Texas Connect


A first look at UT’s new strategic direction

UT Austin Tower illuminated by sunlight
Photo by Marsha Miller

Editor’s note: Bobby Chesney, Lauren Ancel Meyers and Richard Flores have helped lead UT’s new strategic planning effort. Chesney is associate dean for academic affairs at the UT Law School and director of UT’s Strauss Center for International Security and Law; Meyers is a professor of integrative biology who founded UT’s Department of Statistics and Data Science and now directs the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium; and Flores is deputy to the president for academic priorities and a professor of anthropology and Mexican American studies.

There are many changes unfolding in the world that are sweeping through all of our lives and have big implications for higher education. With the convergence of major technological, cultural, demographic and international shifts, the moment is ripe for thinking about how universities, especially public flagships, can not only adapt but lead society forward. At this historic inflection point, we are developing a strategic vision to ensure that our teaching, research and service activities best benefit Texas, America and the world.

Shortly after President Jay Hartzell took office, he announced the launch of a strategic planning effort to chart the university’s course over the next decade. The president assembled a board of advisers composed of deans, vice presidents and other campus executives. 

The board launched a three-phase process. Phase 1 began in fall 2020 and focused on identifying a bold aspiration for UT in the decade ahead, along with five overarching priorities to guide UT’s path toward that goal. Phase 1 also included the launch of several initiatives focused on improving effectiveness in UT’s operations to better serve our constituents. In his State of the University address in September, President Hartzell announced the culmination of Phase 1 and UT’s transition into Phase 2. Now, the entire community — students, staff and faculty members, and alumni — will work together to identify and prioritize specific initiatives to propel UT forward and form the heart of the strategic plan itself. Phase 3 will be the execution phase, when individuals and teams will put the plans into action and be held accountable for their progress.

Phase 1 was led by two teams. One team focused on UT’s strategic mission, and a second focused on its operations. Hartzell tapped the three of us to lead the strategic team. The two teams have conducted hundreds of listening sessions with more than 1,000 people across campus and the broader UT community. We have spent over 100 hours diving deep into the past, present and future of UT with individual staff and faculty members, students and alumni. As the university launches Phase 2 with the guideposts developed in Phase 1, we are gearing up to tackle the big question: How are we going to do it all?

Portraits of the authors of this article
Left to right: Bobby Chesney, Lauren Ancel Meyers and Richard Flores.

UT’s 10-year ambition

UT boldly aspires to be “the world’s highest-impact public research university, unleashing knowledge, opportunity and innovation from the heart of Texas.” Each word in that statement is intentional. As we learned over the course of Phase 1, the UT community of students, staff and scholars cares deeply about making a difference in everything it does and feels a strong sense of connection to Texas. To reflect that, our aspirational statement emphasizes “impact” over “ranking” and fully embraces our mission as a public research university.

The five focal points of the strategic direction

To achieve this ambition, Phase 1 identified five priorities, or pillars, that collectively set a direction for the Phase 2 process. These pillars are tightly interwoven, connected by a compelling story. UT seeks to bring amazing, high-potential people to a place and community that is uniquely able to help them discover their passions and pursue their very best work. 

  1. People: UT will ambitiously attract students, faculty and staff members with outstanding potential for growth and impact, not only those who are already accomplished. They will join and contribute to a pervasive culture of excellence, inclusivity, diversity and innovation — that willingness to risk failure in order to achieve great things. We are committed to engaging our alumni for life personally and professionally, as part of the UT family. At the heart of it all, we value free and open discourse.
  2. Place: We cherish and aim to amplify the rich culture, creative spirit and profound growth of Austin and Texas. This moment of change poses both steep challenges and incredible opportunities to engage with our community and serve the state. UT can lead positive change locally and across Texas, while serving as a model for the rest of the country and world. We aspire to lead a transformation of higher education that will ultimately help solve problems, advance health and technology, and enhance life in the communities that surround us. We envision a growing ecosystem of partnerships with governments, NGOs and industry leaders. These relationships will elevate educational, research and service opportunities across campus and provide pathways to careers for students.

    By place, we are also proposing transformational improvements to our physical environment. With the explosive growth of Austin and rising cost of living, UT has a responsibility and opportunity to innovate the campus of the future.

    We turn now from the people and the place to envision the pursuits that will define the future of UT: transformative experiences, education and research.
  3. Experiences: The student experience extends far outside the classroom, studio and lab. Extracurricular organizations, activities, affiliations, athletics and residence experiences are among the defining experiences of their time at UT. Our staff and faculty members spend their working lives, often their entire careers, at UT. As we look ahead, we will lean hard into kindling individual passions and nurturing unique journeys, while cultivating a strong sense of community and commitment to service. UT will aim to be the best of all worlds, matching the energy of the largest flagship university with the close-knit feel of a small college. To achieve transformative experiences, we must ensure operational excellence at every touchpoint, including IT, HR and procurement.
  4. Education: How do we best equip our undergraduates, graduate students and alumni for success and impact in a world that’s constantly changing, shrinking and undergoing a technological revolution? To deliver outstanding education, we need to do far more than tweak our classes and programs. We seek to make fundamental changes, providing much more flexible curricular pathways, leveraging the best of digital education while radically integrating disciplines, experiences and global perspective.We aim to cultivate the leaders of the future, preparing them for a lifetime of success, leadership and impact. A part of “what starts here changes the world” is “who starts here changes the world.”
  5. Research: We aspire to deliver groundbreaking research and advance ambitious scholarly and creative activities that impact the world. We are calling for everyone to be bold and ambitious in what they do. And we are making a few very specific “big bets” in areas where UT has phenomenal cross-campus strength and Texas is uniquely poised to pave the way: health and well-being, energy and the environment, and technology change and society. Every unit of campus has something important to contribute in these domains and toward making the big bets of the future. To enable research that changes the world, UT will maintain state-of-the-art research facilities, labs, archives and creative spaces.

Our strategic plan is about all the people who are at, who have been at, and who feel connected to UT. We are embracing where we are today and our incredible potential for tomorrow. Our strategic direction is strongly anchored in our shared values and vision for leading our society forward. As we elevate the experiences of all students, staff and faculty members, and alumni, as we push the frontiers of higher education, and as we come together across disciplines to tackle grand challenges, we will succeed in transforming our people, place and the world.

We hope that everyone in the UT community will read through the plan, find where their passion intersects with UT’s aspiration and pitch their ideas. 

To share your ideas for the plan, please visit president.utexas.edu/strategic-plan and
click on “Share Your Input.”