William Powers Jr. delivered the annual State of the University Address Sept. 19 in Jessen Auditorium, highlighting the university’s successes and how to overcome its challenges.
“In the past year, we made great strides in enriching and reforming the undergraduate experience. We now offer 87 first-year Signature Courses, most of which are small seminars,” Powers said, adding that he teaches a seminar for freshmen and sophomores.
While much has been done with undergraduate curriculum, Powers said the job isn’t done yet.
“We have much more to do with respect to the undergraduate experience. We need to expand advising, to develop courses that better satisfy our new curricular requirements, and to create a home for truly undecided students.”
Another high priority for the university is diversifying the campus, according to Powers.
“We’ve recruited 30 minority faculty members during the past two years, and we’ve retained 14 minority faculty members who were courted by other institutions. This year’s freshman class is the most diverse ever: 19.7 percent Hispanic, 19.7 percent Asian American, and 5.8 percent African American. These are new highs in each group.”
It has also been a record year for research endeavors with $497 million in sponsored research awards. This a 22 percent increase over last year.
Powers also recognized the numerous awards faculty have received and the $270 million in gifts donors and friends have given the university in the past year.
While there are many successes to celebrate, Powers said there are also “serious” challenges ahead.
“The paramount challenge is resources. Put simply, we are grossly under-funded compared to our mission,” he said.
“Compared to the average university or college in Texas or the nation, we do OK. But when we recruit faculty and students, we don’t compete against the average college. Our mission is to compete at the very top, and when we do that we compete with fewer resources.”
Powers said the university’s financial resources affect it “most when it matters most: when we are recruiting or retaining faculty and graduate students.”
Within five years, Powers said the university needs to have competitive salaries, a full sabbatical program, travel allowances and resources for graduate students that are equal to its peer institutions.
“The leading public university of the 21st century will have many attributes: great research programs, diverse faculty and students and a rich undergraduate experience,” Powers said.
“It will have a lower student-faculty ratio. And it will have global reach. But we can’t do any of this without the best faculty and students. We simply need to be more competitive, and this needs to be our top priority.”
Finances are also contributing to the deterioration of facilities.
“Of course, we fix the things that break on our aging campus, but we are falling behind on renovating major systems. On top of that, we need more space for classrooms, laboratories and faculty offices. In short, we are letting our facilities deteriorate to balance our budget.”
Powers said the university needs to align its budgets and decision-making structures with its goals and aspirations to get the outcomes everyone desires.
“We remain poised to become the great public university of our time,” Powers said. “But we won’t get there unless we openly confront our financial challenges. We won’t get there without focus, and discipline, and courage. And we can’t wait for others to help us. We must do it ourselves.
“Together, we can succeed, if we have the discipline, the focus, and the fortitude. I ask you to help make that happen.”