President's Leadership Luncheon
September 15, 2009
Thank you for that introduction, Don. And thank you for your outstanding leadership over the last 15 months. We're glad you're at UT Arlington! And I appreciate all of you joining me for this conversation about the future of our university.
Let me begin with the big news of the week. As you may have read, our enrollment has increased by more than 12 percent over last year and will exceed 28,000 students for the first time. This includes our largest freshman class ever. And more than a quarter of those freshmen graduated in the Top 10% of their high school class, and more than 60% were in the top quarter.
Of course, this is good news any time, but it's particularly significant now as we're pushing toward national research university status. And this follows the best legislative session we've had in years. This was true because we have a compelling story to tell, and it's also due to the vision and courage of our lawmakers. I would especially like to thank Senator Chris Harris, Senator Wendy Davis, Representative Diane Patrick, Representative Chris Turner, and Representative Paula Pierson for their hard work and advocacy from both sides of the aisle on behalf of UT Arlington.
And let me also thank Senator Judith Zaffirini and Representative Dan Branch for their work on House Bill 51-known as "the Tier One Bill"-which will help us become a national research university more rapidly. This landmark legislation makes funds available now and establishes critical incentive grants to fuel our progress. It is monumental, but it is not a magic wand. "Tier One" is not a title that is bestowed with simply the stroke of a pen. Earning it will require all of our best efforts every day.
During the past several years, we've made real progress toward that goal. And we can take pride in that progress. We're no longer talking about being a "best-kept secret." We're talking about being a best-of-the-best university. And while we may be a long way from Square One, we are not yet close to Tier One.
But that's where we want to go. And I firmly believe we will get there. I believe this-I know this-because I believe in all of you. You've helped build a UT Arlington that already looks like a national research university in many respects.
For example, the newly expanded Engineering Lab Building, dedicated two weeks ago, will attract first-rate faculty members and ramp up our research capacity. And as exceptional as it is, it is only one element of our $150 million Engineering Research Complex, just 16 months from completion and already a sight to behold. These are high-caliber facilities that will add immeasurably to our strength and capacity for that distinctive Maverick research in Engineering and Science.
This spring, we expect to break ground on our Special Events Center. I don't think any of us can imagine how this will transform our campus and the community around it. But what I do know is that this will give us a top-tier facility for commencements, convocations, athletics, and other major events. This is a critical step for us, and for the Arlington community. A Special Events Center on our campus will complement the unsurpassed Cowboys Stadium just two miles away, and add to Arlington's arsenal of attractions.
It's more than new buildings that are transforming our campus. Within those buildings, our research activity has rocketed to heights unprecedented in our history. In the last five years, we have more than doubled our annual research expenditures and become one of Texas' most productive research universities. This acceleration in research reflects the rapid growth of our faculty-both in size and in reputation. We now have endowed chairs in science, engineering, and liberal arts, with more on the way. Our faculty members are recognized as innovators and pioneers in architecture, business, education, nursing, social work, and urban affairs.
And every year, we're recruiting esteemed and diverse scholars and researchers to join our ranks. These talented women and men will build brilliant careers here. And leading them is an outstanding group of deans-including our newest deans, Dr. Pamela Jansma in the College of Science and Dr. Scott Ryan in the School of Social Work. Let's give Dean Jansma and Dean Ryan a warm welcome.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned our record enrollment. However, enrolling students is only one part of the equation. Keeping them enrolled is another. There is no question that high graduation and retention rates are signature elements of a national research university. And for too long, these have been among our biggest challenges. Well, I'm proud to say that we've begun making substantial gains here, too. Thanks to the efforts of many in this room, we've retained over 1,200 students more than last year, keeping them enrolled and on track to graduate.
Now, we still have a long way to go. And under the leadership of our provost, we have developed a strategy for first- and second-year students to help us get there. As we move toward the top tier, we will continue to improve in this area-and in a number of others. But we will never change the essential character and soul of our university.
