The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are premiere Tier One institutions. They did not get that national ranking or the acclaimed research, faculty, and students that accompany that designation by resisting change. Rather, both institutions have long understood the need to continually improve, transforming the way they teach, research, and operate along the way.
In 1999, Texas A&M launched Vision 2020 to guide the institution’s future growth and development as a major Tier One teaching and research university. The report, “Vision 2020: Creating a Culture of Excellence,” laid out a blueprint to help the university reach it mission as a land, see and space grant institution of global preeminence.
UT-Austin, on the occasion of its 125th anniversary (similar to what it did at 50, 75 and 100 years) received the report of The Commission of 125, a task force of more than 200 citizens charged with making strategic recommendations regarding The University’s vision and aspiration to become the best public teaching and research university in the country.
The commission’s report was released in 2004 and included two strategic initiatives: to develop undergraduate core curriculum and to establish a more demanding standard for leadership of academic departments and research centers. It also offered 16 operational recommendations, ranging from reducing the undergraduate student-faculty ratio and limiting enrollment—all of which was aimed at keeping with Texas’ constitutional mandate for “a University of the first class.” Those recommendations have been and are currently being implemented.
Some, like Richard Vedder, continue to insist that the universities are resistant to change and that supporters, donors, and alumni of the university are “defending the status quo” and “circling the wagons” to avoid change. In a blog post this week, he refers the above-mentioned Commission of 125 as something that was recently formed in reaction to this debate. If Vedder can’t get that simple fact straight, what else is he getting wrong?
The “status quo” at UT-Austin has been self-evaluation and improvement. Case in point is graduation rates. Acknowledging the four-year rates are not where they need to be, President Powers recently launched a task force to make serious recommendations about how the University can improve. That quest to be ever better is a status quo worth defending.
Mr. Vedder continues to do Texas, our universities, and the citizens of our state a disservice by completely disregarding the positive and proactive efforts our universities are continually undertaking in their drive to deliver excellence and quality in higher education.
Jenifer Sarver is chair of the Texas Exes Public Relations Committee and spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.
Creative Commons photo taken beneath the UT Tower by Jim Nix via Flickr.