President Wildenthal Details Progress of University at Annual Address

  • "I'm really proud of what the faculty, staff and students have done over the years. It's a great story, and I'm happy to be associated with this community of people. This year, we have a lot to celebrate," said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, president ad interim.

In his recent State of the University Address, Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, president ad interim of The University of Texas at Dallas, offered a perspective on the current status of the University informed by more than 20 years guiding the campus as part of its leadership team.

“One of the great things about the University is that every academic year the campus adds new students, faculty and programs,” he said to an audience of more than 800 in the lecture hall of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building.

“I’m really proud of what the faculty, staff and students have done over the years. It’s a great story, and I’m happy to be associated with this community of people. This year, we have a lot to celebrate.”

Wildenthal’s address highlighted such areas as faculty and student achievements, changes in the physical landscape of the campus, new and upcoming programs and initiatives, and the impact of private philanthropy on the campus community.

The University’s first comprehensive fundraising effort, Realize the Vision: The Campaign for Tier One and Beyond, generated more than $273 million, boosting the institution’s endowment to $392.7 million as of Aug. 31. Funds raised are supporting multiple efforts, including scholarships, faculty chairs, fellowships and professorships.

Wildenthal noted that UT Dallas expects to receive an additional $40 million over the next two years through matches generated by the state’s Texas Research Incentive Program.

Intellectual Capital

President ad interim Wildenthal is seen here with Peter O'Donnell. O'Donnell and his wife, Edith O'Donnell, have been generous supporters of UT Dallas. Wildenthal said the future of the University is dependent on philanthropic gifts.

Wildenthal described the campus as a tripartite community of staff, students and faculty, all interdependent on each other to create a functioning university.

“The business of the University is the aggregation of intellectual capital, embodied in our student body, faculty and staff,” Wildenthal said. “We take the great intellectual capital that we recruit and we embellish it, refine it, and enhance it through our educational and research programs.”

One way the aggregation of intellectual capital manifests is in how the University fosters junior faculty by providing a supportive environment. Wildenthal highlighted the number of recent hires, including those who have received substantial early career research funding from external sources.

“Most faculty come in as assistant professors,” Wildenthal said. “The deans and their faculty search committees have done a fantastic job in attracting young intellectual capital, which is already blossoming, as recognized by national funding agencies.

“In terms of aggregation of intellectual capital, we’ve made a major step forward.”

The number of full-time tenure/tenure track faculty has grown to 552.

Students, too, are a key component of the University’s intellectual capital. Average SAT scores of incoming freshmen are typically the highest among public universities in the state. In addition, UT Dallas boasts 332 National Merit Scholars on campus.

“One reason we are succeeding in recruiting great freshmen is the services we provide,” Wildenthal said. Among the programs that offer academic and leadership opportunities are the newly created Honors College, the Terry Scholars and McDermott Scholars programs, Collegium V and Student Ambassadors.

Wildenthal also highlighted several student achievements in sports and academics — including a national title for the UT Dallas Battlebot team — and lauded the efforts of the Office of Student Affairs.

“There was a time when we had relatively little student life, with relatively few students on campus,” he said. “The campus is now alive with students, and Student Affairs is doing a great job in making them glad they came to and graduated from UT Dallas.”

Geography is Destiny

As student enrollment has grown — total enrollment is at more than 24,500 this year — the topology of the campus has transformed as well, which Wildenthal characterized with the phrase, “geography is destiny.”

“We have 440 acres given to us by our founders, and it’s an island with pretty steep cliffs,” Wildenthal said. “Ultimately, the fact that we’re getting bigger in every way, in population and in activities, means that our 440 acres is going to have to grow up rather than out. That means parking garages and multistory buildings.”

To address the challenges of growth, the campus has expanded bus services to more off-campus locations, while Comet Cabs and a new bicycle-sharing program called Zagster help connect people to distant points.

“We’re trying to make life more efficient for our community,” Wildenthal said.

Wildenthal noted that campus geography encompasses not just land, but what’s on the land.

“Over the past five years we have built five residence halls, housing 2,200 students” of the nearly 5,000 total living on campus. “These have been a huge success and have helped drive enrollment growth,” he said.

In late fall, the new, 220,000-square-foot Bioengineering and Sciences Building will open, providing research space for 70 faculty members as well as teaching laboratories. Construction is underway for the Callier Center expansion, the Student Services Building addition, and a new parking structure on the west side of campus. The Northside project — across from campus on Synergy Boulevard — also is under construction. The mixed-use development, scheduled for completion in fall 2016, will include apartments and townhomes, as well as retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.

“We are energetically focused on building more apartments for our students and more research and general academic space for our activities,” Wildenthal said. “A big challenge for our future is finding the resources and space for our students to live, and for our faculty and students to study and do research.”

Forward Momentum Continues

Looking to the future, Wildenthal said philanthropic gifts — from alumni in particular — will play an ever more important role in the success of the University. UT Dallas has graduated more than 90,000 alumni, and is adding several thousand new graduates each year.

“While we’ve been blessed over the years with great philanthropy from non-alumni, going forward, it’s on our alumni that the long-term future of our University is going to depend more and more,” he said.

He cited an example: Chuck and Nancy Davidson, alumni of the Naveen Jindal School of Management, whose giving is making it possible to begin construction of the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center, which will be built near the Naveen Jindal School of Management building.

“This is going to be a great venue for our students and faculty, for activities, as well as for alumni. It will be a showplace in the center of campus, and is an example of what we’ve got to look forward to in the future,” Wildenthal said.

Wildenthal also highlighted the new School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, which gained independent status this fall. He said ATEC fundamentally depended on external philanthropic investment, attracting a new and “different” cadre of students.

“It is a great success story, from creation to its current emergence,” Wildenthal said. “It’s a story of creativity, philanthropic support, and faculty and student initiative.”

Other Perspectives

Staff, faculty and student perspectives also were included in the State of the University report.

Dr. Tim Redman, professor of literary studies and speaker of the faculty, said that UT Dallas students and faculty members are engaged in a mutual learning experience, aided and facilitated by a “capable and hardworking staff.”

“Our very bright, and for the most part diligent, students serve to teach us things, and we’re grateful,” he said.

Paula Austell, director of endowment services and immediate past president of the Staff Council, said the staff are “important ingredients to the success of the University,” interacting with students at many points before they ever step foot in a classroom.

Austell also described several of the council’s successes, including four lactation rooms on campus for nursing mothers, and fundraising for scholarships. Future projects under consideration include adding child care on campus and an initiative against bullying called “Creating a Culture of Dignity and Respect.”

Caitlynn Fortner, Student Government president, added her views:

“Students, faculty and staff alike are feeling the dynamism that is endemic to UTD,” said Fortner, a 2013 McDermott Scholar and an international political economy senior. “Each year the community of students who arrive in the fall blasts away expectations. The ever-increasing commitment, creativity and wonder in my fellow students is my most cherished feature of UTD.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].