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New Faculty Orientation

August 22, 2016

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

You join a tremendous institution – one that is vibrant, moving forward rapidly with a sense of purpose and on a tremendous trajectory to pre-eminence.  We have 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.

While we have a storied heritage and legacy, as the University of Texas at Arlington we are still a young institution and with our youth we have a vibrancy, a “can do” attitude, and pages that have yet to be written – space for each of you to leave a tremendous imprint.  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.

It is not often that one gets the opportunity to join a University on the rise, one that just joined the ranks of Carnegie R-1 institutions and has aspirations not just of becoming better, but of being one of the very best.  We are committed to becoming not just a great institution of higher education but the Model 21st Century Urban Research University, a thought leader setting standards for others to follow.

As you have undoubtedly read, academia is in the throes of change.  As a community we debate and argue about the future, basing a path on our experiences from the past.  But the world is moving at a very fast pace, indeed, and academe needs to not only catch up but to lead.  At UTA we intend to do just that – 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, the development and transfer of knowledge, as well as its translation and transformation into socio-economic value, and we establish new ways of ensuring that knowledge is shared without the constraints of time, space and location.

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 faculty make tremendous contributions to research, scholarship, creativity activity and innovation.  Just three days ago – on Friday, Kevin Schug, Laura Mydlarz and Sandy Dasgupta were honored for their contributions to innovation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the Tech Titans Awards gala. The only three faculty so honored and all from UTA!  Earlier this month Prof. Junzhou Huang became the 4th NSF CAREER award winner at UTA this year, and last month Prof. Yi “Leaf” Zhang was named as one of only 4 members of the 2016 Class of Greater Texas Foundation Faculty Fellows.  I have high expectations that in the very near future all of you will receive similar, and even more prestigious, awards as you showcase your excellence in research, teaching and service.

At a time when universities across the nation are facing financial pressures through decreases in state funding, we decided to invest in human capital – in recruiting the very best from across the nation.  You represent that investment.  The booklet listing new faculty, that I hope each of you has, is not just a means of identifying others who, just like you, have just joined us but a record of that investment in our, and your, future: 5 full professors, 7 associate professors, 27 assistant professors, 3 visiting assistant professors, 3 assistant professors of practice, 6 clinical assistant professors, 5 lecturers, and 4 senior lecturers – and I was told that the list was incomplete since we have hired more since the time the booklet was sent for printing - and all of you represent the highest levels of excellence.

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

  • Dean Peter Crouch of the College of Engineering,
  • Dean Teresa Doughty of the College of Education,
  • Dr. Mahyar Arefi, founding Chair of the Dept. of Planning and Landscape Architecture, and
  • Dr. Scott Palmer, Chair of the Department of History.

My heartfelt congratulations to each of you on your appointments.  Welcome to all of you.

Those 60 + faculty lines, many of them being net new, were developed through an extensive and deliberative process that was based on our strategic plan integrating research and teaching across disciplinary bounds. You may wonder why we focused on our four guiding themes on the first page of the booklet.  Well – here’s the reason:  In mid-fall semester of last year each Dean was asked to submit for their College a list of top priority positions aligned with one or more of the Strategic Theme areas.  Each proposal was reviewed by the Provost and Vice President for Research and they selected the slots that you now occupy.  Each position description was based not solely on a need for teaching as would have been done traditionally, but rather also on how the selected individual would contribute to the Strategic Themes – and yes – each of you have one or more against your names and that’s the basis on which your performance will be assessed.  A number of you hold spots that were deemed important by multiple Colleges.  Universities talk about inter- and cross-disciplinary appointments – you are the first set hired on the basis of a matrix – with the primary goal being the theme area and the secondary one being your home discipline.  The goal is to cut through barriers, boundaries and constraints.  Each of you not only has a home that is disciplinary but you have a research theme (or two, or three) that integrates faculty across our departments and colleges.  You represent a new way for the university and you bear on your shoulders the weight of our investment – in you, for our students, and for the future of this institution. 

As a group you bring a new dynamism to UTA.  Among you are leaders in urban resilience and project complexity, special education, digital storytelling, systems modeling of health care organizations, manufacturing of nano-materials and non-destructive evaluation, treatment of cancer and development medical imaging probes, immunology and survival analysis, high performance computing and the relationship between humans and emotional robots, and so many more areas of intense discovery and inquiry.

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.

Today, and from this point on, 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.  It may have been your ability to develop complex modeling approaches for sequencing of data, or the use of social media in employment settings, or the facilitation of high quality math instruction.  Irrespective of the area of your specialization you all share a commonality – a love for innovation and discovery, a tremendous passion for the development and teaching of knowledge – the unique ability to light a spark in our undergraduate and graduate students, and an extraordinary dedication to engaging the community.  We are an urban university and you help fulfill our vision of being a pre-eminent location that inspires bold solutions with global impact through creative scholarship, transformative access, and collaborative learning.  This is UTA – engaged, impactful, and a leader.

At UTA we believe that excellence in research and teaching are two sides of the same coin, one cannot exist without the other.  We also believe passionately in access – ensuring an opportunity to excel for each student.  The incoming levels of our students are not as important as what we do to help them reach, and exceed, their potential while they are at UTA.  And the dedication and success of our faculty in enabling excellence in students is highlighted among other aspects by the number of degrees we award.  In the 2015-2016 academic year we awarded more than 11,500 degrees making UTA the third largest developer in the State of intellectual capital and highly sought after students for the workforce.  Now that’s impact.

Our value and worth is reflected largely though the success of our students and our ability to work as a team driven by the need to ensure a better future for all we serve.  These aspirations are highlighted through core values of UTA expressed as 5 pairs of 10 characteristics that we hold dear

  • Access and Success
  • Opportunity and Excellence
  • Inclusiveness and Diversity
  • Mavericks and Innovators
  • Collegiality and Collaboration

As you make this your home I hope you will come to cherish them as well and use them to set new horizons for academia. 

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.

Strive to constantly 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.  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 preeminent institution.  Your efforts, your ideas, your participation – that is what will make the difference between being a good university and a pre-eminent one.

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.  Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of welcoming a set of tremendous students to UTA – the latest cohort of Terry scholars and I’m going to ask you to do just what I asked of them   – to reach for the stars and make things happen.  There is nothing that any of you cannot do, so spread your wings, stretch for the stars and beyond, believe that you can be the very best in your field, and make the impossible – possible.  That is the Maverick way – to dream big and act making the promise of a future a reality, and as of today you are members of the Maverick family so I expect nothing less.

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.