Remarks from the Presentation to the Board

Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.

Chancellor, The University of Texas System

Every new chancellor begins the job knowing that the Board of Regents has made its choice with the expectation that The University of Texas System will be lifted to higher levels of excellence. In a fast changing economic and social climate, institutions of higher education that are not continually striving to move upward are losing ground. And, greatness begins with an understanding on a very profound level that comes from an institution’s ability to change as the world evolves.

Given these expectations from the Board and the challenges arising from change, I became chancellor at a very opportune time … because I work with a Board that is devoted to excellence and willing to take bold steps to achieve it.

When the Board announced the Competitiveness Initiative three years ago, it was responding to what Norm Augustine discussed on video a few moments ago. At the request of The National Academy of Sciences, Augustine chaired a committee that produced a report that was released in the fall of 2005. It was titled, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. It painted a gloomy picture of America’s future leadership in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—what are frequently called the STEM fields.

The report detailed our declining position in these fields and challenged higher education to intervene before it was too late. The broad recommendation for higher education was this: “To make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research so that we can develop, recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world.”

This, of course, was a very simple statement. In a way, it is simply a restatement of how we in the United States have always viewed ourselves. But it is actually an immense challenge—one that UT System leadership took seriously from the moment it was issued.

In fact, less than one year after the report was published, and under the leadership of Chairman Huffines, the Board answered the challenge with the creation of the UT System Competitiveness Initiative—an historic $2.56 billion commitment to building the most competitive science, engineering, technology and health infrastructure in the country ... and to retaining and recruiting world-class faculty and students—the human capital that makes the commitment worthwhile.

Since that time, the commitment of the initiative has actually grown to over $3 billion, including: $2.91 billion for academic and research facilities; $74.33 million in Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention – or STARs – program funding to recruit and retain faculty; $21.88 million in Library, Equipment, Repair, and Rehabilitation – or LERR – projects to keep faculty competitive and train students with the latest equipment; $1.87 million to partner with a national lab; and, $1.61 million in Texas Ignition Fund – or TIF – grants to help start new ventures.

Funding for the initiative involves state and federal legislative appropriations, including an historic tuition revenue bond allocation approved by the 79th Legislature, a transformational Permanent University Fund allocation by our Board of Regents, and private gifts of approximately $301.7 million, stimulated in part by the Competitiveness Initiative. The variety of these funding sources underscores the fact that the initiative is truly a public/private partnership for the future. This commitment is timely and critical to the success of the new Tier One legislation and the encouragement that we position all of the UT institutions to achieve higher levels of excellence. UT Austin is, of course, already one of only three Tier One universities in Texas. We need to assure its continued trajectory towards world class status. UT M.D. Anderson is already recognized as the #1 cancer hospital in the world. And we have every reason to believe that more UT institutions will move up to the top ranks—among the world’s best. I believe that in this upcoming decade, several of our academic health centers are poised to be among the Top 10 in our nation.

The basic elements of the Competitiveness Initiative are straightforward:

  • It directly aligns the resources of the UT System with its goals for the future, as laid out in the Strategic Plan.
  • It designates an initial 44 science, technology, engineering and health-related capital projects.
  • It sets aside funding for science, technology, mathematics, engineering and medical faculty recruitment,
  • It maintains a consistent focus on ensuring that undergraduate, graduate and professional students have access to the best faculty and most modern technology available.

The Competitiveness Initiative is, therefore, the tangible manifestation of our commitment to excellence. It sends out the message that the UT System will accept nothing but the best for its students. The UT System will be a global leader for the advancement of humanity and the public good.

And, it drives home that point with several key groups. It tells the national rising stars of teaching and research that the state of Texas and the UT System are the best places in the country to accomplish great things. It tells leaders of industry that we are committed to creating the discoveries and educating the workforce that will allow Texas to thrive in a global economy—and to assist in the translation of these discoveries from the laboratory, to the bedside and, then, to all of humanity. To state and federal leaders it says we are doing more than our part to keep the United States competitive. To the people of Texas, it says we stand with you; we will give you the tools to build a state that works for the greater good. And whether or not you ever set foot on a UT campus, we serve you and we work hard to make your lives and your communities better.

This is our goal. This is our responsibility. This is what matters most to us as we go about the daily business of fulfilling our core missions for Texas. Those are education, research, health care, and service aimed at building a future of unlimited possibilities. This is our job. And we intend to do it better than anyone else.

