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UT System Chancellor's Council Executive Committee Business Meeting

January 23, 2015


Chancellor and Mrs. McRaven, Dr. and Mrs. Alexander, ladies and gentlemen—good morning. It’s an honor and a privilege for me to speak to you. If I were wise, I’d stop right now and just tell you that the two individuals you heard from earlier epitomize UT Arlington and that no more words were needed to describe us. Whether it is

  • Emmanuel, or
  • Ashley, herself a UT Arlington alumna who not only excelled in class but also on the basketball court and then served with distinction as a student regent, or
  • Jessica Stevens, Erica Castillo, and Elijah Stevens—our Goldwater Scholars in the last three years, or
  • the undergraduate microrobotics team that won first place at an international robotics competition in Hong Kong, beating other teams made up of graduate students and post-docs last fall,

our students represent the very best. This is UT Arlington—diverse, innovative, excelling in all we put our minds to—and first-choice. This is who we are, and this is who we aspire to be—the best of the best—setting standards that others will follow.

It is students and alumni such as Emmanuel and Ashley who drew me to UT Arlington in the first place—motivated, driven to succeed, not knowing the word “impossible.” During one of my interviews just about two years ago in a conference room at DFW Airport, I think it was either Frank Alexander or Shirlee Gandy who asked what drew me to UT Arlington. The reasons I gave at that time are even more relevant today. UT Arlington is a young university with a tremendous legacy, one that is innovative and uniquely situated in a metroplex that is growing in population and economic wealth. We are poised to solve some of the most pressing issues facing higher education today—access, affordability, and excellence.

I’m an academic, and an engineer, and hence numbers mean a lot me (SLIDE 2). Here are a few that stick in my mind: $31.6 billion, $3.6 billion, $1.1 billion, eighth, and first. I’d like you to keep these numbers in mind. I’ll come back to them later, but these are among the reasons why I’m so excited about UT Arlington.

The enduring greatness of this University will be built in many ways: 

  • outstanding faculty whose teaching inspires our students and whose research and creative activity generate solutions to the world’s biggest challenges;
  • academic programs that are future-focused and innovative;
  • partnerships with private and governmental entities that accelerate our research enterprise and deepen our positive community impact;
  • dedicated staff and administrators who share this strategic vision and apply it with an entrepreneurial spirit;
  • and most of all, our students, who represent the promise of the future, the vision of achievements and success, the ability to dream lofty dreams and to change lives through their education.

Let me ask you to imagine a time 50 years ago when the Chancellor’s Council was founded and we joined the UT system. Arlington had a population of just over 120,000, and Arlington State College, as the institution was then known, had an enrollment of about 11,000. Fast forward to today. (Slide 3) UT Arlington is located in the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the nation with a population of about 7 million, growing at the rate of one person every five minutes. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington economy ranked sixth in the nation in 2013 at $440.1 billion, serving as headquarters to a large number of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. (Slide 4) UT Arlington has also grown from a small college to a university of choice.

With a total degree-seeking population of just over 47,000, UT Arlington is the second- largest academic campus in the UT System and among the five largest in the state of Texas, serving students from across the state, from all 50 states in the nation, and from over 120 countries across the globe. We are representative of a true urban university, drawing both freshmen directly from high school and transfers from community colleges and other institutions. In fact, over 60 percent of our class of new incoming students every year come to us as transfer students. It’s a unique institution, one where scholarship, research, and creative activity thrive. It’s a place where excellence in research and teaching are balanced and move forward in symphony.

We are an institution of unlimited opportunities and boundless potential. Less than 50 years old, we are a young institution and with that youth, we have a vibrancy, a “can-do” attitude, and pages yet to be written about our accomplishments. We draw our strength and perspectives from the arts, humanities, and social sciences as well as from science, technology, and the professions. Over the past year and a half, we have been engaged in strategic planning, developing a vision for UT Arlington that will take us from good to pre-eminence, building on the solid foundations of the past, the achievements of the present, and the opportunities of the future, including those pertaining to our unique location. We have a bold vision and understand that to reach our potential, we have to have global impact. We are indeed a University of IDEAS—establishing ourselves as a leader in innovation, diversity, excellence, access, and student success—the model 21st century urban research university.

