As we wrap up another successful semester and take a break for the holidays, I am reminded that the best part of my job is the people. Over the course of the fall, more of the magic of the Forty Acres returned, due largely to the fact that our students were back on campus, as were most of you. It’s been great to see again all the amazing things — large and small — that happen when we learn, teach, research, debate and innovate together on campus. Thank you for all you do. You bring your own unique energy, experience and expertise to bear on our teaching and research missions, and each of you helps our community thrive.
The latest on omicron
Last week, we announced the probable presence of the omicron variant on our campus. The situation is worrisome, raising thoughts of, “Here we go again.” Yet, from what we have seen so far, I think there are both frustrating similarities and meaningful signs of hope that this time is different. We have been here before, and we know what to do. We have the tools on campus to test, trace, treat and vaccinate against the virus, and we have a greater sense of what works. We can continue to practice healthy behaviors such as getting vaccinated (and boosters when appropriate), masking and hand washing, as our experts closely monitor what’s happening on our campus and in our community.
There is preliminary evidence that omicron may be less severe in terms of health risks for many individuals, which provides increased hope. We also expect boosters will be a critical component with this variant, so please continue to take advantage of their availability on campus. In sum, I am confident the same adaptability and resilience, the same expertise and resources, and the same tools and practices that have enabled us to navigate the changing landscape, while still delivering on our mission, will serve us well in 2022 and beyond.
While we’ve certainly faced numerous challenges this year, we have also continued to have an impact and prosper. In addition to coming back together in person, we’ve celebrated many impressive milestones and achievements this semester. Consider the following:
- Our 2021 graduation rates were up across the board, and our four-year graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been — 72.8%. We also saw record enrollment for Hispanic students and first-generation students.
- We made progress on our commitment to affordable housing by acquiring Dobie Twenty21 and received the green light from the Board of Regents to build affordable graduate housing on the east side of campus.
- Researchers developed a tablet that can clean a liter of water in an hour and discovered a massive black hole. Another was awarded a MacArthur fellowship, often referred to as the “genius grant,” while two additional faculty members received the 2021 UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.
- Staff launched new mental health initiatives such as the My Student Support Program, offering 24/7 counseling to students wherever they are, and MHART, which adds the option of sending mental health professionals with strong expertise into the field to respond to police calls.
- We were ranked a top 10 public university in America and as the best college in Texas for veterans.
- We marked 50 years of Latino studies at UT, and the 20th anniversary of the Texas Advanced Computing Center.
- We entered into an agreement with the U.S. Space Force to provide advanced research and workforce development for the newest branch of the U.S. armed services.
- This month, Professor David Vanden Bout agreed to serve as the next dean of the College of Natural Sciences, our biggest college and one that is critical to our future impact.