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UT Arlington Faculty and Associates Spring Meeting

May 5, 2015

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I know it’s a very busy time of the year and I appreciate your attendance. With finals and graduation ceremonies looming next week, I am reminded of our rich heritage going back to the founding of Arlington College in 1895 with 75 students, through its formation as The University of Texas at Arlington in 1967 with a student population of just over 11,000, to its current stature as the second largest academic campus in the UT System with a spring enrollment of over 36,000 and a global enrollment for the 2014-15 academic year at just north of 50,000—50,148 to be exact, according to Pete Smith, with about 12,500 of these being at the graduate level. I am also reminded of a recent discussion with our provost, who remarked that he’d like an expansion of the CPC since we are running out of space for students at graduation ceremonies. This year we will award close to 10,000 degrees—almost the entire population of each of two well-known and highly regarded private universities in the metropolitan area. Their total population is equal to the number of students we graduate annually—now that’s impact! We’ve come a long way indeed, and it is due to the hard work, dedication, and excellence of our faculty.

It’s an honor and pleasure for me to be here with you today for one of our University’s most significant traditions. The Spring Meeting of the University Faculty and Associates is our time to celebrate your scholarship, creative activity and research, your achievements in teaching, mentoring, and advising, and your engagement with, and service to, the community.

Today, we mark the very essence of the University, paying tribute not only to you, our very core, but also to our mission of advancement of knowledge and the pursuit of excellence. The modern university is rooted in the legacy of Aristotle and Plato with the learned sage imparting a wealth of knowledge of the arts, culture, and science to a group of students seated around listening in rapt attention. Just like Socrates and Plato, you represent the philosophers who transform information into knowledge. You are the “learned men and women” who create new knowledge and pass it on to our students. Your work describes what we are all about, what we do for the community, and how we can positively influence the future. Your scholarship and innovation in the online area ensures that elite no longer has to mean elitist when constraints of time, space, and location no longer matter—and that is an undeniably powerful set of constructs.

At UTA, you are enabling the re-envisioning of a university where excellence and access are not at odds and being the best in teaching and research is not rare but expected of all.

A university is defined by its faculty and staff, and UT Arlington is clearly representative of an institution made up of teacher-scholars and dedicated staff, including some of the very best in their disciplines across the globe. You represent a tremendous depth and breadth of expertise across the curriculum as evidenced by increasing levels of publishing and creative activity, student success, research expenditures, accolades, and enhancement in reputation. I’d like to mention each of the accolades received, but that would keep us here past the hour and perhaps through the night and the next day. These achievements are a reflection on you, our faculty and staff, and your outstanding and long-lasting contributions to this University.

While we are still a secret, we are no longer the best-kept secret. The word is out that this is more and more the center of the Metroplex as related to higher education and that UTA is where change, in a positive sense, is taking place in the academic community. We should all be proud that what you are doing, what you are enabling through your teaching, research, and engagement is having a transformative impact on the community and the state.

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. It will help UT Arlington address the epic challenges that face our community—an urgent calling as the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area with almost 7 million people today rapidly approaches megacity status.

It has been a privilege to work with so many of you in developing the Strategic Plan. With the ongoing efforts at the department, college, and University levels, I have no doubt that this institution is on the fast track to an exciting future and that we will be the model for the modern, 21st century urban research university—one that sets standards for all others to follow.

Our efforts toward Tier One continue even as we reposition ourselves based on our Strategic Plan to recognize that our goal is not just “Tier One” as defined by the state of Texas, but a true international reputation of being among the very best. We surpassed the required metric of graduating 200 PhDs last year, and I have every expectation that we will exceed it in the current year as well. UTA now boasts of one member in the National Academy of Science and two in the National Academy of Engineering, with the promise of more to be recruited, or rather being attracted to us, by the tremendous work that all of you are doing. We now have 10 fellows in the National Academy of Inventors, fully one third of the total number in the state of Texas. We are increasing research awards and expenditures—despite PeopleSoft (and yes, we are working very hard with the UT System to resolve those issues). In doing so, we are drawing even closer to meeting the metrics set by the state.

In meetings I’ve had and in discussions with faculty, I’ve often been asked about our aspirations and how they impact teaching, research, and access. Some have questioned whether this emphasis on being the very best automatically means that we will pay less attention to teaching. I’d like to continue emphasizing three critical aspects:

  1. Excellence is more than a theme—it must pervade everything we do. It must serve as a goal and a metric.
  2. Leadership has to be established, claimed, and maintained—in research, teaching, pedagogy, and innovation.
  3. Given our location, we must have global impact and engagement, not just local outreach.

Great research universities are characterized by three aspects—excellence, leadership, and impact. In the future, “leadership” will be characterized by two additional themes—access and diversity—and we are already known as leaders in both.

Pre-eminent research universities are not just known for excellence in research but also in teaching. Their undergraduates are highly sought after for the workforce and by other universities for their graduate programs. These universities do not neglect the primacy of undergraduate education, and neither will we. We cannot be a top-notch research university if our faculty prefer to recruit students from other universities for their graduate programs because ours are considered inferior. We must strive for this high level of reputation through excellence in teaching and innovation in the delivery of knowledge.

In order to be among the best, greatness cannot be achieved through a single point of light. Each of our colleges and schools must be excellent in research and teaching and must be recognized nationally and internationally as such. We must also maximize the interactions and synergies between the disciplines. More and more advances in knowledge and the needs for training and education are at the interstices of traditional disciplines. We need to lower barriers for both our students and our faculty for inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary enterprises. The Interdisciplinary Research Initiative announced last week and posted just yesterday is a small step in that direction. Expect to see a lot more.

As we move forward, we need to increase the level of support for you and decrease the barriers we place in front of you. We have started to do some of this, and we are committed to doing more. Excellence demands this level of commitment.

As I look ahead, I see that UT Arlington is on a trajectory to take our place among the world’s pre-eminent universities. We will accomplish this through unrelenting pursuit of transformative discoveries and extraordinary instruction rooted in innovation. We will accomplish this by the kind of engagement that shapes communities and transforms lives. We will accomplish this by building collaborative relationships throughout the academic and research worlds and across the public and private sectors. We will accomplish this through our research, our innovation, and our dedication to excellence.

Visionary, yet practical. Drawing strength and perspective from the arts, humanities, and social sciences as well as science, technology, and the professions. Building on partnerships—across campus, the Metroplex, region, nation, and globally. Open and accessible to the brightest minds across the globe and fueled by a desire to be the best, to have a meaningful impact. That is and will be UT Arlington. And you make it possible. Thank you for all that you do for our students and for the future.