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The University of Texas at Austin announced the biggest philanthropic campaign ever undertaken by a Texas university Friday, pledging to raise $6 billion, with one-sixth of that sum to pay for student scholarships and support.
The $1 billion for students is believed to be the largest fund-raising goal for such purposes in the history of public higher education and is part of the institution’s aim to become the “highest-impact public research university in the world,” administration officials said.
“We face incredible opportunities as we pursue our goal of becoming the world’s most impactful public research university,” President Jay Hartzell said in a statement. “We will accomplish this by continuing to attract highly talented people, by taking advantage of our unique place in Austin and Texas, and by focusing on transformative pursuits.”
The campaign, called What Starts Here, aims to attract and retain top talent and elevate the university’s research. It will also focus on recruiting students and helping with financial aid.
UT Austin already offers a degree of income-based tuition assistance: The UT System Board of Regents in 2019 creating a $167 million endowment to cover tuition and fees for students whose families earn less than $65,000 a year.
Austin’s cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years.
The university relies on a mix of state government, tuition and donations but the portion of its revenue coming from the state has fallen from 34% two decades ago to 10% in 2020-21.
As part of the campaign’s goal, the university hopes to strengthen its Dell Medical School, which opened in 2016, as a clinical and research center and a “hub for destination care, much like Houston, Dallas and other major health care centers,” the university said in a press release. It will also focus on helping Austin become a “hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The campaign will seek to recruit talented faculty as that has become increasingly competitive across the country.
Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wanted to end tenure for new hires at the state’s public universities in an effort to combat professors who “indoctrinate” students with teachings about critical race theory. Conservatives over the past year have used the term as a broad label to attack progressive teachings about race and gender.
Patrick, whose position overseeing the Senate allows him to drive the state’s legislative agenda, also proposed a change to state law that could make teaching critical race theory grounds for revoking tenure for professors who already have it. He suggested reviewing tenure review annually instead of every six years.
Academics said weakening tenure would damage the state’s universities and drive students and faculty elsewhere. They said tenure is intended to protect professors from politics and safeguard academic freedom.
In a statement, Kevin Eltife, a former Republican state senator and chair of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, said the university’s new fundraising campaign builds on its support from Texas lawmakers.
“We are grateful for all the philanthropic support already provided and are confident that this fundraising effort will ensure a future where The University of Texas continues to produce Longhorns who change the world,” Eltife said.
The “quiet phase” of the latest UT campaign began in September 2016. Since then, more than 240,000 donors have contributed at least $3.3 billion, more than contributed to the university’s previous fundraising campaign between 2006 and 2014.
“The What Starts Here campaign has gotten off to an incredible start because of the volunteer leaders and individual donors who are passionate about the impact The University of Texas at Austin has on changing the world,” Scott Rabenold, vice president of development, said in a statement.
Disclosure: Dell, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.