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Commission of 125 envisions ‘disciplined culture of excellence’ in its report on future of The University of Texas at Austin

The Commission of 125, a group of citizens convened to express a vision on how The University of Texas at Austin can best serve Texas and the larger society in the next 25 years, has recommended a review of the university’s undergraduate core curriculum and a ‘more demanding standard for leadership’ of its academic departments and research centers.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The Commission of 125, a group of citizens convened to express a vision on how The University of Texas at Austin can best serve Texas and the larger society in the next 25 years, has recommended a review of the university’s undergraduate core curriculum and a “more demanding standard for leadership” of its academic departments and research centers.

In its final report presented Thursday, Sept. 30 to Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of the university, the commission examined topics such as the university’s enrollment size, admissions policies, the quality of undergraduate and graduate programs, research endeavors and other areas. Faulkner will formally accept the report during a ceremony and celebration on the university’s Main Mall near the Tower on Thursday evening.

The commission articulated a vision for the university: “The University of Texas will be the best in the world at creating a disciplined culture of excellence that generates intellectual excitement, transforms lives and develops leaders. The University of Texas will define for the 21st century what it means to be a university of the first class.”

The commission’s initiatives re-emphasize and reinforce the university’s constitutional mandate of 1876: “The Legislature shall as soon as practicable establish and provide for the maintenance, support and direction of a University of the first class, to be located by a vote of the people of the State and styled, ‘The University of Texas,’ for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences….”

Faulkner expressed his gratitude for the “large gift of time and personal resources” given to the university by each of the 218 participants on the Commission of 125, which worked under the leadership of Chairman Kenneth M. Jastrow II, chairman and CEO of Temple Inland Inc.

The commission concluded that all its recommendations fell under a single “overarching imperative”: “The University of Texas must create a disciplined culture of excellence that will enable it to realize its constitutional mandate.” It noted that this imperative is supported by two strategic initiatives.

The first is to “develop a new undergraduate core curriculum to better prepare students for lives of accomplishment.” The last review of the core curriculum at the university occurred in 1981. The commission said the current undergraduate core curriculum fails to equip students with a body of knowledge essential to a well-balanced education.

The second strategic initiative recommended the university establish a “more demanding standard for leadership of academic departments and research centers, and give those leaders the authority and resources to succeed.”

The commission said decision-making authority for academic departments is now shared among a dean, a department chair and a budget council of the department’s tenured professors. The commission believes superior scholars must head departments and research centers, and have more authority regarding resources, hiring and research initiatives.

The imperative and strategic initiatives in the report are supported by 16 operational recommendations grouped in four categories. They are:

  • Establishing an environment that promotes excellence.

    1. Reduce the student-faculty ratio
    2. Quality must determine enrollment size
    3. Aggressively recruit outstanding students from all regions and populations in Texas and beyond
    4. Libraries, museums and information technology must rank with the best

  • Producing a comprehensive master plan.

    5. Develop a university master plan
    6. Optimize facilities
    7. Build financial strength and new resources

  • Creating life-enhancing student learning experiences.

    8. Connect students with a mentor and adviser
    9. Increase residence-hall capacity
    10. Construct additional student activity space
    11. Implement an honor system
    12. Increase support for graduate students
    13. Emphasize the study of leadership and ethics

  • Serving Texas and the world and strengthening the university’s engagement with society.

    14. Serving Texas and beyond
    15. Provide innovative access to knowledge and collections
    16. Telling our story

This is the third time the university has convened a commission of citizens for such purposes. The earlier work, undertaken on the occasions of the 75th and 100th anniversaries of the university’s founding, resulted in significant advances. The university’s graduate programs, libraries and collections were strengthened immensely in the decades after the work of the Committee of 75, which completed its report in 1958. The quality of the university’s faculty—and its national reputation—soared as the initiatives of the Centennial Commission were implemented in the 1980s. The Centennial Commission convened in 1981 and presented its recommendations in 1983. The work of the Centennial Commission resulted in the creation of 572 faculty endowments.

“A distinctive, perhaps unique, aspect of our university’s history has been the recurring call for special commissions of citizens to express a vision for the future of the university and to recommend standards and principles for working toward the vision,” Faulkner said. “Nearly all universities engage regularly in strategic planning, but rare indeed are those who place it so fully in the hands of citizens. I am confident that the Commission of 125 has given invaluable guidance for all who will lead the university into the 2020s.”

Commission members traveled from all parts of Texas and the nation at their own expense to participate. Two members live outside the United States. The ethnically diverse group represented almost all occupations, including business executives, poets, military officers, newspaper publishers, civic leaders, physicians, government officials and the former presidents of five major universities, including Texas AandM and Rice universities.

For more information contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.