As a fifth-generation Texan, I take a long and personal view of this state and the University of Texas System.
For more than a century, Texas and the UT System have grown and changed together. Our state has become increasingly populous, urban and well-educated, and the UT System has expanded into nine college campuses and six medical institutions, with almost 180,000 students and 87,000 faculty and staff members spread across the state, fom El Paso to Tyler, from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley.
Texans’ future, our economic well-being, and our ability to compete in a world that moves more and more rapidly depend on our commitment to higher education. As both the new chairman of the UT System Board of Regents and as a father, I am dedicated to a better future for all our children and particularly for the generations to come.
To ensure these goals, I am committed to continuing the UT System’s accountability and openness to all Texans, which Chancellor Mark G. Yudof mandated when he assumed his position almost two years ago. Under Chancellor Yudof’s leadership, the UT System has moved to the forefront of higher education by providing annual accountability reports about our universities’ and medical institutions’ successes and shortcomings in student education and research.
As stewards of the public’s trust and as trustees of your children’s future, we owe you this accountability. We must accurately measure our progress – and hold ourselves responsible for any failures – if we are going to fulfill our goal of continuous improvement.
I also plan to follow the lead of my predecessor, Charles Miller, in exercising greater oversight of the University of Texas Investment Management Company. The Board of Regents has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Texas to make certain public-education funds are prudently invested, and we intend to meet that responsibility in full.
As Texans compete in an increasingly complicated international economy, we have to make certain that universities are serving the state with education that prepares students for the future and research that fuels business growth and creates new opportunities. I am firmly committed to pursuing increased funding and faculty recruitment that will be required to enhance the research capabilities and capacity of the UT campuses.
The UT System and Board of Regents are particularly fortunate to work with a state legislature that understands the importance of allowing the Board to set tuition rates based on the individual needs of each campus. Higher education committee co-chairs Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Geanie Morrison, along with the members of their committees, wisely crafted tuition flexibility legislation that has already benefited students across the state.
For example, because of tuition flexibility, UT El Paso is hiring 53 new faculty members in the fall, will add 97 new class sections in the spring, and is expanding its scholarship funds. At the same time, UT Health Science Center at Houston’s School of Nursing will upgrade its clinical facilities, purchase new robotic equipment to improve students’ training, and expand its available classes to help meet the state’s nursing shortage. At the UT System’s other academic campuses and health institutions, tuition flexibility is critical to improving access, sustaining quality, recruiting and retaining top faculty, and making better use of the physical facilities to meet the needs of rapidly growing enrollments at our campuses.
In many ways, we are living in a difficult time for higher education, with budgetary restrictions and heightened public demands. But what we do and the choices we make during difficult times may be more important than those in simpler times.
Today, you and I have the opportunity to make a better future for our state by committing ourselves to excellence in higher education. I urge you to join me in my long view that the future of Texas is dependent on the continuous expansion and improvement of the UT System.
After all, our future – and the future of our children and their children – is at stake.
<em>James Huffines is the newly elected Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, a banker and resident of Austin.</em>