On his first day as chancellor of the University of Texas System, Admiral Bill McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said the system needed to move beyond the conflicts that have marked the last few years.
In an email blast to the UT community, McRaven wrote that "there have been disagreements and disputes that have harmed the reputation of this great UT System and, as a result, we have missed opportunities to move forward."
Since 2011, the relationships between the system's board of regents, its flagship university and the Texas Legislature have been strained.
Lawmakers and university leaders initially raised concerns about the system leadership's commitment to supporting research at the University of Texas at Austin.
That initial distrust has given way to further disputes. Legislators investigated and ultimately censured one of the system's board members — Regent Wallace Hall — for the way he was personally investigating UT-Austin's administration, primarily President Bill Powers. Meanwhile, the system has launched reviews of UT-Austin's admissions policies, its relationship with foundations that provide the university financial support, and its accounting practices, all of which were subjects of Hall's scrutiny.
McRaven indicated in his email that he believes it is time to bring this troubled chapter of the system's history to a close.
"We are better than that," he wrote. "It is time to resolve those arguments and look to the future. My number one priority will be to rebuild the trust between all stakeholders — all of those who want to see the best from UT institutions."
Additionally, he touched on the importance of research at the system's institutions, saying, "I understand and value the work in a way that others may not, because a lot of the research that starts in Texas has saved lives on the battlefield. I have seen it firsthand."
He also said he looked forward to working with lawmakers and the associations and foundations that contribute to the system and its institutions.
"I am confident that by pulling together we can forge a future that is befitting of the majesty that is Texas," he said.
Here is the full text of his message:
Today marks the first day of what I hope will be many years serving The University of Texas System. My wife, Georgeann, and I are both extremely excited about representing this magnificent institution.
I want to begin by thanking the Board of Regents for its confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity to serve as the UT System Chancellor. I will work tirelessly to advance the goals of higher education, research, clinical care and service to the State of Texas. As a public servant, I can think of no nobler calling.
I also want to thank former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. His phenomenal leadership over the past six years has made the UT System one of the finest in the nation and has fundamentally changed the lives of Texans by increasing the availability of and expanding the opportunities for higher education. It is a legacy of which to be exceptionally proud. Additionally, Francisco and Graciela were incredibly kind to both Georgeann and me as we worked through the transition. We felt at home right away. I wish the Cigarroas all the very best as they return to San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center.
As I take the reins of the UT System I cannot help but be influenced by my time in the service. In my 37 years in the military, I served in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and throughout the United States. My experiences interacting with people from around the world have shaped my thinking about the uniqueness of Texas, the role of higher education, research, and health care, and the rewards of service to our state and nation.
As I traveled around the world it never ceased to amaze me that when I told people I was from Texas, everyone I encountered, from the youngest Afghan girl to the oldest African villager, had a common view of Texas and Texans. They understood that Texans were men and women of character and integrity — strong-willed, independent, bold, risk-takers, who helped the weak and downtrodden, who got up when they were knocked down, and who never complained about their struggles. Texans wore boots and big hats and sat tall in the saddle because there was a grandness in their manner. They understood that being a Texan was something special.
This image of Texans was universal, and we have rightly earned that reputation through generations of men and women who came to this great land and made it what it is today. We are Texans, and that should mean something in everything we do — particularly in higher education, research, health care and service.
In my travels I saw what a good education can do to transform a society. A good education reduces fear, bigotry, racism, and inequality. A good education brings dignity and respect. A good education provides new opportunities and, above all, a good education gives hope and a belief in the future.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, I saw young Americans fighting alongside their Iraqi and Afghan partners to secure schoolhouses so young women could have an education.
I saw children from Mali and Chad, Colombia and Peru, the Philippines and Indonesia overcome every obstacle in their path just to go to a cramped one-room shack so they could get an education.
When you have to overcome tremendous odds, you have an entirely new appreciation for the value of education. Everything is better with a good education.
Consequently, we should ensure that every young Texan has the opportunity for an education, but we should also teach them to overcome obstacles and let nothing stop them from achieving their goals.
As a Navy SEAL, my life often depended on the quality of the technology that we used for our missions. We have the best special operations forces in the world because we select the finest men and women and because we have state-of-the-art technology. This technology includes GPS, night vision goggles, frequency hopping radios, unmanned aerial vehicles, sonars for our mini-subs, terrain-following radar for our special aircraft, laser designators on our weapons, body armor, special operation tourniquets for our medics, and prosthetics for our wounded, just to name a few.
This technology didn’t appear overnight. It was the product of long, hard work in the research labs. Sometimes it meant years of small incremental steps that suddenly led to dramatic changes and revolutionary advances. It also required exceptionally dedicated scientists and clinicians, administrators and staff support and sufficient funds to make these ideas come to life.