The report that we will send home with you today provides the detail of what has been accomplished since the initiative was passed. These accomplishments are truly impressive by any standard. In the two academic years that the initiative has been in place, we have:

  • Added or renovated more than three-quarters of a million square feet of clinical, research, classroom, and laboratory space, with almost 6 million more coming online by 2013.
  • Completed 12 major projects, such as the Dell Pediatric Research Institute and the Galveston National Laboratory. The Dell Pediatric Research Institute is a $97 million project which combines UT Austin’s expertise in life sciences with the Dell Children’s Medical Center and will establish Austin as a center of excellence for children’s health and biomedical research. The Galveston National Laboratory, a $174 million project with $117 million of the project paid for by federal grants, establishes the UT Medical Branch at the world’s premier site for infectious disease research. It has already demonstrated its value through its important work during the H1N1 pandemic.
  • An additional 31 major projects are to be completed within the next four years. These projects include the $85 million UT El Paso Physical Sciences and Engineering Core Facility and the $80 million Biomedical Research and Education Facility at the UT Health Science Center at Houston.
  • Our institutions recruited 89 new STARs faculty and retained 31 outstanding faculty members who could have moved elsewhere. Seven of these individuals are members of the National Academies—including four newly recruited faculty members—virtually all of the recipients of the STARs awards are doing the kind of high quality work that is likely to earn that honor. It’s also worth noting that, while we do not have current numbers on this newest group of STARs award recipients, earlier recipients have generated a 7.5-fold increase in the Board’s investment. In other words, we spent $22 million to attract or retain these people who brought in $163 million of extramural research funds.
  • And, the Board has created a series of special UT System awards that will appeal to potential new faculty and researchers as they reward current faculty and researchers. These awards include: the Chancellor’s Innovations in Education Awards, the Texas Ignition Fund, the Chancellor’s Health Fellows, Chancellor’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Awards, and the new Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards.
  • In the two academic years that the Competitiveness Initiative has been in place, undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and health disciplines have increased 7%, with 2,400 new majors. Graduate enrollment in these fields has increased 6%, with 1,000 new majors. And, according to the National Science Foundation, in 2007, the STEM disciplines accounted for 22.7% of UT System academic degrees awarded, higher than the national public college average of 18.5%.
  • We received 74% of all awards from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund for a total of $114.6 million. The ETF is administered by the governor and used to encourage the development and commercialization of research discoveries. We also made 38 awards designed to accelerate commercialization of inventions from the UT System’s Texas Ignition Fund.
  • And, research expenditures increased significantly at UT institutions with an overall 28.6% increase from $1.7 billion in 2005 to $2.2 billion in 2008. One very important fact to bear in mind is that we accomplished this increase while funding from the National Institutes of Health—or NIH—was relatively flat. While our health institutions experienced a 1.9% decrease in NIH funding, they still brought in the lion’s share of UT System’s funding from NIH, amounting to almost $596 million … including 4 Clinical and Translational Science Awards.
  • And our research is producing impressive commercial applications. 71 start-up companies have been created. An example is CardioSpectra, a company that started with collaboration between UT Austin and UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and was eventually bought by Volcano—a spin-off company of UT Health Science Center at Houston. The company developed a fiber-optic light-based diagnostics technology for viewing the thickness and topography of arterial plaques and determining their risk of rupture or heart attack.
  • We also have experienced a 16% increase in new invention disclosures. Licenses and options increased by 26%. And we have had an overall 7% increase in intellectual property gross revenue from $34.9 million in 2005 to $37.2 million in 2008.

I have spoken to you about research dollars and metrics … but this investment is about much more than brick and mortar improvements. It is an investment first in Texas’ most critical asset: our people … and how the work we do today translates to an immeasurable impact on future students.

Now, I want to introduce you to several of the individuals who are making an impact now.

First, Dr. Tinsley Oden. Dr. Oden is the founding Director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at UT Austin. The Institute supports broad interdisciplinary research and academic programs. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the National Academies of Engineering of Mexico and of Brazil. In 2004, he was listed as the most highly cited researcher in the world in refereed, peer-reviewed journals. Also, in 2008, he served as the president of the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST). Dr. Oden will discuss the positive impact that the STARs program has had on his work. Dr. Oden …

After Oden completes his presentation, Cigarroa returns to the podium.

Thank you, Dr. Oden.

Next, we will hear from Dr. Joe Takahashi and Ms. Brandi Baird.

Dr. Takahashi is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a STARs award recipient who was recruited to head the neurosciences department at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Dr. Takahashi’s research interests include understanding the genetic and molecular basis of circadian rhythms, as well as other behaviors including learning and memory. One of his most important accomplishments is the discovery of a gene that is central to the control of circadian rhythms in mammals.

