In his annual State of the University address yesterday, President Bill Powers borrowed from Abraham Lincoln to describe “a house divided” over the fundamental mission and character of The University of Texas at Austin.
He was referring to competing opinions over what the future of UT should look like that have emerged during our state’s ongoing debate over higher education.
But there should be no mistake where University of Texas alumni stand, and that’s united—behind a vision of UT-Austin as the leading public university in the country and a university of the first class.
What has become clear as this debate has raged on is that there are those who believe that UT is broken and those who believe it does lots of good but can still improve.
Detractors who issue misleading and derogatory reports about faculty productivity would have the people of Texas believe UT has too many loafing, no-good professors who care only about esoteric research and not about teaching the good sons and daughters of Texas. As the president said yesterday, and as so many students and alumni know from their own experiences, that is just absurd.
You would think that if UT were so rotten, the students who attend and the alumni who have graduated would be the loudest critics. In fact, the opposite is the case. Overwhelmingly, students and alumni stand united behind their school.
The UT that Powers described yesterday was a university that does lots of good but can still improve. And he outlined real and ongoing efforts UT has undertaken to continue improving the value of the institution to students, to alumni, and to the people of Texas.
It’s time for critics to acknowledge that UT is among the most productive and efficient universities in the country. Its faculty work hard, carrying one-third more teaching credits on average than the UT System requires. Its plan to improve graduation rates and transform courses will make it even more efficient and productive, but more importantly it will make for a better school and better-cultivated minds.
Powers cautions against a vision for higher education that is mainly about training employees, a place in which there are huge classes, a standardized curriculum, cheap labor, and mass-produced degrees. That is not the vision that has made UT-Austin great. That is not the vision that has attracted elite faculty here. And it is not a vision that students or alumni support.
Let there be no mistaking—when it comes to the future of The University of Texas at Austin, this house stands united.