In his ninth and final State of the University address, President Bill Powers pointed to The University of Texas at Austin’s achievements as a model for higher education reform across the nation, citing improvements in the undergraduate curriculum, online teaching, student success and graduation rates, and the creation of a new type of medical school.
“To those who think universities never reform themselves that universities never change just look at what we have done,” Powers said.
Speaking at the campus’ Student Activities Center on Monday, Powers said that students, faculty members and campus leaders have collectively worked to improve the university and redefine the higher education landscape. If they continue to take risks in the classroom and laboratories, think about problems in new ways, and focus on excellence in both teaching and research, the university will remain one of the top public research universities in the nation through the 2036 Texas bicentennial and beyond.
“What we should be seeking is innovative leadership from our students in the future and cutting-edge advances in knowledge that will drive our economy and civic life for decades to come,” said Powers, a former dean of the university’s School of Law who also serves as chairman of the Association of American Universities, a group of 60 pre-eminent research universities.
“We’ll need to focus on what is important to our core mission: research and teaching. We’ll need to focus our resources on being competitive for hiring and retaining faculty, and we’ll need to focus our resources on improving our students’ academic experience,” he said.
The second-longest serving president in university history, Powers will step down June 2, 2015, after the university’s commencement and the close of the 84th legislative session. During his nearly nine years in office, Powers has overhauled the university’s undergraduate curriculum, created the School of Undergraduate Studies and the Dell Medical School, and led the $3.1 billion Campaign for Texas.
The university is ranked 27th best in the world by London-based Times Higher Education.
He has long used his annual address to discuss the biggest challenges facing higher education and UT Austin and to introduce key initiatives, such as the university’s ongoing efforts to raise the four-year graduation rate to 70 percent.
In his final State of the University remarks, Powers reiterated the need to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Texans in the face of decreased financial support from the state.
“Texas will thrive at our bicentennial in 2036 only if we invest in our future by investing in higher education and for that matter, in public education as well,” he said.
He also hailed the success of the Commission of 125 a decade ago. That committee of distinguished alumni and supporters laid out a vision for improving undergraduate education that Powers has implemented.
Powers said a new “Campus Conversation,” a series of working meetings of faculty members from across campus, will serve as the next great guidepost for the university. That conversation includes some of the most innovative faculty members on campus and will create a road map to better use technology in the classroom, tap into experiential learning and redefine the residential campus experience in order to maintain the core values of higher education while eschewing a “one size fits all” approach.
Reforms since 2006, he said, offer proof that higher education can remain devoted to top tier teaching and research while improving efficiencies, serving students and responsibly spending public money.
“We’ll see the impact of these changes for years to come,” said Powers. “Crucially, the impact will be at the core of our mission: on our faculty and the research they do, and on the learning experience of our students.”