When I look at the magnificent research going on across the UT System — both at the academic and health institutions — I understand and value the work in a way that others may not, because a lot of the research that starts in Texas has saved lives on the battlefield. I have seen it firsthand.
I also value service — service to the nation and service to the State of Texas. I have been fortunate to serve with some of the finest young men and women this country has ever produced. After 9/11 these “millennials” joined the military and the State Department and the CIA and the FBI and non-governmental organizations, and they served wherever they were needed. And many of them either didn’t come back or they came back forever changed.
These are the same young men and women who are being raised in Dallas and Houston, Brownsville and El Paso, towns big and small alike. These are the same young men and women who are coming to our UT institutions around the state. They value service and we should find every opportunity to help them serve Texas and the nation.
Finally, I have been raised in a culture that values leadership. From the time I attended Naval ROTC at UT Austin, the military has instilled in me the core values necessary to lead. But leadership is not the sole purview of the military.
In fact, I believe that the purpose of education is to build great leaders. From anthropologists to zoologists, from accountants to physicists, great leaders are people who make changes for the betterment of society: a better way to understand shifting demographics, a better business model, a better way to treat cancer, a better legal argument or a better understanding of why we exist. As Texans, building great leaders should be part of our DNA.
However, I don’t believe you can build great leaders without creating an environment that challenges them, that encourages them — an environment that propels them forward.
Within The University of Texas System, that environment resides in our academic and intellectual freedom. I strongly believe that as students, faculty, and researchers, we should challenge conventional wisdom. We should challenge the great philosophers. We should challenge the nature of the universe. We should challenge our economic models, our governmental models, and our business models. Nothing should go unchallenged. We should be relentless in our pursuit of new ideas.
We should make people mad, frustrated, irate and alive with curiosity. We should publish papers that shake the foundation of conventional thinking.
We need students who challenge professors and professors who challenge students. I want those who educate our young men and women to come to work every day with a little anxiety, wondering whether they will be good enough for our students. I want students who wake up every morning excited about their classroom and what they might learn. I want researchers who push the envelope on every new idea, who never accept the existing theories and trends.
All of this should produce leaders in every field of endeavor. Leaders who are not afraid of the professional risk that comes from challenging the established thinking. We need leaders who can inspire, who can create and produce. We need leaders who can educate the next generation of thinkers. We must be known as the institution that builds leaders through world-class education, cutting-edge research, uncompromising intellectual integrity, and the highest ethical standards.
If we do this, we will continue to recruit the finest minds in the world because they will want to come to institutions of The University of Texas System. They will want to come to a place where we have the best facilities, the greatest intellectual freedom, and a student body and faculty that rival any institution in the country.
As Chancellor, I see my primary role as supporting the magnificent academic and health institutions that are the foundation of the UT System. The message to the System Administration is that we, the System, must add value to the institutions. We must wake up every morning with the goal of making the individual institutions the best they can be.
We must put the institutions in a position to thrive. We will do so by lessening the bureaucracy, creating a more entrepreneurial environment and encouraging risk-taking. My promise to all the senior leaders in our academic and health institutions is that I will work for you — for your goals — to advance your causes. I will need to earn your trust and I will work hard to do so every single day.
My duty is also to the Board of Regents, which has a responsibility to provide oversight and guidance to the System to advance the goals of higher education and research. I look forward to working with the Chairman and all the regents to forge a future that surpasses all expectations and provides an unshakable foundation for generations to come.
Additionally, as we prepare for the convening of the 84th Legislature, I can think of no better place to start building the future than by working with our new state leaders and legislators to outline our goals and identify the assistance we need to make those goals a reality.
I am also excited about the prospects of partnering with the other great academic and research institutions and with industry in the state and beyond. I will quickly reach out to leaders in these areas to find ways to improve collaboration and cooperation for the good of all the people of Texas.
Also, for the associations, councils, foundations, and groups that support, advise and contribute immensely to the advancement of The University of Texas System, rest assured that I not only value but will actively seek your involvement in the affairs of our institutions. The more voices I hear, the more clearly I will be able to determine the correct path ahead.
Lastly, there have been disagreements and disputes that have harmed the reputation of this great UT System and, as a result, we have missed opportunities to move forward. We are better than that. It is time to resolve those arguments and look to the future. My number one priority will be to rebuild the trust between all stakeholders —all of those who want to see the best from UT institutions.
Never in my life have I seen such promise and such potential to change the lives of Texans across the state. The University of Texas System is poised for greatness, but greatness does not come without hard work, dedication, and a clear vision of the goals at hand. I am confident that by pulling together we can forge a future that is befitting of the majesty that is Texas. I look forward to working with all of you to make that future a reality.
Thank you very much!
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.