UT Austin President Bill Powers delivered the annual State of the University address Wednesday afternoon, touting the accomplishments and acknowledging challenges of the past year as a new academic year begins.
President Powers also acknowledged what he considers the vital importance of private donors to achieve the university’s future goals. He expressed appreciation for the legislature’s $25 million increase in state funding over the next two years, but says it still falls short of what’s necessary to run a top tier university.
“This was a very positive step and I deeply appreciated it. But it must also be seen against the backdrop of the $92 million decrease in state funding we absorbed over the previous two years," he said.
Powers said UT must remain a strong research university and teaching university, but said the university will not succeed at both if it is unable to retain the most talented faculty.
"Let me put it bluntly," Powers said. "We need raises, even if we have to stop doing some other important things to get them."
But without help from the state, the university has been forced to turn to private donors to achieve many of the university’s goals: from the new medical school slated to open in 2016 to the construction of new facilities like the Belo Center for New Media. In January, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation donated $50 million to the new medical school.
“Only through philanthropy will we be able to realize our founders’ vision for national and world-class greatness," Powers said.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass tuition revenue bonds that would allow state university's to borrow money for capitol projects. Powers said new infrastructure must also be able to accommodate changing technology.
"We still don't know the full impact technology will have on our teaching, and therefore our facilities," Powers said. "So we need to look into the future to ensure that we are designing buildings for the next century, not the last one."
The president promoted the technological improvements the university has made in curriculum too, including new online courses and research program, edX, a non-profit that also works with Harvard, MIT, UC-Berkeley and other research universities.
Powers expressed support for a mix of online and in-person educational experiences, urging the UT community to look beyond whether or not traditional courses or technology-enhanced courses are the best ways to teach.
"The real question is what does each do well, and what combination of experiences best services our students over a four-year residential experience."