(Slide 5) Named one of only six Next Generation Universities in 2013 by the New America Foundation, we are continuously improving our ability to provide a top-notch education to students using modalities that are the most convenient to them. Almost 31 percent of our student population is served online. And we are at the cutting edge of the use of technology—not just to ensure a very high quality distance education, but to enable the use of simulations as a part of training such as of nurses through our SMART hospital and to improve learning in conventional classrooms. There is no doubt that the youth of today are wired differently from you and me. They multitask, are visually stimulated, and absorb large amounts of data in short, intense bursts. One could argue that they absorb information and learn as if in a video game. Through faculty such as Dr. George Siemens, who, by the way, was the originator of the term MOOC, and Dr. Pete Smith, we are engaged in research aimed at studying the efficacy of digital learning and of other modalities involving technology-augmented learning funded by a number of organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Universities today have a responsibility not only to develop and deliver knowledge, but also to transform it, to ensure that what we do adds to the intellectual, technological, and socio-economic well-being of the region and nation. Last night we had dinner at the Ashton Depot, which was adjacent to the UT Arlington Fort Worth Center—the hub of our educational activity in Fort Worth. A little further away, but still in Fort Worth, is The University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute, which focuses on ensuring strong collaborations and partnerships with the corporate sector to ensure the transfer of our knowledge and discoveries to the “real world.” We are focused on ensuring a continuum of research from fundamental and applied to translational. Faculty such as J.-C. Chiao, Dan Popa, Frank Lewis, and a host of others under the leadership of Dr. Mickey McCabe are making this happen, decreasing the disconnect in language and time between academe and the corporate world. For those in business who have complained of academe being slow to respond and inflexible, consider a university that moves at your pace and understands that intellectual property is only of value if it is commercialized rather than sitting on our industry shelves. This is UT Arlington.

Our level of commitment to this facet—invention, technology transfer, and innovation—is perhaps best exemplified by the recognition of 10 faculty from our Colleges of Engineering, Science, and Nursing and Health Innovation by the newly established National Academy of Inventors. This not only positions us well, but emphasizes our commitment to ensuring the transformation of knowledge into products, and hence being part of the economic generation activity of a region.

While we are growing in size, we are also focused on ensuring an inclusive campus. (Slide 6) For the second year in a row, UT Arlington ranks fifth among national universities for undergraduate diversity. About 27 percent of our undergraduates this fall are Hispanic—up from 25 percent last fall. About 15 percent are African-American, 10 percent are Asian-American, and about 12 percent are international students. Our campus population mirrors the demographic trends of the region, and this provides us a tremendous opportunity to set new standards for excellence in diversity and inclusion. The diversity of this campus is one of our institution’s points of pride today, and it will always be a characteristic of UTA in the future. It will always matter because diversity, in its broadest sense, is what makes us a great institution.

We are diverse, and we are growing in both size and level of excellence. (Slide 7) Our enrollment has grown significantly over the last few years, a clear indication of success, especially when one considers that the yield—the percentage of students who accept an offer of admission—has increased in a highly competitive environment. UT Arlington’s yield is now only 4.9 percentage points behind UT Austin’s. UT Arlington’s degree-production ratio continues to be the highest of all institutions in the UT system. This figure is determined by the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in a year divided by the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled four years earlier. We are justifiably proud of our commitment to ensuring affordability, excellence, and access. This is what the very best public universities aspire to: access to excellence that enables transformation of the world—Lincoln's living legacy—the triumph of human potential, merit over class and status.

The quality of our faculty continues to increase with more of our faculty gaining international recognition and honors and this, in turn, serves to attract the very best to us as well. Our High Energy Physics Group, for example, is internationally recognized for its computational work related to the Large Hadron Collider. The group’s reputation resulted in David Nygren, a member of the National Academy of Science and one of the foremost particle physicists in the nation, leaving Lawrence Labs at UC Berkeley last fall to join us. One member in the National Academy of Science, two in the National Academy of Engineering, and 10 in the National Academy of Inventors complement our talented students who every day reach new heights of excellence. Frankly, I’m extremely happy I do not have to compete with them—I wouldn’t know where to start.

