Letter from the Executive Director: Out in Front

I don’t know what will happen in the time between me writing this letter and the magazine actually showing up in your mailbox, but I think it’s safe to say the summer of 2020 will be one of the most notable periods in UT’s history.  

When you work in higher education, the days follow that dependable pace of the academic calendar. We are anxious and fired up in the fall, busy and energized in the spring, and by the summer months, things tend to slow down a bit. But I don’t have to tell you there was nothing slow or predictable about the past few months. A global pandemic and social unrest throughout the nation have upended just about every part of our daily lives—and our alma mater.   

In Jay Hartzell’s first month as interim president, several student-athletes released a list of demands geared toward supporting Black students at UT Austin. What followed was a passionate debate in Longhorn Nation about racism and the painful past of the state’s flagship university.   

For the next several weeks, I was on the phone night and day with alumni from all class years, all over the world, and all walks of life. Everyone had an opinion on what they would do if they were running UT. But the man who had that immense challenge in front of him was just listening.   

Jay is a Longhorn, just like you and me. As an alumnus and the dean of the McCombs School of Business, he has been making positive change at The University of Texas for many years. He is the kind of person who will offer you a critique and a solution. If he doesn’t have the answer yet, he’ll say so, and then volunteer to help figure it out.   

Others in his position might have flooded their office with high-powered consultants and focused on the messaging over the substance. However, I watched Jay keep an open mind and traverse meetings with faculty, alumni, donors, and students and be equally present in each. That’s rare in our world today.   

With 500,000 of us Longhorns, we will always have disagreements and wildly different perspectives. There will no doubt be more challenges in the coming months, and intense debate in our campus community. No one person can make everyone at this massive table of extended family agree 100 percent of the time. But I’m encouraged and motivated by the optimism I see in Jay. He feels that bond across generations of Longhorns and the hope we all had when we stepped onto the Forty Acres in search of broader horizons. As this momentous year continues, and seasons change, I believe Jay can help us remember that feeling—and pass it on. 

Hook ’em, 

Chuck Harris
BBA ’86, Life Member


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