Ambassador Robert Hutchings discusses time as LBJ School dean

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Ambassador Robert Hutchings has served as the dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs since 2010. He is stepping down in August.

Photo Credit: Sasha Haagensen | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Ambassador Robert Hutchings is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, UT's graduate public policy school. He assumed the position in 2010 and recently announced that he will be stepping down in August. From 1992 to 1993, he served as a special adviser to the secretary of state with the rank of ambassador.

 

The Daily Texan: Could you tell us a little bit about the LBJ School?

 

Robert Hutchings: We are one of the larger schools of public policy and one of the oldest. We have been around almost 45 years. We have 350 students, more or less.

 

We have got a reputation, certainly in Texas, as being the gold standard for public policy schools. One of the things we are trying to work on is to strengthen our image globally. We are opening the LBJ Washington Center, admitting that first class right now. It really makes it more competitive with the other public policy schools that are either in Washington or closer to Washington. So the students will spend one year here [in Austin] and be in Washington to launch their career there.

 

The other initiative is the executive master’s in public leadership. This is long overdue, I think. And it’s the only one in the state. In a capital like this, with so many state agencies, legislative staffs and nonprofit organizations, it's natural to offer working professionals the chance to get a degree, studying alternate weekends so they don’t have to leave their day jobs.

 

DT: What does the budget look like now for the LBJ School?

 

Hutchings: We are in pretty good shape. My whole deanship has seen a net drop in state support for the LBJ School. Frankly, the competition in terms of the faculty salaries has gotten really dramatic. We have to fund those on our own. Now we are entering a period where the financial outlook is much better, with the governor’s positive attitude toward UT Austin and the Legislature’s friendly attitude toward funding.

 

DT: How important do you find fundraising these days?

 

Hutchings: It’s very important. I find it’s pleasant and enjoyable… because everything I fundraise for is tied up to a program that I care about. I know for students entering public service careers… it’s hard for them to incur loan debt. That will drive them to the private sector, which is not what we are about.

 

DT: How much time do you spend on fundraising?

 

Hutchings: A quarter to a third of my time is related to fundraising, either directly or indirectly.

 

DT: Where do LBJ students go after graduating?

 

Hutchings: It’s all over the map. Both figuratively and literally. The largest group of our students are here in Austin. Washington is second, with Houston in third and Dallas a very distant fourth. They are in elective office, federal government, at the domestic and international levels. They are all over state government and city government. Seventy-five percent, over time, go into public service. About 25 percent enter the private sector.

 

DT: How does the school collaborate with other colleges on campus?

 

Hutchings: We have lots of specializations and joint degree programs — 27 in total. Some are quite active: Law, Middle Eastern studies, Latin American studies, even Engineering and Business. That’s a way to keep us linked academically with the rest of campus.

 

DT: How about with the new medical school?

 

Hutchings: That relationship has really taken off. We have one faculty member with a dual appointment at the Seton Medical Center, which is the first ever such appointment. We have very strong faculty in health policy and health economics. We actually collaborate with Dean Clay Johnston [of the medical school] on a number of things. One is to share office space in Washington, D.C., because he has in mind a Washington presence as well. We are working on a joint curriculum. As they staff up, they will have a joint M.D. and master of public affairs degree.

 

DT: Why are you stepping down?

 

Hutchings: I really had the view that one term [six years] was going to be enough. You really need to give the opportunity to someone else with a different set of ideas. I expect to be back as a faculty member for several years.

 

DT: What do you think your legacy is?

 

Hutchings: I think the legacy is a number of programs that will last into the indefinite future. The Washington Center, the executive master’s program and the international program. I hope people look back at my tenure and say despite the difficult financial situation, the school built up really important things. It transformed the public image in reality.

 

DT: What are you trying to do for the rest of your term?

 

Hutchings: I have six months left, and I want to do as much as I possibly can. One thing that we have been working hard on is a diversity initiative. We have been working with our counterparts in African studies, Latino Studies, History, Government and a couple of other departments. Every public policy school I know struggles to have a diverse faculty and student body. You don’t attract a diverse student body unless you have a diverse faculty. You don’t hire diverse faculty unless there are programs that they are excited about coming to.