‘B+ Is Our Biggest Enemy’: Powers Talks Highs and Lows in State of University Address

'B+ Is Our Biggest Enemy': Powers Talks Highs and Lows in State of University Address

“Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth.”

University president Bill Powers kicked off his annual State of the University address—held each year around UT’s Sept. 15 birthdate—with this quote by author C.S. Lewis. Speaking to a 500-seat auditorium filled with students, faculty, staff, and administrators yesterday, Powers threw another word into the mix while reflecting on UT’s past year: challenges—and he dove into how the University has worked mightily to overcome them.

“As we complete our 13th decade and head into the heart of a new century, we have cast off mere regional aspirations,” Powers said. “Indeed, we look beyond even national greatness and aspire to leadership in a rapidly integrating world. UT-Austin is now a world university.”

Powers backed up that assertion by pointing to many of UT’s world-class programs—59 top-1o programs and 111 top-25 programs in 2012-13, to be exact. Superstar faculty members like recent National Medal of Science recipients John Goodenough and Allen Bard and Japan Prize winner Grant Willson received nods, as well.

“We are a great university because we have great people,” Powers said. “I’m so proud of what our faculty and staff do.”

Powers also bragged—or, as he said Texans call it, “told the truth”—about the success UT is already seeing in its push for improved four-year graduation rates. According to him, 98.6 percent of the more than 8,000 full-time freshmen in UT’s Class of 2016 returned for the spring semester, and the fall semester course failure rate was cut by nearly half in 2012. Freshmen are taking more hours than in the past, and the number of students receiving failing grades is dropping.

“We have significant work left to do,” Powers said, “but we’re moving the needle.”

UT’s president wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, however, also pointing out that the University continues to be forced to do more with less. Expressing his frustrations about budgetary challenges, Powers lamented the imminent loss of the ability to attract and retain top faculty and staff, as well as the inability to fund capital projects necessary to making sure the Forty Acres continues to meet the needs of its students.

“The feast-or-famine approach we currently have in Texas for funding capital projects makes it difficult to plan, and it is not keeping up with the state’s needs,” Powers said. “… We need to look into the future to ensure that we are designing buildings for the next century—not the last one.”

But despite the tightened purse strings and what he calls “a massive, historic public disinvestment in higher education,” Powers said UT continues to thrive. As he told the crowd vehemently: “Reports of the death of major residential research universities are greatly exaggerated.” The proof: the Legislature’s $297-million-per-year investment made into UT in 2011-12 was leveraged by a factor of 21 times, creating a $2.8 billion university. And UT also fared well on the White House’s recent College Scorecard, with ratings for both low cost and high graduation rates.

The University is also at the forefront of revolutionizing college classes through blended and massive open online courses, which Powers said will ultimately help lower the cost of a UT degree. He also praised psychology professors Jamie Pennebaker and Sam Gosling, who have received national attention for pioneering the SMOC—a synchronized massive online course that teaches classroom students and remote students at the same time.

Looking forward, Powers emphasized two key priorities for the 2013-14 academic year: continuing forward motion on the Dell Medical School and pursuing that aggressive $3 billion fundraising goal in the last year of UT’s Campaign for Texas. This year, UT broke its all-time record for philanthropy in a single year, to the tune of $453 million. And there’s still 3/4 of a billion dollars to go.

As his speech came to a close, Powers took the opportunity to say farewell to executive vice president and provost of six years Steve Leslie, who will continue working with UT as a special assistant to the president’s office. Former engineering dean Greg Fenves took over as provost in August.

Powers wrapped up on a high note, reiterating the University’s strength—and imploring the hundreds of attendees (plus those watching via livestream and on the Longhorn Network) to continue to fortify it.

“Our University is strong,” Powers said. “I know you all—in your own way—will help us make it even stronger.”

Photo by Marsha Miller.


Tags: , , , , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment