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UT News

2015 on the Forty Acres: A Look Back

2015 brought a little bit of everything to the Forty Acres.

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Where to begin? 2015 brought a little bit of everything to the Forty Acres. We said goodbye to President Powers and hello to President Fenves, made the best of a washed-out commencement ceremony (#whatstartshereisntstoppedbyrain) and lost our beloved mascot, Bevo XIV. Throughout the year, Longhorns continued to reach new heights of excellence in the arts, athletics, business, education, health, humanities, sciences and technology.

This Year’s Biggest News

President Gregory L. Fenves at inauguration

President Gregory L. Fenves celebrates his inauguration as president as Chancellor William McRaven applauds. Photo by Marsha Miller

Gregory L. Fenves was formally inaugurated as the 29th president of The University of Texas at Austin on Sept. 17. He laid out a vision to build on the university’s excellence by more effectively merging its research and teaching missions and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and research. Be sure to follow President Fenves on Twitter.

[Catch up on all the Notable Opinions from faculty, as well as the top Research and Campus news from 2015.]

A few months earlier, for the first time in University of Texas at Austin history, the spring commencement ceremony was canceled. Severe weather made it unsafe for the university-wide event to take place. But, in true Longhorn spirit, despite the rain, the celebration went on.

Bevo XIV, shortly after being diagnosed with Bovine Leukemia Virus, passed away peacefully on Oct. 16. He had been resting at his ranch, where he died in the company of his best longhorn friend, Spike, and John T. and Betty Baker, the owners and caretakers of both Bevo XIV and his predecessor, Bevo XIII.

In early December, for a second time in three years, UT Austin argued before the United States Supreme Court that all students — and the nation as a whole — benefit when colleges and universities are able to assemble truly diverse student bodies. The university defended its holistic admissions process in the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. That process considers an applicant’s race and ethnicity as one of many factors in a limited manner that is consistent with Supreme Court precedents and necessary, the university argued, to meet the compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity.

On June 1, 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed S.B. 11, also known as the “campus carry” law. S.B. 11 provides that license holders may carry a concealed handgun throughout university campuses, starting Aug. 1, 2016. The law gives public universities some discretion to regulate campus carry. On December 10, after three months of public forums and debate the Campus Carry Policy Working Group delivered their report and recommendations to President Fenves.

Research and Academics in the Spotlight

UT Solar House

Courtesy Nexushaus, UT Solar Decathlon Team

After two years of imagining how to power our homes and keep our day-to-day lives running on light from the sun, a team of Longhorns from multiple colleges and disciplines took a futuristic, solar-powered house to the prestigious Solar Decathlon competition in California.

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering developed a groundbreaking, honeycomb-inspired, energy-absorbing structure that withstands blunt and ballistic impact better than other shock-absorbing materials. It’s called a negative stiffness (NS) honeycomb, and it could have huge implications for the design and production of future vehicles, military gear and athletic equipment.


Speaking of inventions, Mechanical engineering professor Joseph Beaman and chemical engineering professor Jennifer Maynard were honored as the 2015 Inventor of the Year and Emerging Inventor of the Year, respectively. The awards, presented in November from the Office of Technology Commercialization, recognize researchers whose inventions and innovations have made substantial contributions to the world.

But faculty aren’t the only inventors on campus. Three engineering students invented a device to improve physical therapy.

Physical Therapy Innovation

The Giant Magellan Telescope, poised to become to the largest optical telescope in existence, announced a major milestone with 11 international partners, including UT Austin.

GMT artist

Artist’s concept of the Giant Magellan Telescope. More images, animation, and video are available at http://www.gmto.org/gallery GMTO Corporation

Twelve students from the Class of ’15 reflected on their accomplishments at UT and shared their plans for the future.

Class of 2015

The four-year graduation rate rose to 57.7 percent in 2015 — the highest on record and an increase of 2.6 percentage points from the previous year. More than 500 additional undergraduate students graduated on time this year when compared with five years ago.

Arts on Campus Inspire, Inform and Delight

Students perform Pericles

Students perform Pericles during the 2015 season of Shakespeare at Winedale. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare at Winedale

A cast of students spent two months — and 18 hours a day! — studying The Bard’s work and bringing the plays to life in 24 performances throughout the summer at Winedale.

Starting in September, the Visual Arts Center (VAC) collaborated with The Contemporary Austin in a citywide experiential art exhibit called Strange Pilgrims (open through Jan. 23).


In November, the Blanton Museum of Art broke ground and initiated construction on the late Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, a 73-by-60-foot stone building to be sited on the grounds of the Blanton.

Both the Harry Ransom Center and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History announced major aquisitions in 2015.

In October, the Ransom Center marked the opening of the Gabriel García Márquez archive with a symposium attended by international scholars, journalists, filmmakers and former colleagues of García Márquez. The event featured keynote speeches by noted authors Salman Rushdie and Elena Poniatowska.

The Ransom Center also added the archives of award-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee to their vast collections.

Across campus, the Briscoe Center is now home to the papers of statesman and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, as well as the archives of documentarian and Radio-Television-Film chair Paul Stekler.


[The Year In Tower Lightings: 2015 Brings Reasons To Light the Tower]


Longhorn Spirit Shines

Amid the serious business of research and scholarship on campus, Longhorns always find a way to have fun and share their spirit. The Class of ’19 kicked the fall semester off with their first class photo.


Thanks to the talents of Drew Finkel, B.A. ’08, Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium assumed Lego form.


Did you see any of last summer’s blockbusters? Our science writers asked, “Could that really happen?” Summer blockbusters were taken to school by UT experts.


And in the lead-up to the start of football season (and the eventual win over OU!), the #UTCountdown helped us get through the dog days of summer by counting down the best of UT.


Athletics Welcomes New Leaders

In December, Mike Perrin was named men’s athletics director for UT Austin and will serve in that role through the 2017-18 year. Perrin had served as interim men’s athletics director since September.

“Since Mike became interim AD, he has proved to be a resourceful and valuable asset to the athletics department, improving relationships with our fans and alumni,” said university President Gregory L. Fenves. “His experiences as a student-athlete and a successful lawyer and businessman have given him unique insight that complements his strong leadership. I am confident Mike will continue bringing positive change and pride to our Men’s Athletics Department.”

Shaka Smart was announced as the new head coach for Texas men’s basketball.

[Watch Shaka Smart’s introductory news conference.]

“Coming to The University of Texas presents an opportunity to be a part of a special community. My highest priority is spending time and developing relationships with our current players, our former players and the young men who will make up the future of Texas Basketball.” —Shaka Smart



[Need a refresher on years gone by? Take a look back at 2014, 2013, or even 1969.]


Keeping Pace in the Rankings Game

Throughout the year, UT Austin and its prestigious colleges, schools and programs, continued to make appearances on best-of lists. Here are some of the highlights from the most recent rankings.

UT Rankings