New UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken Speaks at Texas Tribune Festival

Just two weeks into his role as the new UT System chancellor, James B. Milliken took the stage at the Stateside Paramount Theater for the 2018 Texas Tribune Festival.

“This is my two-week anniversary of being a Texan,” said Milliken, who is a fifth-generation Nebraskan. “So far Texas has been incomparable.”

Now the 12th chancellor in UT System history, following William McRaven, BJ ’79, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, Milliken comes with over 30 years of experience in higher education. Most recently he served four years as chancellor of the City University of New York. Before that, he was president of the University of Nebraska for more than a decade. Gearing up for what’s to come in his new role, Milliken spoke on Friday morning about his priorities, the importance of higher education, and what being chancellor means to him.

Milliken began by saying he was attracted to the state because he sees extraordinary growth in Texas’ future. Accessibility and equal opportunity to higher education has long been a key priority for Milliken, having helped create broad and affordable access programs in his previous positions. He said his plans for Texas are no different.

“At the core, that is our central mission,” he said. “The foundation of my philosophy about public higher education is that talent is equally distributed across every demographic—whether it’s wealth, race, ethnicity, nationality, or zip code.”

He went one step further, saying that it is also important to pay attention to students once they get to campus. His concern is student success—whether it’s making sure they complete their degree or making sure they do well post graduation. “More and more public universities are embracing the notion that it is our responsibility to ensure students’ success,” he said. “We should be measured by how affordable access is and how many students succeed.”

On his position on the top 10 percent rule, Milliken said he has not looked into the subject enough to know where he stands. “I will say I was surprised at a distance when I first heard about this,” he said. “I will take a close look at it and experience with it. Whether it is the tool or not, we must continue to have practices and policies that expand our reach and offer opportunity.”

He believes strongly in the ties between support from political leadership and the success of higher education. As the 2019 Texas legislative session approaches, he said higher education gets nowhere without the political leadership of the state. Milliken said he is excited to prove the value of higher education.

“I find political leaders often have the same concerns of the future,” he said. “I want to convince them that the stronger a university is, the better it does its work and the better off the state is.”

When asked what he personally believes it means to be chancellor, Milliken said university leadership is all about providing the environment and tools a system needs to be as successful as possible.

“The confidence of the people is the only true endowment of the university,” he said. “I work to ensure the UT System enjoys the confidence of the people of this state. That’s something I want to try and work at every day.”

Check out the schedule for the rest of the Texas Tribune Festival here. Stream the event online here.


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