AUSTIN, Texas — President Jay Hartzell struck a tone of optimism as he reflected on a tumultuous year and outlined strategic priorities for The University of Texas at Austin in his first State of the University Address, delivered through an audio broadcast.
Hartzell was confirmed as the 30th president of UT Austin in September 2020, as the university was adapting on all fronts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In his address, Hartzell praised students, faculty members and staff for their resiliency and innovation. During the past year, UT developed a robust in-house COVID-19 testing ability, moved to online instruction and is now a vaccine administration hub for the State of Texas.
“This is what happens when we connect outstanding faculty, students and staff with first-class resources and robust support structures: We lead the world and we change it for the better,” Hartzell said.
Moving forward, Hartzell believes it is the responsibility of the university to plan ahead and capitalize on the momentum of a post-pandemic society. He outlined three areas of focus for the university, the core of a new strategic planning process unveiled in January.
- Pursue long-term efforts to recruit elite faculty members and students
- Create an environment driven by excellence, academic freedom and diversity
- Leverage the opportunities that come with being in Austin, Texas
By approving new funds to expand student recruitment, Hartzell said the university is and will continue to look “within our state’s borders for the best and brightest students — many of whom come from places or backgrounds we didn’t always aggressively recruit.”
But the university’s efforts won’t end after recruitment, he said.
“We foster an atmosphere where we become better,” Hartzell added. “There should always be a place at UT for those with exciting but unproven talents and potential. This is why curating an environment characterized by excellence, academic freedom and diversity is vital to our path forward.”
That excellence has never been more fully on display than this year. Through brief audio segments from pioneering UT researchers in his address, Hartzell reflected on how UT’s fight against COVID-19 extended well beyond the boundaries of the Forty Acres and was instrumental in developing major COVID-19 vaccines and modeling the spread of the disease around the world.
“We aren’t just surviving the storm of COVID-19 — we’re helping Texas, the nation and the world navigate it as well,” Hartzell said. “Together, we have put our minds to the defense of life in person, because we believe it is worth fighting for.”
Hartzell said academic freedom and diversity are also key factors of an environment that fosters this sort of excellence, and he wants the university to act as a model where passionate and challenging conversations flourish.
“As we place an even greater emphasis on excellence, we should remember that it is intimately connected with the freedom to express and debate ideas. In fact, these values feed on one another,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell said this year’s conversations with students and faculty members surrounding “The Eyes of Texas” have been a model for the type of productive discourse he wants UT Austin to be known for.
“We should be a safe space but also a brave space…” Hartzell said. “We don’t shy away from the injustice found in our history, nor are we bashful about the progress we’ve made since 1883. We remain on a journey and our work is far from done.”
Throughout the speech, Hartzell emphasized his hope that the university will excel despite the many challenges it faced during the past year.
“I want UT to be on the front lines of the future, just like we were the last time America navigated a deadly pandemic,” he said. “As was the case a hundred years ago, we remain the state’s flagship university, and we are weathering the storm. Next, we catch new tailwinds and sail into our own roaring ’20s.”