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UT Arlington Fall 2015 Faculty Orientation

August 24, 2015


Good morning and welcome to The University of Texas at Arlington and the Maverick family.

You join a tremendous institution with a rich legacy of excellence in research, teaching, and service, with a tradition of access and ensuring student success, and a future that promises to be second to none.

It is not often that one gets the opportunity to join a university on the rise, one committed to becoming not just a Tier One university, but one that aspires to be the model 21st century urban research university, setting standards for others to follow. This is an exciting time, one filled with promise and opportunity, and each one of you will be able to play a crucial role in defining the future not just of UTA but of academia in general, as we implement new ways of engagement that ensure discovery and the development and transfer of knowledge as well as its translation and transformation into socio-economic value.

You have joined an institution with a tradition of excellence, and you join faculty colleagues who have won numerous national and international awards and have achieved renown on the world stage. Our colleagues include Professor David Nygren of the Department of Physics, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences; Professor Nai Yuen Chen of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering; and Professor Ken Reifsnider, also a member of the NAE, who like you is a freshman today.

At a time when universities across the nation are facing financial pressures through decreases in state funding, I am pleased that at UTA we are hiring across the board, and some of that is seen through all of you in the room today. The booklet that I hope each of you has as a means of identifying others who just like you have just joined us shows the breadth and depth of excellence in the new additions to our faculty. We are growing and your excellence underlines our expansion.

I’d like to also acknowledge and welcome new leadership in some of our colleges and departments:

  • Dean Nan Ellin, who joined us earlier this year as the founding dean of a new College—the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs;
  • Dean Morteza Khaledi of the College of Science;
  • Dean Paul Wong of the College of Liberal Arts;
  • Dr. Michael Cho, Chairman of the Department of Bioengineering;
  • Dr. Clay Clark, Chairman of the Department of Biology; and
  • Dr. Hong Jian, Chairman of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Welcome to all of you. For those of you coming to Texas from cooler climates, summer does get over and we do have some wonderful weather in Arlington.

But today, it is about you—The University of Texas at Arlington faculty of the future. Each of you was offered a position at UTA because you exemplified excellence, because you had that something special that set you apart from others. For some it was an innovative approach in a laboratory, a new method of analysis, extraordinary mentorship of graduate students. For others it was a love of teaching and a unique ability to light a spark in our undergraduates, and for others it may have been your extraordinary dedication to others in the community and your belief that knowledge, service, and outreach go hand in hand.

You are a remarkably diverse community of scholars, coming from distinguished institutions, and I have every confidence that in very short order you are not only going to enrich your students, but also your peers both in your department and college, and throughout the University, since we believe in the value of inter, multi- and trans-disciplinary work. In fact, we expect it. As a group you bring a new dynamism to UTA, and we have high hopes and expectations of each of you. Yes, the standards set for you are higher than those that existed before, but the opportunities and support provided to you are greater as well. We not only hope for greatness from you, we expect it.

One of UTA’s greatest strengths is our ability to bring together ideas across traditional disciplines. Our Strategic Plan, in fact, emphasizes this as a goal for both teaching and research. Our new Vice President for Research, Dr. Duane Dimos, has made this a focus and recently initiated an interdisciplinary research program that provided seed funding to five interdisciplinary teams, some of whom had members from three or more colleges.

While we expect very high research productivity and scholarship from each of you, through your own work and that of your graduate students, we expect no less in teaching. At UTA research and teaching excellence are expected to be sides of the same coin, and my expectation is that all faculty will excel at both. I’m extremely proud of the six newest recipients of the UT System Regents Outstanding Teaching Award, presented just last week to

  • Simon Chao, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering;
  • Raymond Elliott, Associate Professor of Modern Languages;
  • Deborah Hughes, Clinical Instructor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation;
  • Judy LeFlore, Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation;
  • Sanjiv Sabherwal, Associate Professor in the Department of Finance and Real Estate; and
  • Jeffrey Witzel, Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and TESOL.

These six join 45 others since the inception of the program in 2008. Not surprisingly, a majority of them have tremendous records in both teaching and research, and many are at the forefront of our engagement with the community as well.

While you dedicate yourself to new standards of excellence in research, teaching, and service, remember to look after yourself as well. Your ability to be a great faculty member is rooted in your personal life, and it is critical that you find time for your family, your home, and yourself. Balance is the key and I hope that each of you pays attention to maintaining that equilibrium.

I encourage you to immerse yourself in the vibrant life of the campus—attend lectures, concerts, athletic events, cheer our students as they perform or compete, come to the College Park Center and cheer our teams. My wife Lisa and I will be at as many events as we can, and we hope that you will join us. Improve yourself. Never cease to be a student. Seek out your colleagues for advice and guidance. Seek mentors at multiple levels both within and outside your academic disciplines.

Although we have a rich legacy and tradition beginning with our establishment as Arlington College in 1895, as The University of Texas at Arlington we are still a young institution, and with that youth we have a vibrancy, a “can do” attitude, and pages that have yet to be written. We look to you to help guide our future, to put wind in our sails, and sprint to levels of achievement others only dream about. As you navigate the waters of academe, remember that we are young enough to change as long as people get involved, and that each of you can have a profound impact on the institution.

Years ago as an associate professor, I complained about obstacles in my path, bureaucracy that stymied my research and teaching, and policies that made no sense to me. One of my mentors at UCSD, Gilbert Hegemier, took me aside and gave me advice that I have never forgotten. He told me to stop complaining and do something, be a researcher, teacher and administrator—make a difference from the center rather than sit on the sidelines looking in. I encourage each of you to do just that—join us in making this a pre-eminent institution. Your efforts, your ideas, your participation—that is what will make the difference between being a good university and a pre-eminent one.

Our Strategic Plan: Bold Solutions-Global Impact was enthusiastically received by the Board of Regents earlier this year. It sets an ambitious agenda with the goal of ensuring that UTA will be one of the “best of the best,” a thought leader and an institution that sets standards for others to follow. With a focus of enabling a sustainable megacity and developed around four themes –

  • Health and the Human Condition;
  • Sustainable Urban Communities;
  • Global Environmental Impact; and
  • Data-Driven Discovery,

The plan fosters the collaborative and cross-disciplinary thinking that our future demands and will help UTA address the epic challenges that face our community—an urgent calling as the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area with almost 7 million people today rapidly approaches megacity status.

This is an exciting time, a time for strategic action, and for re-envisioning the future of academe and for knowledge. You are right at the center of this and have an opportunity to not just be part of an exciting future, but to create it—to reach for the stars and make things happen. I look forward to taking this journey with you.

I’d like end with a quote that has hung on my office walls at various institutions for quite some time. It was originally penned by George Bernard Shaw and then used to effect by Robert Kennedy—“Some People See things and say WHY? I dream things that never were and say WHY NOT.”

UTA stands at the brink of greatness. Let’s dream together, work together, chart new directions, and attain levels of excellence that others did not even dare to dream of. UTA is destined to be the model 21st century urban research university—let’s make it happen together.

Thank you for being here and welcome again to The University of Texas at Arlington.