Research Enhances Teaching

There has been an active conversation in the media over the past few weeks regarding the value of research and its role in higher education. This week, The Houston Chronicle published my op-ed on these important issues. You can read the full piece online, but I’ll share the key points with you here:

  • Our faculty is committed to teaching—both undergraduates and graduate students. In the past seven years, we have devoted a great deal of thought, energy, and funding to improving the undergraduate learning experience. Our Signature Courses for all first-year students are an example of the progress we have made. We have also revised much of our undergraduate curriculum to help develop our students’ proficiency in writing, speaking, quantitative reasoning, and independent inquiry.
  • We give our freshmen a chance to get involved in research. More than 500 first-year students participate in the Freshman Research Initiative in laboratories with faculty mentors. This experience improves their overall success—participants go on to earn higher grades and more scholarships and have higher retention and graduation rates.

We believe it’s important to expose our freshmen and sophomores to great teaching, the tools of scholarship, and problem solving.

  • Research enhances teaching—and it’s good for Texas. Universities enable research that the private sector may be unwilling to support but that has incalculable benefit to society. For example, the research that provided the basis for the creation of today’s lithium-ion batteries started at a university in the lab of a professor now on our faculty. Not only are our faculty conducting groundbreaking research, they are educating the students who will become tomorrow’s private-sector researchers. University research stimulates progress in both the private and public sectors.

All of this is good for our state economy.

  • UT-Austin received about $318 million in state support in 2010-11. It leveraged the state’s investment into $642 million (2009-10) in external research grants secured by faculty. The University generated more than $5.8 billion in economic activity in Texas during 2009-10, according to the Bureau of Business Research.

We grant more undergraduate and graduate degrees than any Texas university. We have the highest four-year graduation rate of any public university in the state. I’m proud of UT-Austin’s stature as a national and global university. But like any institution, we can improve, and we will.

As we explore ways to adapt public higher education for the 21st century, we must make sure that we preserve those attributes that have brought us this far in our quest to be the best public university in America.

Bill's Signature

More Horsepower for Scientific Research

High-speed computing is the fuel on which much of the modern research university runs. It allows us to find patterns and order in what, to the naked eye, looks like chaos. And in doing so, high-speed computing helps us make greater sense of our world, the first step toward overcoming our many challenges.

You know a computer is special when it gets its own name and ceremony, and next week, I’ll help dedicate just such a machine. We call it Lonestar 4, and it will reside at the Texas Advanced Computing Center on UT’s Pickle Research Campus.

Lonestar4

Like its predecessors at TACC, Lonestar 4 will be among the most powerful academic supercomputers in the world, with peak performance of 302 teraflops and more than 44 terabytes of total memory. What those numbers mean is that scientists will be able to better model earthquakes and tsunamis, better predict hurricanes, help with oil and gas recovery, develop alternative energy, and do breakthrough biological research.

Building Lonestar 4 required the collaboration of 11 academic units and technology corporations, and it will be Texas’ largest technology-sharing endeavor.

As a university president, I have a special stake in this amazing hardware because high-powered computing is key to attracting the best talent to our faculty and enabling their work once they get here. Supercomputers are critical to our competitiveness as a 21st century research institution.

Computing power is becoming like a utility, that is, it’s becoming ever more distributed, and as that happens, more powerful. Like gas or electricity in the last century, computing is becoming more essential to social development itself. And just as with other types of energy, Texas and UT are leading the way in harnessing this new fuel that drives knowledge and progress.

No large and complex project gets off the ground without talented leadership, and I want to thank TACC director Jay Boisseau and his team for continuing to make UT proud.

You can read more about Lonestar 4 and what supercomputers are being used for here: www.tacc.utexas.edu

Hook ’em Horns!

Bill's Signature

Playing to Win–on the Court and in the Classroom

Creating a university of the first class is our mission at UT. This week, U.S. News & World Report released new rankings for some of our graduate programs, and I wanted to share the highlights with you.

