As 2015 comes to a close and we celebrate the holiday season, it is a time for me to look back as well as look forward to what is next for The University of Texas at Austin. I am honored to lead this great university, and every day I think about our mission — to educate leaders, to create knowledge through scholarship and to serve society.
The past six months have been a wonderful whirlwind, and every day I have a chance to personally experience so much of what makes UT special.
The last few weeks have been a microcosm of that. One week ago, I attended the oral arguments for Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the university defended our admissions policy to further the goal of providing the educational benefits of diversity to all students. I remain confident that the court will continue to recognize that our holistic admissions policy is critical to achieving that. The hearing and the national attention on diversity set a stage for my dialogue with student leaders from different backgrounds about the campus climate and next steps to make sure every student benefits from the opportunities at UT.
By the weekend, I was courtside for both men’s basketball’s last-second upset over North Carolina and the women’s volleyball victory in the NCAA Regional Finals. The next day, the women’s basketball team defeated Stanford to round out a terrific weekend.
At my inaugural State of the University address, I said that for many, Texas Athletics is the front door to the university. I am glad that Mike Perrin agreed to serve as Men’s Athletics director for the next two years. I look forward to working with Mike, along with Women’s Athletics Director Chris Plonsky, to continue moving Texas Athletics forward. The Longhorn victory over the Baylor Bears in Waco was thrilling to watch, and I am excited for next season. Under Coach Charlie Strong’s leadership and with great young student-athletes returning, the team is heading in the right direction.
I want to mention one moment that exemplifies what our faculty and students do at UT. I visited physics professor Mark Raizen in his lab where he works on the basic science controlling the motion of atoms and molecules. This has applications in creating isotopes for medicine, especially cancer therapy, and providing clean drinking water. I was impressed to see graduate and undergraduate students working directly with Dr. Raizen to develop the science and think through the applications. It reminded me how uniquely positioned we are to shape the future — and why I call UT the “university of what’s next.”
I have also been engaged in the campus discussions about Texas Senate Bill 11, which provides that a holder of a concealed handgun license may carry a concealed weapon on university campuses starting Aug. 1, 2016. Open carry of handguns on campus will continue to be against the law. After several months of challenging work, the Campus Carry Working Group that I appointed delivered its recommendations for policies. Their report will help me develop a plan through which we preserve a safe educational environment, consistent with S.B. 11 and other relevant laws.
I will soon announce leadership appointments as several searches for vice presidents and deans come to successful conclusions. Working with my leadership team, deans, faculty and staff, we will continue to develop the strategies for advancing UT in education, research and service to society. And the countdown is under way for the first class of the Dell Medical School when it officially opens in summer 2016.
Thank you for your support of The University of Texas at Austin, and best wishes for the holiday season! I look forward to seeing and hearing from you in 2016.