UT appoints Greg Fenves to provost

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Just before the start of the next academic school year, Greg Fenves, the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, has been appointed to the position of provost of the University.

Fenves, who starts his new job Oct. 1, is entering the Provost’s Office at a busy, historic and dramatic time in the University’s history. The University is taking some of its first steps in building the Dell Medical School. Fenves, who serves on both the Dell Medical School Steering Committee and the Dean Search Committee, said the medical school would be one of his top priorities as he enters his new position. However, Fenves also said the medical school is just one part of his new role.

“We have a tremendous foundation here at the University, and its my job to work with the President, the deans and all the faculty to continue to build it,” Fenves said. “I am very much looking forward with looking to the deans, and the different faculty.” 

As provost, Fenves will be responsible for communicating with all of the University’s deans, and essentially function as the University’s chief academic officer.

UT President William Powers Jr., who selected Fenves among other candidates, said the job is incredibly complex. Powers said Fenves will play a crucial role and oversee many of UT’s bigger projects, which includes the effort to increase four-year graduation rates to 70 percent, redesign large entry-level courses (also known as the Course Transformation Program), redesign the curriculum and work with the faculty behind the University’s massive open online courses (MOOCs). 

“It’s a big day to day job,” Powers said. “He has exactly the qualities to move and help move the University ahead in a very strategic way. He’s very good at working with people. I think he’ll be the face of the University to the outside world.”

UT’s current provost, Steven Leslie, will return to teaching this year and is stepping down at the end of September. However, Powers said Leslie will still assist with some of the technicalities behind building UT’s new medical school — specifically the memorandums of understanding that still need to be written and signed. Memorandums of understanding are agreements between multiple parties. 

But while Leslie will assist in developing the Dell Medical School, Powers said Fenves will still lead the effort.

“The developing medical school will be a project for the Provost and the President, and many of the colleges,” Powers said. “The Provost will lead that effort.”

Meanwhile, as Fenves becomes the Provost, he is leaving the Cockrell School of Engineering in an uncertain situation. The school was planning to build a new engineering building that is expected to cost more than $300 million. Part of that funding was supposed to come through tuition revenue bonds, or TRBs, which is essentially money from the state for higher education construction projects. However, legislation for the tuition revenue bonds failed to pass in the final days of the 83rd regular session. 

Since then, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called three special sessions, and while several lawmakers have urged Perry to add tuition revenue bonds to the special session’s call, Perry has not done so. During special sessions, lawmakers can only pass legislation that is related to what the governor has put on the call.

While Fenves is leaving the engineering school this fall, both he and Powers said they would continue to work on getting the funding needed to build the new engineering building. Both said the building is a focus not just for the engineering school, but the University as a whole.

“Greg [Fenves] will continue, as I will continue almost on a daily basis, on working with the legislature on tuition revenue bonds,” Powers said. “That will continue to be a priority in the Tower. Both in the president’s office and the provost’s office.” 

Fenves said other options of revenue for the funding of the new engineering building are being considered.

“What I can say is we are working on various scenarios for funding the building,” Fenves said.