Letter from the Executive Director: Going for It

Behind the scenes of the Alcalde’s Sep|Oct 2019 cover shoot featuring Texas volleyball.

On July 9, 2019, UT President Greg Fenves sent Longhorn Nation an email with what I can only describe as a seismic piece of news. Under the leadership of Chairman Kevin Eltife, BBA ’81, Life Member, the UT System had voted to establish a $160 million endowment to dramatically expand financial aid for students on the Forty Acres beginning in the fall of 2020. “In-state undergraduate students with need from families that earn up to $65,000 a year will receive financial assistance to completely cover their UT tuition,” Fenves wrote. Roughly half of families in Texas have an income at or below that number. Additionally, students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year would also be assured at least partial relief on their tuition bill. For thousands of Longhorns and their parents sorting through their inboxes that day, this message was life-changing.  

Sitting in my office at the Alumni Center, I had two thoughts. The first was a joyful one. This now meant anyone with the right combination of talent and hard work could get a first-class education at The University of Texas. They too will have the blessings that have shaped my life. The second thought was one I have often in this job: What are the 500,000 alumni around the world going to think about this? 

Tuition is an emotional subject. There are people who think this is a handout and there are those who think this is nowhere near enough. I try to understand where everyone is coming from. In the 1980s I was able to pay for four years plus a victory lap at UT with a summer job at a company that built oil derricks. As the lowliest of grunts, I was known only as “hand in the blue shirt.” I wouldn’t trade the sweat and grit I picked up in those days for the world. But things were different back then. Crippling student loan debt was not a story on the nightly news and living in the sleepy town of Austin was cheap.  

After the big announcement, Eltife gave a quote to the Texas Tribune that struck me. “Our main focus at the UT System,” he said, “is our students. That’s it, that’s what we’re in business for is to provide an affordable, accessible education.” 

You can always count on a Longhorn to get right to the point. This is about access; it’s always been about access. And I marvel at what it all means for Texas. Could the founders of our state have ever imagined what that endowment of arid, West Texas land would ultimately produce?  

I’ve met many of the students who will benefit from this, and I can tell you they really are going to change the world. We’ve always been an audacious institution, in sports, research, and student success. Let’s keep showing them how it’s done. 


Hook ’em, 

Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member 


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