Our College of Education graduate program is now ranked No. 2 in the nation, tied with Harvard University.  This distinguished rank is the result of more than 20 years of outstanding vision and leadership by Dean Manuel Justiz and his colleagues in the College of Education. UT continues to lead our state in preparing the next generation of outstanding teachers—and the faculty members and leaders who will shape education in the years ahead.

Among the graduate programs that are re-ranked annually, both the Cockrell School of Engineering and the School of Law each moved up in the rankings to number 8 and 14 respectively. You can read more about UT’s rankings on the U.S. News & World Report website.

An academic and athletic ranking also came out this week from Inside Higher Ed. Our men’s basketball team had another outstanding regular season, ranked 8th in the last Associated Press poll.  The Horns begin play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship on Friday, and Inside Higher Ed has created an “Academic Performance Tournament,” advancing the 68 NCAA tournament teams through the tournament bracket based on each team’s academic progress and graduation success rates.

According to the academic performance “bracketology,” UT made it all the way to the finals! You can see the entire Inside Higher Ed “tournament” at www.insidehighered.com.

Hook ‘em!

Bill's Signature

Spring Break with a Purpose

Next week is spring break at UT—and many of our students, faculty, and staff will take advantage of the week for travel, research, writing, or studying. For those of you traveling, I wish you a safe and happy break. Be careful, and check the State Department website if you’re traveling outside the U.S. And take a few moments to review UT Police Department’s informative spring break tips on the Campus Watch email newsletter.

But not everyone will be traveling for leisure or to see family.  Some of our students, faculty, and staff will be traveling in order to perform service projects.

McCombs Leadership Program

One such group is embarking on a business service learning project in Belize.  Nineteen McCombs School students, mostly seniors, will spend spring break at a Belizean vocational school helping local students prepare business plans.  At the end of the week, the local students will present their ideas to the Belize Youth Business Trust. The best presenters will receive micro-loans to start their own businesses in trades such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry.

Volunteer Logos

In addition, our students will be spending the coming week performing service projects across the nation. Coordinated by the Alternative Spring Break student organization, 23 UT students are heading to Jacksonville, Florida, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, 11 are going to New Orleans to help Teach for America, and 10 will be in Chicago, also on behalf of Teach for America. I’m proud of these and the many other Longhorns who are devoting their spring break to making the world a better place.

Have a great week, and be safe!

Bill's Signature

The Capital Campaign and the Biggest Open House in Texas

I attended the UT Development Board today, where we received a progress report from the Chair of the Campaign for Texas, Kenny Jastrow. We’ve now reached $1.4 billion in total gifts for the campaign. Almost 190,000 alumni and friends have contributed more than 627,000 gifts. And 23% of our alumni have made gifts to the campaign.  Thank you!

Before we launched the campaign in October of 2008, some people advised that we consider postponing until the recession subsided. Now $1.4 billion later, I think we made the right decision. We may not reach our goal of $3 billion precisely on schedule, but we’ll get there.  If you haven’t contributed, there’s still time!

Tomorrow we’ll be welcoming more than 50,000 visitors to the 40 Acres for Explore UT, the “biggest open house in Texas.”

Families, teachers, and K-12 students from all over Texas are invited to campus to discover what UT has to offer. There will be hands-on science experiments; lectures on everything from politics to literature, language, and history; and demonstrations of the extraordinary research taking place every day on our campus. Explore UT allows the people of Texas to roam the campus and see firsthand what happens in classrooms, laboratories, museums, and performance spaces. This is your university. We are proud to share it with all Texans.

I hope you’ll drop by. Like the visitor below, you might be surprised by what you see.

Science Safari: UT's NSECT takes participants creeping and crawling into the world of millipedes, tarantulas, and scorpions.

Science Safari: Visitors explore the world of millipedes, tarantulas, and scorpions.

Hook ’em!

Bill's Signature