Archives for May 2012

Best 12 Stories of the Academic Year

Campus scenes 2012 McCombs, Union, Tower and flowers

As the 2011-2012 academic year comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back on a dozen good milestones and accomplishments from the year. All of these achievements, which we reached as a community, indicate our growing strength as a university of national and international importance. So here, in no particular order, is my list:

(Clicking on the numbered item will take you to a related article.)

1. Medical School Momentum
With support from Senator Kirk Watson, the UT System, the Seton Healthcare Family, and others, we now have real momentum toward a medical school at UT Austin.

2. Four-year Graduation Rate Initiative
Our Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates submitted more than 60 recommendations for faster time-to-degree, and we’re already acting on them.

 3. Study finds UT No. 2 in efficiency
Factoring together multiple indicators of efficiency such as graduation rates, state support, and faculty employed put UT Austin nearly at the top nationally.

4. New Deans and Vice President
Leadership is critical to the success of any institution, and this year we recruited four outstanding executives to the campus. Luis Zayas became dean of Social Work; Linda Hicke will lead Natural Sciences; Ward Farnsworth is our new dean of Law; and Gage Paine will become our new vice president for student affairs.

5. Course Transformation
Using new educational technology and new findings in cognitive science, introductory courses in chemistry, statistics, and biology have been energized by experimental formats that increase interaction between students and teachers and among students themselves. And class attendance is up.

6. Big 12 strengthens with new members
The Horned Frogs and Mountaineers joined the conference to replace departing Aggies and Tigers.

7. Stampede
UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center won a National Science Foundation supercomputer grant worth a potential $50 million.

8. Alumni join students in The Project
Texas Exes chapters pitch in to take UT students’ community service project nationwide.

9. UT Business professors, Graduate Programs in Education and Accounting No. 1 in nation
The Princeton Review gave McCombs faculty top honors; U.S. News and World Report again ranked the graduate programs in our College of Education best among public universities in the nation and our graduate accounting program was ranked No. 1 for the seventh straight year.

10. UT hosts Fire Relief Benefit
Star-studded Erwin Center event raised $725,000 for Bastrop County fire victims.

11. Harry Ransom Center acquires J.M. Coetzee Archive
A Nobel-winning novelist trusts his alma mater with his papers.

12. Campaign for Texas reaches $1.93 billion
We expect to reach the $2 billion milestone this summer.

I’m so proud of this university and all it does every day to make the world a better place. Although no one knows what will be on this list a year from now, I know it will change the world.

Posse Foundation, and Texas-OU news

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of attending a function in New York City for The Posse Foundation. It was a wonderful evening emceed by Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes. Posse is a wonderful and innovative organization. It identifies and trains urban high school students and sends them to college in multicultural teams (or “posses”) of 10 students. It began in New York in 1989 and now includes chapters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans. UT Austin has partnered to recruit 10 Posse Scholars a year from the foundation’s newest chapter in Houston. Scholars will receive training from the foundation before they get here, four-year, full-tuition scholarships at UT Austin, on-campus mentoring, and the opportunity to apply for summer internships with Posse’s industry-leading partner companies and organizations.

Posse Scholars not only act as support networks for each other, but also become very involved on campus. They are the types of students who go on to become presidents and founders of campus organizations. The Posse Foundation represents a novel and worthy concept in higher education and will be especially valuable at a large university like ours. We expect great things from these 10 scholars and look forward to watching them develop into leaders at The University of Texas.

* * *

Lastly, I’m glad to announce that we have extended our agreement with the Cotton Bowl and additional five years (until 2020) for the UT-OU game. Those with an appreciation for the history of the Red River Rivalry and enjoy its proximity to the Texas State Fair will welcome this news. I want to thank our director of men’s athletics, DeLoss Dodds, for his good work on this front.


Hook ’em Horns,

Commencement inspires

Commencement 2012

On Saturday night, nearly 8,000 Longhorns graduated from The University of Texas and joined the worldwide family of Texas Exes. It is without a doubt the highlight of the year for anyone involved in the daily life of the University, and we treat it as such — with a symphony and chorale, inspirational speakers, and fireworks.

I want to congratulate every UT graduate and share with you three student stories I highlighted Saturday night:

Nathalie Kalombo graduated with degrees in government and political communication, and a minor in Spanish. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her family overcame great adversity and made tremendous sacrifices on their way to life in America. Her experience with an oppressive state fueled Nathalie’s passion for democracy, and she hopes to one day be a communication director for a presidential campaign. Having just completed UT’s Archer Fellowship in Washington, she is well on her way. Whether she’s volunteering in student government or in her community, she’s inspired us with her passion for what we too often take for granted — human rights and true democracy.

Cooper Neely graduated with a degree in dance. But that’s not what he expected. Cooper grew up in the North Texas town of Throckmorton, population 900, and came to UT to get an anthropology degree. He’d always enjoyed dancing, but his only teacher had been YouTube. Then he enrolled in a theater class, and his professor and fellow students noticed his extraordinary talent right away. He switched his major to dance and soon became one of the department’s leading performers. Cooper is now off to study at the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. It might never have happened if that small-town kid hadn’t come to UT and been open to new possibilities.