Education is truly the great equalizer. (Slide 8) Today more than ever before, our ability to guarantee access for our youth to a world-class higher education is a national concern. It’s not just providing them opportunities; it’s about ensuring that the U.S. remains in the forefront in a globally competitive economy. At UT Arlington, we have recommitted ourselves to ensuring access, affordability, and excellence, and we are developing new and innovative programs to build pipelines and pathways ensuring that the state of Texas will be served both by a career-ready workforce and a highly educated citizenry.

From our Go Centers in schools, to our innovative Bound for Success programs with the Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Mansfield Independent School Districts—which provide motivation and support for the top 25 percent of rising juniors guaranteed admission to UTA—to our new STEM Academy, we are focused on partnerships aimed at student success just as we are on their success after they join our institution. Thousands of students in schools are impacted through these partnerships every year. Recognizing that not all needs are met through degree-based education, we have enhanced our ability to provide “knowledge on demand” through modules, courses, and certificates—enlarging our presence in the continuum between formal degrees and lifelong learning. Academia is notorious for being slow, but at UT Arlington we recognize the need to move quickly yet be thorough at the same time. Based on growing workforce needs in the North Texas area, we moved quickly last semester to develop new undergraduate and graduate certificates in Unmanned Aircraft Systems. These can be taken both as part of a degree curriculum and as a stand-alone certificate—a nanodegree, if you will. And these are highly sought after.

(Slide 9) Growth and faculty accomplishments are of value only if they are accompanied by student success and achievements that benefit our community. Our College of Nursing and Health Innovation is among the nation’s largest with an enrollment exceeding 12,500. But more impressively, our students regularly pass their licensure exams at a significantly higher rate than the state and national average. The culminating success of a student’s academic career is measured by graduation, and last year alone we conferred more than 9,700 degrees. Put another way, nearly a quarter of our population graduates and joins the workforce every year, with about 65 percent staying in the North Texas area and adding to its economic well-being.

(Slide 10) Issues related to dramatic demographic changes. Rising costs of higher education and the perceptions of decreasing affordability. Increased dependence on technology and the consequent “disruptive” effects. Enhanced global competition, including from the for-profit sector. The effects of a growing knowledge economy in an information age arising at a time of decreasing state support for higher education. All of these have brought about the “perfect storm” for academe. There are growing discussions about the failure of public universities to meet their mission of providing access, a meaningful education, and in preparing graduates for the workforce. Our vision is simple, but our ambitions are not small. We intend to be bold, to address issues facing higher education head-on and, in doing so, to have a global impact. We aspire to be distinguished by ensuring excellence and access together rather than one at the cost of the other—to be the “best of the best,” the “go-to place,” the “thought leaders,” and the institution that sets standards for others to follow.

(Slide 11) Located at the center of the thriving Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area, The University of Texas at Arlington is placed almost equidistant from Dallas and Fort Worth. Arlington is known as a hub for sports, being the home of the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers. Our city is also the headquarters of Texas Health Resources, one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health care delivery systems in the United States and the largest in North Texas in terms of patients served. And Arlington is closer to DFW Airport than both Dallas and Fort Worth—one could in fact call it Arlington airport!

With a population just above 7 million, the Metroplex is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the nation, with one person being added to North Texas every five minutes. At its current rate of growth, the metropolitan area will exceed the population required to be called a megacity over the next decade. Unlike a number of other regions in the country, the DFW Metroplex is growing in population, size, and economic wealth and is attracting a significant number of Fortune 500 and 1000 corporations to the region. Its population is young, diverse, and upwardly mobile. Demographics are changing rapidly with an increasing college-going population, as well as a growing number of young professionals eager to get advanced degrees and/or continuing professional education. Just over 17 percent of the population is foreign born, providing an extremely cosmopolitan environment to the region and a direct connection to the globe. With a young and upwardly mobile workforce, the region supports one of the most diverse regional economies in the nation. Its companies are involved in logistics and trade, technology including strong representation in engineering, information sciences, and health care, and advanced services ranging from management consulting to business insurers, legal, and financial services. It might be of interest to note that the region supports more high-tech jobs than Houston and Austin combined.

