UT System Chancellor William McRaven outlined his plans for the system in a conference with student journalists on March 31.
McRaven, who started his tenure in January after retiring as four-star admiral in the United States Navy, said one of the biggest things he is concerned with is helping with affordability for students at all UT campuses. Along with making education more affordable, he also said there has to be a growth in the quality of the education as well.
“This is the balancing act, to make education as affordable as can be but still as high quality as can be,” he said. “Because frankly, if students that are looking for a high quality education, if they don’t think that we’re giving them a high enough quality education, they will go outside the state. Statistics show when a student goes outside the state to learn, they don’t often come back to the state.”
He also said he wants to see the four and six-year graduation rates improve at all UT institutions. He said he isn’t currently happy about where they are and he plans to grapple with this challenge.
McRaven also addressed the issues concerning mental health on campuses across the system. Even though he hasn’t taken a look into what the specifics of the issue are on UT campuses yet, he said he still has experience with the issue from his time in the military.
“When I was the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, we began keeping statistics on suicide,” he said. “What was really disconcerting was the rate of suicides was increasing dramatically … what was evident in every one of those suicides, however, was that I think in 90 percent of them there was a gun involved, there was some sort of relationship problem and invariably there was alcohol and drugs.”
He said they military began to take a look into all the factors that were influencing servicemen to have suicidal behavior. He said the pressures brought on by a collegiate atmosphere, such as wanting to make high grades, can lead students to have similar issues that he saw in servicemen and women.
“I absolutely believe we need to take a hard look at this,” he said. “We need to make sure that we at each one of the campuses that we are in a position to help the students, that we have services that can help them … You have to break down this concern about there being a stigma with mental health. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to come in and seek the help that they need.”
One of the major issues he touched on was guns on campus. On March 31, the Texas House Homeland Security and Safety Committee approved HB397 for review on the floor. If passed, the billwould allow students with a concealed handgun license to carry their weapon onto campus. The Senate passed their own version of the bill earlier this month.
McRaven said even though he is a gun owner and a supporter of Second Amendment rights, he does not support the bill. He said the concerns voiced to him from students, faculty and administrators about safety on campus have made it hard for him to support the legislation.
He said if the bill were to pass and concealed handguns were allowed on campuses, universities may have to start having what he called a “barricaded mentality.” He said this would involve making students check in weapons at restricted areas and putting up metal detectors.
“Before long, do we stop people from going into the classrooms because now you have to have a badge to swipe into every classroom?” he said. “This isn’t the campus environment I think any of us want, but we may find ourselves in that position if the campus carry passes.”