September 15, 2016
Dear faculty colleagues,
I have always loved the rhythm of the academic year. The relative quiet of the summer followed by the excitement at the start of fall semester as faculty and students return to campus and classes begin. This year, the annual cycle takes on new meaning as it is my first at UT Austin. Everyone has been so welcoming, inviting me to events and hosting me for tours of colleges and schools so that I can see the spaces where teaching, learning, and research take place. This is a big campus. There are so many of you I’ve not yet met, but I look forward to doing so soon.
During his second State of the University address on Tuesday, President Fenves outlined his priorities moving forward, touching upon several issues important to faculty. I wanted to take this opportunity to expand upon what the president said in his speech, and talk about what we are doing to support faculty.
Increased Investment in Faculty
Excellence centers around our faculty. It is essential that we redouble our efforts to retain the excellent faculty who are here, and recruit new faculty at the highest levels. Failure to do so increases the risk of falling behind our peers, and I will not let that happen.
We are competing in national and global markets. Two years ago, the university began the Faculty Investment Initiative, and now we will build on and expand those efforts. I will work closely with the colleges and schools to develop plans to invest in faculty. This will include a focus on retaining the extraordinary faculty already here, as well as recruiting new talent to UT Austin.
New Research Initiative - Bridging Barriers
As part of our focus on faculty excellence, the new Bridging Barriers initiative will increase resources to support faculty research. Led by Dan Jaffe, Vice President for Research, this university-wide initiative aims to bring together interdisciplinary teams of UT Austin researchers to address significant questions that touch on society, nature, technology, and the human spirit. Support will include faculty lines, new funding, and help to secure extramural funding.
Each year, for the next 3-5 years, we will select a new question to begin its 10-year journey of investigation and discovery. The questions will come from you, the faculty, through white papers that identify creative and thought-provoking concepts. I encourage all faculty to learn more about the white paper submission process. The first deadline for submissions is December 15, 2016.
Greater Focus on Diversity and Equity
While much of the public discussion around diversity at UT has been focused on our undergraduate students, the diversity of our faculty is equally critical.
Recently, the University Gender Equity Council (UGEC) conducted a campus-wide study to analyze and identify equity issues at the university and college levels. The detailed analysis has been discussed with deans and appropriate responses have been created.
To build on these efforts, I am charging each dean to work with the faculty to develop a diversity and inclusion action plan for each college and school. The Council for Racial and Ethnic Equity and Diversity (CREED) will play an important role along with UGEC, as members will participate and share strategies with others across campus. They will work closely with the standing committees to explore best practices and develop plans appropriate to the culture of each college. Committees will focus on a wide range of issues including: conducting more inclusive searches and addressing implicit bias, recruiting strategies to actively broaden candidate pools, developing mentoring programs for junior faculty, addressing equity issues, and focusing on ways to create a more inclusive environment for our faculty.
I am committed to making UT Austin an inclusive environment where faculty will want to build their lives and their careers.
Project 2021 Next Steps
In January, the president appointed Jamie Pennebaker to lead Project 2021. The goal of the project is to help shape the next generation of undergraduate education at UT Austin. By relying on advances in technology and new ways of teaching, Project 2021 will work with faculty and departments to rethink individual classes, curricula, and student experiences that enhance the educational and research opportunities of our students. Project 2021 will also help to create more experiential learning opportunities to help students make connections between their academic lives and the life they want to lead after graduation.
One component of this initiative, the Faculty Innovation Center, is now in place to collaborate with faculty and units to build more transformative learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. The new Development Studio works with faculty to use technology in a variety of learning settings. Extended Campus continues to expand and offer the educational resources of UT Austin to our own students as well as people around the world who want to take classes from leading faculty.
Project 2021 is a major undertaking and an important initiative for UT. As progress is made this year, you can expect more information about what this might mean for you.
Provost Open Hours
Since I joined the UT community, the best part of my job has been learning about this campus and meeting the amazing people who make this a special place. The most important goal I have right now is to listen and learn from you. Meeting my fellow faculty is critical to my understanding the needs of the campus. During this academic year, I’ll be holding open hours each month in colleges and units around campus.
My first meeting will be September 27 at 8:30 a.m. in CBA 3.202. I encourage you to come join me. Future open hours information will be posted here.
To those of you who have sent me emails and comments during my first months here, thank you. I look forward to meeting many more of you in the coming months.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Professor, American Studies and Art History
Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities
The University of Texas at Austin