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area is the fifth-largest global exporter in the nation, with strong trade with countries in Asia, Europe, and South America. (Slide 12) Situated within 10 minutes of DFW Airport, the fourth-busiest airport in the world with seven active runways on an area larger than Manhattan, UT Arlington is strategically placed to play a leading role in the growing internationalization of education. The location provides tremendous opportunities for our students and faculty to travel across the world, creating a global impact through their presence and our partnerships while also providing ease of access for international students and visitors to the University.

UT Arlington is poised to be this global destination and the exporter of knowledge across the globe with thriving partnerships in Asia, Central, Latin, and South America, and Europe. The EMBA program in China; our nursing certificate programs now available in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru; and our partnerships with educational institutions in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are just a few examples of the breadth and depth of our reach. Fueled by faculty excellence, a UT Arlington education is increasingly prized across the globe. Such partnerships, enabled by proximity to a global hub—the DFW Airport—provide for a true two-way flow of knowledge and people, enhancing global understanding and ensuring that we are the core and catalyst for a new generation of leaders educated in an environment with knowledge being unconstrained by time, space, and location.

(Slide 13) Global transformations have been taking place over the past few decades, with migration from rural areas to select urban locales as a growing population searches for economic prosperity and the advantages of a technologically enhanced world. Previously demarcated formal sectors such as towns and cities have grown into metropolitan areas and then megacities, as the boundaries between local domains have been erased, forming large urban sectors. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are current examples of megacities in the U.S., and the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area will be in that group within the next decade. While the migration of the population from the countryside to urban centers is driven by a desire for better opportunities, this wave of change and the pace of urbanization present epic challenges for cities and metropolitan areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington.

The unprecedented population increases and demographic changes that accompany the formation of megacities bring with them significant challenges as related to sustainability, transportation, and infrastructure, including congestion, social inequities, education, health, and pollution. If we do not act today, the Metroplex is likely to face challenges such as those seen in other megacities: urban sprawl with loss of quality of life as in Tokyo, the stark inequities between rich and poor as in Mumbai, and traffic gridlock as in Bangkok.

As an urban university, we believe it is our mission to meet these challenges with vision and leadership, ensuring that the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington megacity addresses critical issues before they overwhelm the area, thereby ensuring that the megacity of tomorrow builds on the tremendous successes of today’s metropolitan area rather than succumbing to the challenges associated with balancing economic growth and sustainability.

Developed through extensive discussions within the University and with the constituencies we serve, influenced by our existing strengths, keeping in mind the dramatic changes occurring in higher education, focused on our mission, and driven by the strategic opportunities and needs of the local area, the state, and the nation, our Strategic Plan was developed to ensure bold solutions and global impact. It integrates and emphasizes five key areas that we believe are essential to the future of a university of the highest quality in the 21st century:

  • Meeting the needs of access and excellence;
  • Ensuring continued innovations in teaching and learning;
  • Ensuring a focus on fundamental through applied and translational research
  • Guaranteeing to students impactful experiences, career readiness, and academic leadership; and
  • Serving as an intellectual, cultural, socio-economic hub and catalyst for the region.

As we plan for the university of the future, we envision one that flourishes without silos, that embraces collaboration, and that will serve as the model 21st century urban research university—an urban flagship with a global reach and impact.

The plan is based on four levels of input and assessment and a fifth level that provides the impetus for implementation. A single focus provides context for engagement and impact. Four guiding themes provide strategic areas of emphasis that cross disciplinary bounds. Six guiding aspirations direct our progress. Six areas of operational priority provide broad logistical direction for the University.