Luciano Martinez III graduated with a degree in mathematics. As a freshman from the Rio Grande Valley, Luciano was a walk-on for the Longhorn football scout team, and although he only played one down in his time on the team, he always took it on himself to pump up the crowd from the sidelines. Also as a freshman, he joined UTeach, the nationally recognized math and science teacher-training program. This year, while finishing his degree, Luciano taught geometry four hours a day, five days a week to sophomores at McCallum High School. He’s now considering several teaching positions, but wherever he lands after graduation, he knows what he wants to do. “I want to teach kids math,” he says, “and coach my defensive line.”

These students and so many more remind me of why I chose to make education my life’s work.

Finally, I’d like to thank Secretary Robert Gates for his inspiring remarks and everyone who works so hard each May to make commencement a memory to last a lifetime.

Hook ’em Horns!




Photo by Marsha Miller

Farnsworth to lead UT Law

I’m happy to announce that Ward Farnsworth will be the new dean of the UT Law School starting June 1. He comes to us from Boston University School of Law where he was associate dean for academic affairs.

Dean Farnsworth earned a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University in 1989 and a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1994. He has clerked for Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. In 1996 he served as a legal adviser to the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague. Ward is the author of The Legal Analyst (2007) and Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric (2010). He also is co-author of Torts: Cases and Questions with Mark Grady (2004).

UT Law now has more than 1,200 students and approximately 23,500 living alumni with careers in law, government, public-service, and business throughout the world. We have 24 members of the American Law Institute currently on our faculty.

As a past dean of the UT Law School I know the challenges and rewards of this position, and I’m confident Ward is just whom the school needs at this point in its history. I also want to give my deepest thanks to Dr. Stefanie Lindquist for her able leadership of the school in the interim.


Regents act on medical school funding and UT Austin tuition

As you may have now heard, today the UT Board of Regents took actions that will have profound effects on our university.

The Board voted to allocate $25 million recurring, with an additional $5 million for eight years, to fund a medical school in Austin. This allocation — along with a pending $250 million commitment from the Seton Healthcare Family for a new teaching hospital — moves us closer than ever to bringing a medical school to UT Austin. The founding of a medical school at UT would be an enormous event in the life of the University, would offer dramatic new opportunities for our students and our faculty, and would advance health care in Central Texas.

Nevertheless, I’m disappointed to report that the Board declined to adopt our tuition recommendation. Instead it voted to freeze undergraduate tuition at its current level for Texas residents at UT Austin for the next two years. It did allocate $6.6 million of non-recurring money from the Available University Fund (the endowment from the West Texas oil lands) for those same two years. It adopted our request for a 3.6 percent increase for graduate students but declined to adopt it for the second year. Tuition for out-of-state undergraduates will increase by 2.1 percent for two years rather than 3.6 percent as we requested. The tuition freeze was not applied to any other UT System school.

While many students naturally will welcome the news of a tuition freeze, we should understand the serious consequences for UT Austin and for the ability of Texans to benefit from strong public universities.

Our university is supported financially by four pillars: state funding, tuition, research grants, and philanthropy. State support in constant dollars per UT student has fallen for more than a quarter century. With a multi-year tuition freeze, the second pillar of our funding structure effectively will be cut each year by the rate of inflation. While we appreciate the AUF allocation, it will provide less than half of the increase we had planned for. Moreover, a one-time allocation, however much it might mitigate short-term problems, cannot substitute for stable, recurring, sustainable funding needed to support long-term efforts aimed at student success.

This action inevitably will affect our ability to teach our students and make new discoveries. Our tuition proposal, which was unanimously recommended by the students on UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, was dedicated to fund initiatives to enhance student success, improve four-year graduation rates, and increase scholarships.

As we prepare for next year’s budget, I will work with faculty, students, staff, and our administrative leadership to address how we use our resources to protect the quality of education here at UT.

The University of Texas has pursued excellence and has steadily grown stronger for 129 years. I am committed to protecting the quality of a UT education for Texans, for our children, and for our grandchildren.

Professor Downer wins Piper Award for teaching

Michael Downer

From left, Sacha Kopp, David Laude, Michael Downer, me, and Richard Hazeltine


Tuesday, I had the pleasure of presenting the Piper Award to Michael Downer. Each year, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation selects 10 professors in Texas to receive $5,000 rewarding excellence in teaching. Professor Downer is a Distinguished Teaching Professor in our Department of Physics and a recent recipient of a Regents Outstanding Teaching Award.

Among his innovations in classroom teaching, Michael introduced “Concept Quizzes,” an interactive teaching method that encourages dialogue between lecturers and students and among students themselves in large lower-division classes. This innovation went on to be adopted by other faculty members, was computerized as part of the Painter Hall lecture room remodeling, and has become the department’s standard procedure for large introductory courses. Michael also introduced “Cir-Kits,” take-home electrical circuit kits with accompanying homework exercises for students in introductory electricity and magnetism courses.

In addition to his classroom teaching, Professor Downer has supervised and financially supported the work of over a dozen undergraduates and several dozen graduate students in his research labs, where his students investigate femtosecond laser science. Most of these students have become scientific leaders in their own right in universities, national laboratories and industries around the globe. Recently, Michael and his wife established the Jane and Michael Downer Presidential Fellowship in Laser Science in memory of one of Michael’s first students, Glenn Bryant Focht, who succumbed to cancer several years ago. This fund is now beginning to support the education of new students in laser science.

Professors like Michael Downer exemplify what a research university is all about.

Hook ’em Horns,