The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) was founded as a scientific research institute in 1962 by a bold group of innovators and entrepreneurs who also founded the company that invented the integrated circuit and changed the world. In 1969 the University joined the University of Texas System. UTD focused its initial energy on recruiting outstanding faculty and establishing first-rate graduate programs. In 1990 the University began admitting lower division students and has ever since had one of the most distinguished, ambitious freshman classes in the State of Texas.
Today, The University of Texas at Dallas stands poised to become one of the nation’s premier public research universities. Many universities have similar, lofty aspirations, but UTD’s position and opportunity are unique for four reasons: (1) Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex need world-class research universities to compete effectively in a technologically intensive, global world; (2) UTD’s emphasis on focused excellence positions it exceptionally well to evolve into a top-tier university; (3) the Metroplex provides a powerful, synergistic environment in which UTD can succeed; and (4) the community has already demonstrated strong support for UTD.
The State of Texas annually produces about $900B of gross state product and ranks as the nation’s third most economically productive state, trailing only California and New York. If Texas were a nation, it would rank 9th in the world, ahead of India, despite the fact that Texas’s population is barely 2% of India’s.
Regrettably, Texas does not rank highly with respect to the number of leading research universities in the state. The Association of American Universities (AAU), which is comprised of the nation’s top research universities, includes only three Texas universities: Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University. California has nine AAU universities, and New York has seven. Based on relative population, if Texas were to have the same proportion of AAU universities as California, Texas should have six (rather than just three) AAU institutions.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has achieved greatness through the natural resources of the region and the tremendous success of key entrepreneurs, but future success will depend on knowledge and education rather than natural resources. As Tony Blair said, “Talent is the 21st Century wealth.” California’s economic miracle has been driven in no small measure by its great research universities, which have helped to educate its workforce, create new companies, and attract people and capital from around the world. Texas’s per capita income of $30,000 trails California’s ($35,000) and New York’s ($38,000), and if Texas is to keep pace with or surpass California and New York, Texas must not lose ground in the competition to educate and attract the nation’s best minds.
As a relatively young university, UTD has been built upon a foundation of focused excellence. The decision to focus on specific areas of excellence in each of its seven Schools rather than build horizontally for the sake of overall coverage has created a strong intellectual, innovative environment that allows for rapid yet controlled growth. The faculty at UTD consists of some of the nation’s best scholars and researchers, and in the most recent five years, research funding has increased by 72%. The faculty includes Nobel Prize winners as well as members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. Only three other universities in Texas can make this claim about their faculty.
UTD has an excellent undergraduate student profile that matches or exceeds the quality of the nation’s best research universities. For the last several years, the freshman class at UTD has had the highest average SAT score of any public university in Texas. In fact, based on SAT scores and high school performance, UTD has a stronger freshman class than 7 of the schools in the Big 10 Conference, a majority of schools in the Pac 10 conference, and all but two schools in the Big 12 conference.
UTD’s academic programs are focused on the University’s core strengths in high quality science, technology, engineering, cognition, and business education and research, and the University has excelled at and will continue to excel at providing a strong liberal arts’ education. UTD’s commitment to the liberal, practical, and creative arts must be strongly supported as the University continues to evolve. As part of that evolution, UTD has recently added innovative programs in Arts and Technology, Communications Sciences and Disorders, Cognition and Neuroscience, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, Geospatial Information Sciences, and Public Affairs—all designed to meet the rapidly changing needs of the Metroplex and the nation—and UTD’s programs in Audiology and Management are recipients of prestigious national rankings. UTD has produced outstanding graduates in literary and historical studies, and the University has strong programs that emphasize joint majors, like business and biology, and that educate elementary, middle, and high school teachers in core disciplines in the liberal arts and sciences rather than in generic education programs.
Several essential ingredients are needed for universities to become top-tier research institutions:
Today, top-tier research universities are severely handicapped if they are not located in a major metropolitan area with access to globally connected airports, a variety of job opportunities for companions or spouses of key staff members, and opportunities for cultural enrichment and excellent quality of life. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is an excellent location to build a great university: it has great international and regional airports, abundant job opportunities, and a rapidly growing and improving arts scene. The Metroplex is also the home of three strong community college districts that produce highly able students. Additionally, the UTD campus is surrounded by high tech industries, leading medical institutions, and other businesses, ideal for mutual interaction as well as for employment of UTD graduates.
Public research universities across the nation have struggled to cope with reduced state funding, a trend that is unlikely to change. Successful public universities will, by necessity, have to turn to other types of support to ensure their success, such as private support from alumni, local companies, and philanthropists. North Dallas is one of the most rapidly growing and wealthiest regions in Texas and the nation. The Metroplex is home to some of the nation’s largest companies, and the Metroplex also has a strong history of philanthropy. Although UTD, like other young universities, has limited near-term prospects for alumni donations to provide essential financial support, the wealth and resources in both the Metroplex and the immediate vicinity of UTD provide a unique and powerful resource base.
Some have said that the future will belong to collaborators, and UTD’s location is ideal for fostering partnerships on multiple levels. In this century of unprecedented medical discovery, it is doubtful that any great research university can sustain excellence without access to a world-class research hospital, and UTD has that in UT Southwestern Medical Center (UTSWMC), located in downtown Dallas. Moreover, UTD has the opportunity to partner with other universities in Texas, such as the University of Texas at Arlington, which offers complimentary programs and important assets in many fields. Additionally, opportunities to partner with industry in research and to transfer UTD’s technology to the private sector are almost limitless, given the richness of companies located in the Metroplex. Boundless opportunities for collaboration can also be found in schools, community colleges, museums, performing arts programs, city and county governments, and other institutions.
The University of Texas at Dallas was founded by a group of visionary leaders who donated land and the institution to the UT System. Private support created what would become UTD and has sustained the University’s excellence through programs such as the endowment of the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program, the establishment of the Center for BrainHealth, the creation of numerous endowed chair positions, and the leveraging of public and private support for infrastructure and other major initiatives. Without strong private and community support, no university can become a great institution—UTD has a history of receiving such support.
UTD’s continued development into one of the nation’s best public research universities will require that the University build upon existing strengths and areas of greatest opportunity, remaining true to the institution’s roots and legacy while addressing the need to change and innovate to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Perhaps more than anything, in its pursuit of excellence, UTD must emphasize leadership, both as an institution and as a place that develops and cultivates leaders who will create the future.
Updated: May 1, 2012