(Slide 14) Today’s megacities and those of tomorrow pose an unprecedented need for bold solutions on a global scale. The University of Texas at Arlington is uniquely positioned to address the epic challenges that face these swelling urban regions. Pressing issues include improving health care, managing our natural resources, creating more livable communities, and harnessing the proliferation of data. All are topics in which our faculty are the leading experts, and I hope that some of you were able to interact with them at the sessions yesterday.

Our goal as a University is to bring to bear the tremendous expertise of our faculty and staff in addressing these critical areas prior to the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area becoming a megacity. In doing so, we not only enable a better future for our own community but also provide solutions for communities around the globe. Through our students, we will provide a highly educated citizenry and workforce that will chart new courses solving the pressing problems of the world.

(Slide 15) Based on existing strengths and synergies, we have identified four themes that provide strategic areas of emphasis. These themes leverage our expertise and present opportunities to impact society in deeply meaningful ways. They are designed to support the activities, plans, and programs throughout our University and enhance how we connect to our regional, national, and international communities. Each theme draws on strengths across the University, cutting across college and departmental boundaries and ensuring that our endeavors are based on a university-wide perspective rather than one of a silo. You were introduced to these themes yesterday. And yes, we are focused on answering HOW—right here and right NOW.

(Slide 16) A century ago, the average American lived to be about 55 years old. Today we are likely to approach 80 and even higher. Unrelenting scientific curiosity and exploration have made this dramatic increase possible and led to life-saving breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases and other ailments. Progress that improves our quality of life extends beyond the physical realm. Examination of the arts and humanities helps us understand the nature of the human condition and the broader cultural and social fabric that characterizes our very existence and contributes to our collective well-being.

UT Arlington is focusing on health and the human condition from distinct yet broadly encompassing vantage points. We explore health management within physical, mental, emotional, and social contexts. Health innovations distinguished by diagnostic, prognostic, and technological advancements help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. In order to enhance the focus, we have established a new College of Nursing and Health Innovation approved by the Board of Regents at its last meeting in November, and we have recruited a new dean to lead our growing health sciences area. Dean Anne Bavier is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the president-elect of the National League of Nursing, and has served at the National Institutes of Health. Faculty such as Liping Tang in bioengineering are developing artificial lymph nodes to attract cancer cells from around the body to a single point—just as a magnet attracts metal—to enable treatment to be focused without damaging tissue and organs. Dr. Tang, along with Joe Borrelli at Texas Health Resources, is also pioneering work in bone regeneration. Together, these faculty are focused on advances in materials, nanotechnology, imaging, and robotics that will change our lives for the better.

(Slide 17) Developing more sustainable communities is vital to strengthening our economy, enhancing everyday life, and providing a foundation for lasting prosperity. Opportunities abound to make urban regions more livable, including reducing air pollution, preserving ecosystems, and offering a variety of transportation and housing choices.

Today’s urban communities demand better building design, dynamic land-use planning, and improved infrastructure that could save lives and billions of dollars. They also broaden horizons and enlighten minds through an expansive range of cultural, recreational, and educational programs.

UT Arlington is fostering sustainable urban communities through a focus on the natural, built, economic, cultural, and social environments. We are combining our highly reputed Schools of Architecture and Urban and Public Affairs to ensure this interaction. Nan Ellin, who some of you met yesterday, is a nationally renowned architect, urban planner, and urbanist and is leading this effort. Learning from the past and present to ensure a sustainable future, our faculty are developing an understanding and interpreting demographic change and the broad spectrum of human capital.

(Slide 18) As concerned citizens of the global community, we must recognize and live within environmental limits. Future generations will survive and thrive only if we maintain the delicate balance of our planet through thoughtful stewardship of its natural resources.

With the world’s population exceeding 7 billion, the need to conserve these essential elements is becoming more and more critical. Becoming more environmentally efficient helps us better manage our shrinking water supply, clean the air we breathe, reduce our carbon footprint, and protect our biodiversity.

