived from nationally recognized faculty, resulting in the creation of outstanding departments, which in turn attract outstanding postdoctoral students, graduate and undergraduate students. This circle of excellence enhances student outcomes and success. I submit to you that you cannot become a Tier One university without a highly successful undergraduate and graduate student body.

The path towards excellence is equally as important at UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, UT Permian Basin and UT Tyler, and we must work with their leadership to reach their full potential and thus that of the UT System. We simply cannot be everything to everybody. The power of the UT System is to create partnerships, especially among our campuses, including creating new joint degree and research programs. As Chancellor, I will work closely with the System leadership, our presidents and Board of Regents in order to continue to cross parochial limitations in support of broader university goals. We are a family of universities, a beautiful constellation which reflects light on one another.

And as a family, we must be inclusive. "What is ours to do regarding ensuring responsiveness to each of our institutions?" One fourth of our student population, that is 55,000 students, resides on the border at UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, UT El Paso, the Regional Academic Health Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Laredo Campus Extension in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. I recently visited El Paso and was moved by a professor who is doing extensive research in addictive behaviors. The beautiful campus in which she works faces in the direction of Juarez and it struck me as so amazing, and so appropriate, that UT, as it is positioned, has the power to influence such a problem presently crossing our borders and affecting our world.

Our border universities have great potential to contribute to many professions including law, business, Latin American Studies, public health, medicine and the biosciences. Educating students in our rapidly changing international border will enhance the prosperity and security of both the United States and Mexico. The University of Texas System is unique in that we have five campuses on the border of Mexico and we must take advantage of this binational presence. A plan must be designed to identify synergies, between our border universities, aimed at enhancing the education of students among one of the fastest-growing regions of Texas, including advanced professional degrees. The Regional Academic Health Center is already successful in educating third and fourth year medical students and is in the planning phase for five core residency programs critical in addressing the physician workforce shortage. We will continue to build programs of excellence in the years ahead at the Regional Academic Health Centers residing in Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen, and at the Laredo Campus Extension, helping to address the complex health issues confronting this region of Texas and our society. UT must be at the forefront of addressing the tremendous opportunities of our border campuses. If we do not do this correctly, Texas will certainly suffer.

In terms of fiscal responsibility, we should ask ourselves, "What are we mandated to envision?" Texas is at a competitive advantage as a result of its relatively good standing in the economy compared to other states in the nation and also because of the Board of Regents' Competitiveness Initiative. We must seize the moment and recruit and retain the very best faculty from around the world. We are uniquely poised right now to do this and it will pay off for years to come. Furthermore, as leaders charged with vision and mission, we must not be complacent, regardless of our present good fortune, as the economic horizon remains uncertain. We can't solely rely on Permanent University Funds and General Revenue, although it remains critically important to work with our Legislature to obtain adequate state support such that total academic costs can be contained while maintaining excellence. It will be important to work with our elected officials in addressing the best method of financing universities who are at enrollment capacity, as general revenue is so dependent on enrollment growth. This is especially important for UT Austin and our health science centers, with their ambitions to become the very best in our nation. I'd like to elaborate on this a bit more. It is becoming an increasing challenge for UT Austin to recruit and retain its talent based on the current formulaic allocation of General Revenue. To make the point, our nine general academic institutions received formula increases that totaled $72.9 million in General Revenue, or a 6.9 percent increase, not including formula hold harmless or funds moved from an institutional excellence or enhancement fund. A specific look at UT Austin demonstrated a 1.4 percent increase in their formula funding. One can therefore understand their ongoing challenge.

It must therefore be within our mandate to develop better sustainable models that lead to enhanced revenues and savings, which begs the question: "What is ours to do in terms of cost containment?" The power of the UT System yields answers. It has a tremendous capacity to leverage System purchasing power and eliminate duplication — especially with the value of having a unified human resource information system. We must start examining and implementing efficiencies, sharing services where sister campuses exist, and weaning programs which are no longer fulfilling their purpose. Hard decisions must be made in examining how we can effectively control costs within our universities and within individual departments to ensure both affordability and excellence to our students. I will be asking myself and each president to optimize their management and organizational structure, in addition to eliminating programs not adding to the mission of our universities, and to submit to my office a report of substantive progress towards this important endeavor. We must be the best stewards of our resources to enhance our mission and to prepare for a still unsettling economic future. We must be leaders in accountability, transparency and performance. As H.Y. Benedict, tenth president of UT Austin stated, "Public confidence is the only real endowment of a state university." It is our responsibility to take a hard look and track how our resources are actually benefitting student success and faculty productivity and ensuring that every qualified student, irrespective of their socioeconomic background, has an opportunity to receive an education of the first class at our universities. We must embody a spirit of creative renewal and continual improvement to maximize productivity. We must loathe mediocrity.

And, we must be ever mindful of philanthropy and our duty to carefully guard what has been bestowed to us. Generosity is one of the greatest of humanity's traits and needs to be deeply respected, fostered and acknowledged by our UT System in supporting excellence. Governor Clements just gave $100 million to UT Southwestern Medical Center — with no strings attached. It is a tremendous trust and we must be mindful stewards of what has been given to us so generously. This has been close to our minds as we deliberate on the use of the Brackenridge Tract to ensure the intentions of Colonel Brackenridge are met to benefit the mission of UT Austin. I recognize that my role as Chancellor must be one as a visible leader in higher education who will be sought out by a variety of stakeholders for the advancement of education and our society, not only in Texas and the United States, but internationally as well.

Our vision must be great, our intellects strong, our imaginations energetic, and our hearts open, as we answer the question: "What is ours to do?" in these challenging times. I strongly believe that we now have tremendous opportunities to make incredible differences that will have positive ramifications rippling well beyond our lifetimes in terms of how our university will look, and in how it will affect the future of Texas in the next century.

The total impact of the UT System on our world is immeasurable because of the unlimited possibilities it creates. How can you measure that one of our doctors advanced today in her quest to cure a young person's addiction? How can you quantify that a life was saved today by a device one of our physicians developed or that someone learned something that changed how they viewed the world? How can you enumerate that a professor gave a word of advice that changed the course of a student's life? Or, that a poem that was read in an English Literature class stirred a heart, like this sonnet written by W.S. Merwin, which reads as follows:


Where it begins will remain a question,
for the time being at least which is to
say for this lifetime, and there is no
other life that can be this one again,
and where it goes after that only one
at a time is ever about to know,
though we have it by heart as one and though we remind each other on occasion

How often may the clarinet rehearse
alone the one solo before the one
time that is heard after all the others,
telling the one thing that they all tell of
it is the sole performance of a life
come back I say to it over the waters

As your Chancellor, I feel deeply privileged to provide you with a vision of how we can best perform, "the one time that is heard after all the others." What we can accomplish here within our UT System is immeasurable, and has worth beyond what we can ever imagine, armed with the knowledge to understand what should not be changed, imagination to envision what must change, and a deep love of learning and creating new knowledge, which is, after all, the very heart of our System. As your Chancellor, I will work this vision. Our students, faculty, and staff will excel with integrity. And because of the lessons and values learned at our universities, we will be leaders and role models in our communities and the world. We have this opportunity, right now, in this time period, to achieve greatness that will be long lasting, and as your Chancellor I will give you my very best performance. © 2014 The University of Texas System.
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