We may enroll more top-tier students, but we will still reach out to those who need only a chance. We will still help students achieve what they once could only imagine. We will still transform lives through education and empower our graduates to change the world-one day at a time, one life at a time, and one dream at a time. In other words, we may become an elite university ...but we will never be elitist. No matter what tier we reach, the heart of UT Arlington will never change.
We've made significant progress very quickly, and on many fronts. But we are only beginning our mission of becoming a national research university. Within the next 10 to 15 years, North Texas can have two or even three national research universities. Clearly, we want to be the first one there! But whatever the sequence, all three will have a profound impact on the economy and life of our region and state.
Now, how do we get there? What does our road to Tier One look like?
Let me start here: We need more endowed chairs and professorships that will enable us to recruit the best faculty talent. This means bringing members of the National Academies right here to UT Arlington. We're aiming high! We need more fellowships and scholarships to help us attract the brightest students. This means students who will become Rhodes, Truman, and Mitchell scholars.
We're also aware that throughout history, great universities have existed in great cities. That's why it is essential that we have a Tier One downtown Arlington that is inextricably linked with our emerging Tier One university. A downtown with restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, housing, green space, and high-tech jobs that are an outgrowth of our own research. Working in partnership with the City of Arlington, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, and others, we can achieve this. And it will revitalize our city as our university continues to build momentum. I am proud of the partnership we have with the City of Arlington, and I expect great things to come. Stay tuned.
We must also cultivate more philanthropists who will actively join us and support us in our mission. Despite the down economy, we're seeing positive results. Continuing to increase private philanthropy is essential to our future.
On the road to Tier One, reaching one or two of these milestones is not enough. We must reach them all. If we are to become a national research university, then we must exude quality in everything we do. And we can't be content with anything less.
Herb Kelleher, the longtime CEO of Southwest Airlines, had the singular focus that his company would be the low-fare airline. Once, when he was asked why Southwest didn't offer more passenger perks, such as light meals, he said: "Will adding chicken salad make us THE low-fare airline? Because if it doesn't help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, then we're not serving any damn chicken salad."
We can ask similar questions at UT Arlington. If expanding the menu in the University Club doesn't help us become a national research university, then we're not going to do it! If bringing back football doesn't help us become a national research university, then we're not going to do that either!
Becoming a national research university is our clear focus. With every decision, we must ask ourselves: Does this help us become a major research university? Will that get us closer to our goal? And the answer to these questions must be yes. Or we will not pursue these initiatives, however worthy they may be, because time is short, and resources are limited.
We've been making strong, incremental progress. And now, it's time to move forward-not with a brisk walk but with a marathoner's unmistakable stride. To do this, we must maximize every advantage we have. For instance, we recognize that the Barnett Shale affords us a significant resource that most universities don't have. Since January, we've received about $3 million in royalties from natural gas drilling on our campus. We're investing that money in students, faculty, staff, infrastructure, and matching gifts that maximize philanthropy.
However, we're very aware that Texas-and our campus-is neither isolated nor insulated from difficult economic times. In fact, I believe that the 2011 Legislative session could be much more challenging, economically speaking, than the one we've recently completed. As we move forward, we must be vigilant about reducing our expenses and achieving greater efficiencies wherever possible.
We're taking steps now to prepare ourselves for what's to come. We've asked you to be more prudent with travel and purchasing, and you've responded. We recently limited cell phone allowances for employees, which will save us several hundred thousand dollars. There is no hiring freeze-and I hope we don't have to implement one. But we are carefully evaluating all requests for creating and filling positions.
But let me say this most assuredly: We will make decisions that are fiscally responsible, but we will not forget our mission or do anything to slow our progress. And we will continue to invest strategically in initiatives that will help us reach our goal.
Our challenges are real. But so is our momentum. And that's due in large part to everyone in this room. In closing, I want to thank all of you for your many contributions to this university, and for rededicating yourselves to taking UT Arlington to the top echelon of American higher education. I ask you now to remember our mission, and to focus your energies on completing it. We cannot be satisfied with being a good university-or even a better university than we've ever been. We must take the next step toward greatness.
Thank you. I look forward to running beside you all on the Road to Tier One.