UT Arlington is addressing critical issues that affect our planet, including climate change, energy, water, disasters, and pollution through the work of faculty such as Kevin Schug and Sandy Dasgupta.

(Slide 19) Data fuels important decisions at every level of society. The exponential growth and availability of big data presents numerous challenges and opportunities. It is voluminous, fast, increasingly complex, and comes in a range of formats. If managed effectively, big data can deliver powerful benefits. It can result in more accurate analyses in fields ranging from health care to genomics and business informatics to physics. More accurate analyses lead to more confident decision-making. And better decisions can mean greater operational efficiencies, cost reductions, and reduced risks.

UT Arlington is focused on research that integrates big data from multiple fields and is developing data analytics and science that explore information from a wide variety of sources. We will use data to discover and share new knowledge, as well as enhance current knowledge, as in the work of Kay-Yut Chen and Jodi Tommerdahl.

(Slide 20) Our Guiding Aspirations are framed by our vision and the commitment to becoming the model 21st century urban research university. The six Guiding Aspirations define the principles we will live by and which will direct our progress over the span of the Strategic Plan. These can be thought of as today’s goals shaped by our vision of the future.

Put simply, UTA will be a leader in the discovery, integration, and application of information and knowledge while setting new standards for a transformative educational experience not bound by confines of time, space, and location.

Over the last 18 months, we have received a number of plaudits: Best for Vets; Best in the West; eighth-ranked program in taxation; No. 30 for online education in education, up from No. 166 a year ago; No. 31 for online graduate education in nursing, up 34 spots from a year ago; and top 100 for engineering—to mention just a few. But we are setting our sights much higher (Slide 21) for our institution and for each of its units. By fall 2020, we expect to have a total enrollment the size of UT Austin’s, with more than 43,000 students being formula funded by the state. As we grow, it’s essential that student success metrics improve as well, as we are aiming to dramatically enhance our freshman retention and overall graduation rates. Driven by our talented faculty, including the new faculty that we are already attracting, I have no doubt that our research expenditures will rise dramatically as will the number of faculty in the national academies. Our colleges will continue to balance demands for meeting critical workforce needs while also being the national leaders in their disciplines. A College of Engineering that has more than 10,000 students and a ranking in the top 50-75 is not beyond our reach. UT Arlington will continue to accelerate in national rankings and will be counted among the very best in the nation—serving not just what will be the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington megacity, but also the state of Texas and the nation.

Isn’t this too ambitious? Well, let me tell you a story. A few scientists were given a small hut on a beach in a sleepy fishing village for the purposes of conducting research, and from that grew an extension campus of a flagship university that was transformed in the early 1960s to a fledgling university by itself. Today, that university is a powerhouse, a leader among Tier One universities. It is lauded for top programs in the arts, humanities, social sciences, engineering, science, and medicine. It’s a magnet and the core for a burgeoning and vibrant economy. The flagship was the University of California Berkeley, and the fledgling university—now a world leader—is the University of California San Diego, and I had the privilege of working there for 13 years, being part of its dramatic trajectory to world-class status.

Remember the numbers I mentioned earlier: (Slide 22)

$31.6 billion in estimated annual sales of UCSD-related companies in San Diego County;
$3.6 billion in annual revenues;
$1.1 billion in research funding;
The eighth best public university in the nation; and
Rated by the Washington Monthly as first in the nation for five consecutive years for positive impact on the country. 

I believe we can do it here as well. We can become a world-class institution, a pre-eminent place for intellectual pursuits, and a driver for positive change. This is a great university, a campus in the best university system in the nation, and I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as we continue our journey to Tier One and beyond, to being the epitome of the 21st century urban research university and a shining star in the UT System.

We recognize that we need to think quickly, think new, think big, and believe that the future is not 2, 5, or 10 years away. The future is NOW—and it’s based on what we do with our students every day. I hope the short video will give you a glimpse of these students who are the reason for our motivation and drive to be one of “the best of the best.”

I hope you will join us in this journey, visit us often to support, and watch as UT Arlington shapes its future through bold solutions and global impact. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you and for all you do for our students and for the UT System.