Big Moments from the 2019 State of the University Address

As the fall 2019 semester gets underway, Greg Fenves gave the annual State of the University Address on Wednesday, marking his fifth year as president of The University of Texas at Austin.

In his speech, Fenves began by reflecting on how the university has changed in recent years. Ten years ago there was no Dell Medical School, Livia Eberlin hadn’t yet developed the groundbreaking MasSpec Pen, Karen Uhlenbeck hadn’t won the Abel Prize—mathematics’ highest honor—and Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin hadn’t yet been brought to life on campus. He touted the university’s improvement in four-year graduation rates, which currently stands at 69 percent, and commended Longhorn Football’s dedication.

“All of this is to say, we have come a long way in 10 years,” he said.

For the rest of his address, Fenves outlined the university’s new initiatives and goals for the future. Below, we’ve rounded up key moments. Read the full transcript here.

“There are so many students in our great state who have overcome difficult circumstances in pursuit of their dreams. Who have attained better lives for themselves and their families through a college education. There is so much potential out there, to be realized.”

Fenves discussed the Texas Advance Commitment, which aims to expand financial aid to make UT more affordable for Texans. Initiatives under this program include the historic $160 endowment from the Permanent University Fund that will expand financial aid for middle- and low-income Texas students starting in fall 2020. Under the leadership of Chairman Kevin Eltife, the UT System Board of Regents decided to offer in-state undergraduate students with need from families that earn up to $65,000 a year full tuition. This also led to the establishment of the Texas Challenge, a $50 million matching gift program funded by UT alumni to increase the system’s commitment.

“If a student can’t afford to live in Austin, that’s a barrier to success. And, as a university with a history of denying equitable access to qualified students, it’s our responsibility not to allow barriers but to create opportunities for students from all backgrounds. This responsibility is a reflection of our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

As Austin becomes less affordable, finding a place to live near the university is increasingly difficult. Fenves acknowledged the university must take action and make housing more widely available. He said the university will soon begin working with a consulting firm to conduct a study of student housing at UT that will inform plans to offer university housing to all first-year undergraduate students.

“UT has always been a hub for open discussion and debate, and free expression has, and always will be, a foundational part of our public purpose.”

Texas recently enacted Senate Bill 18 which establishes new requirements for universities regarding free speech. The bill states that individuals from outside the university may exercise their free speech and expression rights in the common outdoor areas on campus. The university modified its rules to be consistent with state law and are working to ensure that open discourse is carried out safely and according to the law.

“When you look at the past year at UT, there have been so many extraordinary accomplishments. But in a few instances, there were ethical lapses. These lapses by individuals compromised our ability—as an institution—to carry out our mission and in doing so undermined the public trust. Trust that is the bedrock of everything we strive to achieve. We must do better.”

Fenves recently announced Honor Texas, an initiative that aims to engage the campus in a discussion of ethical conduct, and the creation of an Advisory Committee on Ethics, chaired by Chief Compliance Officer Leo Barnes.

“When we look to the future, it’s clear we need to have a strong sense of our values, as well as our goals. And this will empower us to serve society.”

Fenves ran through the different ways UT is working to better serve its communities. Dell Med is offering patients at the Dell Seton Medical Center who are struggling with opioid addiction numerous essential services. Earlier this year, Dell Med also introduced its new Department of Health Social Work in partnership with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. It is the first social work department embedded within a medical school in the nation.

He discussed the IC2Institute’s nine new projects focused on helping small-business owners in rural Texas; UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center for Frontera, the fastest supercomputer at any university in the world which will aid researchers in solving a vast range of problems, from hurricanes to diseases; and the Army Futures Command center that will make UT Austin its home.

“In 2033, The University of Texas will celebrate its 150th anniversary. And though it is more than a decade away, now is the time for us to start considering what we want this university to be known for at that milestone. Now is the time to think big. Now is the time to be bold.”

Fenves announced the formation of the Council for TEXAS Impact. Its purpose will be to think deeply about the future and identify key areas where UT can have the most impact on Texas and the world. It will include more than 20 members of the faculty, as well as three students and two staff representatives. Fenves said he wants the entire UT community to be engaged with this council, which is why the university will hold forums over the coming months.

Photo courtesy of UT Austin



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