Following Dr. Takahashi will be Ms. Brandi Baird, a graduate student at the UT Health Science Center at Houston where she is engaged in stem cell research. She works in the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases with former STARs recipients, including Dr. Tom Caskey, the director of the Institute and the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Neurosciences. Dr. Takahashi …

After presentations by Takahashi and Baird, Cigarroa returns to the podium.

Thank you Dr. Takahashi and Ms. Baird.

Next we are going to hear from Dr. Denise Park and Dr. Kristen Kennedy from UT Dallas. Dr. Park is the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Chair in Clinical Brain Science, a UT Regents’ Research Scholar, a professor in the Department of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and a faculty member at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas. Her primary research interest is in understanding the role of age-related changes in memory function at the basic level as well as the implications of these changes for society. She has received numerous grants and awards for her research, most recently an NIH Merit Award. Dr. Kennedy is a post-doctoral fellow and research associate working with Dr. Park at the Center for BrainHealth.

Dr. Park and Dr. Kennedy are going to discuss how the Competitiveness Initiative helped draw them to Texas and how it facilitates their work. Dr. Park…

After Park and Kennedy finish, Cigarroa returns to the podium for the conclusion.

Thank you, Dr. Park and Dr. Kennedy. Your presentation, as well as the others we have heard, is outstanding testimony to the importance and success of the Competitiveness Initiative.

Now, we have another encouraging observation from Norm Augustine.

Stay at the podium; begin again immediately after Augustine finishes speaking.

We hope this presentation has been useful to the Board and that you find the detail presented in the written report helpful.

The message that I would like the Board to take from our efforts today is how proud each of you should be for being part of creating and sustaining this magnificent vision for the future of the UT System.

Because of the Board’s prompt response to the Rising Above the Gathering Storm, we have in place a remarkable yet workable blueprint for a future that eclipses even the greatness of the past. As Norm Augustine said, this vision will not be accomplished in a short time but it is essential to our competitiveness as a state and a nation.

Had the Board delayed or deferred its decision to authorize and implement the Competitiveness Initiative, our national economic difficulties would have intervened and made it almost impossible for us to begin now. But the Board did not delay, the Board did not defer … and, as a result,the UT System finds itself in a very strong position to move ahead while many university systems outside of Texas must slow their efforts. Our funding is already in place. Our planning is sound. Even the declining price of construction now works in our favor. And, the budgetary wisdom of our leaders, measured against the problems of other states, has created a competitive advantage for the University of Texas System, with which the initiative can succeed beyond anything we might have imagined.

The fact that we embarked on the realization of your magnificent vision positions us extremely well to be an important part of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute’s work, and to take full advantage of the stimulus funds that the current administration has in place for distribution with the National Science Foundation, the NIH, and other federal agencies. But, more importantly, it gives us the true opportunity to realize the full potential of our core missions of education, research, health, and service. Now, more than ever, The University of Texas System will strengthen its platform as the “university of the first class” that was called for by the framers of the Constitution of 1876 and then pursued by members of the Board since Chairman Ashbel Smith. Our students will learn from the most talented faculty from around the world, preparing them well to become tomorrow’s leaders.

The Rising Above the Gathering Storm report noted that the global competition for economic leadership is deeply rooted in scientific and technological innovation. It offered four critical elements that can reinvigorate the national economy and enhance our competiveness … and require strategic investments: education, research and technology development, competitive capacity, and incentives. These elements are exactly what the UT System Board of Regents has invested in. And not only will the decision made by the Board improve the quality of life throughout our world, but it will also save lives through the incredible discoveries that will come from our laboratories and by the care of our health providers.

The Competitiveness Initiative has given the UT System the wherewithal to recruit the world’s most outstanding faculty to educate our students, to provide us with outstanding health care, and to challenge the imagination of the scientists, engineers, mathematicians, health care providers, and, yes, students who will make the discoveries that change our lives for the better.

I can almost assure you that during your time on the Board, a student will be sitting in class and a professor will inspire that student, plant a seed of interest or even fascination … and that seed will lead to a life’s work—perhaps leading to a Nobel Prize. Because of your work on this Board, you will be a part of making that happen.

The Competitiveness Initiative is nothing less than a transformational gift to Texas and to future generations. We are extremely grateful to the Board for their wisdom, their vision, and their legacy. We now have a window of time to do fantastic things. And we look forward to reporting on the initiative’s continuing success and its impact on the UT System over the years ahead.

 

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