May 1, 2020
Dear faculty colleagues,
It seems hard to believe how much has transpired during the past two months. As the end of the spring semester draws near, I remain in awe of how quickly you responded to switch to remote teaching and what you have done to support our students during these unprecedented times.
On May 4 Dan Jaffe will begin his role as interim provost in order to support the fall planning efforts. As such, today will be my last day as provost. As I mentioned before, leaving UT right now is incredibly hard, and I wish the circumstances were different. Dr. Jaffe and I have been working closely to ensure a smooth transition. Robust planning is already underway for the fall semester, and Dr. Jaffe and I are working closely with the president’s task force to ensure the campus is prepared.
Coming to UT from the University of Virginia four years ago was both exciting and invigorating. I knew well UT’s reputation as a research powerhouse, but I didn’t know much detail beyond my own scholarly areas. During my first year, people on campus would often ask what surprised me most about UT. My answer was that I had underestimated the depth and breadth of talent. The reputation of UT outside of Texas is strong, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the impact of the work that is done here.
Being the public flagship university of one of the largest and most influential states in the country places this campus in a unique context. Texas is, comparatively speaking, one of the strongest economies in the U.S., with a growing and increasingly diverse population. Students who choose to become Longhorns hail from diverse backgrounds and bring with them the critical perspectives that our society needs to successfully navigate our current and future challenges. What a privilege it is to work at an institution with such strong students who are going out to change the world.
As an institution, UT is facing many of the same challenges confronting higher education more broadly. Public perception of the role and value of higher education is being questioned at a time when it is more important than ever. Diversity, equity and inclusion among our faculty and leadership ranks require ongoing and committed focus. How we deliver education is changing, as we are experiencing quite acutely right now in remote environments. More and more, we’re preparing students for careers and jobs that don’t yet exist. Industries are shifting, the needs of society are evolving, and higher education will need to continue to respond in creative and meaningful ways.
What I can tell you is that UT is better positioned than many institutions to respond to such challenging times. With the resources and leadership on campus, this university will continue to be a place where people turn for solutions. Faculty members are the foundation upon which the university rests, and you have a critical role in the future. You contribute in so many ways: through your research and scholarship and how you communicate your work to the public, in the classroom and the critical influence you have in inspiring our students, and through the shared governance processes within the university.
Being part of this community has been one of the most important and gratifying chapters of my professional life. I have learned so much from you, and I am enormously grateful for being so warmly welcomed into this community.