Greg Fenves

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Jefferson Davis Statue

In their first month leading the student body, Student Government president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice president Rohit Mandalapu pushed for the removal of UT’s controversial Jefferson Davis statue. Over the course of the semester, the statue has been defaced twice — first with chalk and then again with spray paint. In late March, SG voted almost unanimously in support of the statue’s removal. As with all SG proposals, the Jefferson Davis legislation will be sent to the president’s office for review. 

Fenves to take office

Following a six-month national search, the UT System Board of Regents named executive vice president and provost Greg Fenves to replace current President William Powers Jr. Fenves, who takes the position on June 2, will lead the University in a period of significant high-level administrative turnover. Fenves will oversee a search for three new deans, and will also need to replace Kevin Hegarty, UT’s former vice president and chief financial officer, who announced his plans to leave the University in February.

Dean searches

Tom Gilligan, McCombs School of Business dean, Robert Hutchings, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs dean, and Roderick Hart, Moody College of Communication dean, all announced their resignations this year. Hart will step down in May, and Jay Bernhardt, the Everett D. Collier Centennial chair in communication, will serve as the interim dean.

Regent controversy

Just months into his role as UT System chancellor, William McRaven is already butting heads with Regent Wallace Hall, who appealed to the attorney general in April to review student information despite McRaven’s admonition that Hall’s requests go “well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.” 

Hall is attempting to access the thousands of documents Kroll Associates Inc. used in an independent investigation into UT admissions policies earlier this year. 

Campus Carry bills

Several bills pertaining to the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses have made their way through the Texas Legislature this year. Under current state laws, licensed students, faculty and staff are allowed to keep handguns in their cars on campus. If SB 11 is signed into law, licensed students, faculty and staff will be allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus, over the objections of UT administrators.

Powers, McRaven and other SG representatives have expressed strong opposition to the bill, which may gain a fast track to passage under a plan to attach it as an amendment to another gun bill. Lawmakers plan to attach campus carry legislation as an amendment to House Bill 910, passed in mid-April, as it leaves the Senate.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

As a third-year student, I would argue that current University President William Powers Jr. plays a large yet figurative role in the student psyche.  

As the leader of the University, Powers has not only been a symbol to students but also our primary advocate. While I am sad to see Powers go, I do not mourn. Though the media coverage of the search for Powers’ successor has billed Greg Fenves, our likely next president, as a last resort, we would be wrong to judge him so soon. Powers did not become a campus symbol overnight. 

To discount Fenves’ appointment as anything other than fitting would be grossly inappropriate considering the scope of his University achievements.  

In his short tenure as provost and executive vice president, Fenves has united University department heads and invested himself in on-campus innovations. Fenves spearheaded an administrative innovation called “Campus Conversations” that has bridged the gap between faculty leaders in the humanities and sciences and given a greater voice to students. This speaks volumes about his respect for all colleges and people on campus. Fenves has also taken an active role in the creation of the Dell Medical School, the success of which will take UT to the next level as a top-tier national institute. 

Before becoming provost, Fenves led impressive and dogged campaigns for University improvement as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.  

He oversaw the creation of a master facility plan, which outlined six new buildings for the engineering school and played a key role as the school pursued fundraising for the Engineering Education and Research Center. As engineering dean, Fenves also raised more than $350 million for the University’s $3 billion capital fundraising campaign, more than any other college. As a result of his many accomplishments, Fenves was invited to join the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest honor awarded to engineers in the United States. 

Additionally, Fenves’ close relationship with Powers, the man in the Tower, has set him up for success. 

In his year and half as provost, Fenves has worked closely with Powers and is likely far more capable of taking over in June than any of the other finalists, UT-Dallas president David Daniel and Andrew Hamilton, former vice-chancellor of Oxford University.  

Fenves has been part and parcel to Powers’ mission over the last year and a half. This may be a point of contention for UT System Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr., who voted against appointing Fenves on Friday and remarked to reporters after the vote, “I guess our tagline is, ‘What starts here stays the same,’ as opposed to ‘What starts here changes the world.” Regents Brenda Pejovich and Alex Cranberg joined Hall in voting against Fenves.  

Though Hall, who is known to have tangled with Powers over admissions practices, fundraising and other matters, may disagree with the board’s choice, it should be a comfort to students. Fenves has had the fortune of getting to work closely with Powers and learn the ins and outs of the job without muddying his hands with the controversies that have plagued Powers’ last years in office. 

There is no one better equipped to smoothly transition into the president’s office. It is clear to me that Fenves has gone above and beyond in terms of counting accomplishments, and I expect him to be as duty-bound a president as he has been in every other aspect of his service to the University of Texas.

Smith is a history and humanities junior from Austin. Follow Smith on Twitter @claireseysmith.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss Greg Fenves who has been named the sole finalist for the position of UT Austin President, campus-carry, roundup, and SG advocating the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

The UT System Board of Regents voted Friday to select Greg Fenves, UT executive vice president and provost, as the sole finalist to become the next UT president.

If approved, Fenves will replace outgoing President William Powers Jr., whose relationship with the Board has been tumultuous for the last several years. The Board must wait 21 days before making an official appointment. 

Fenves came to UT as a civil engineering assistant professor in 1984 and served as dean for the Cockrell School of Engineering from 2008 to 2013. In his capacity as provost, Fenves has been responsible for academic, research and curriculum affairs, as well as resource allocation for faculty recruitment. Working with deans and other academic officials, Fenves also oversees planning and operations for libraries, museums, collections, and research centers.

Sharon Wood, who succeeded Fenves as engineering school dean, said she first met Fenves when he was a faculty member at the University of California-Berkeley nearly 25 years ago.

“I was very taken aback at his very strong vision. He articulated it very well — where he wanted the department to go and what targets they had,” Wood said.

Since his appointment as provost in October 2013, Fenves has worked closely with Powers on a variety of University initiatives. At Friday’s meeting, three of the regents who have been most vocal in their criticism of Powers — Wallace Hall, Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich — all voted against Fenves.

Board Chairman Paul Foster said he felt the dissenting voices speak well to the Board’s decision-making process.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have a diverse board and that we don’t rubber stamp any issues,” Foster said. “We thoroughly vet every issue and all of our regents feel completely comfortable expressing their views.”

Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, president of the Texas Exes, said the selection committee favored Fenves after it interviewed him for the president position. Fenves was one of three main candidates in the search, alongside current UT-Dallas President David Daniel and Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton, who was widely reported to be the front-runner, announced he was taking a position as president at New York University early last week. 

“[Fenves] had a wonderful interview with the selection committee, and he was a top choice,” Hutchison said. “I think the Texas Exes are going to be very pleased because he has overwhelming support from the people that sent me their recommendations.”

Wood said she knows Fenves has a strong work ethic, as demonstrated by his early rising habits.

“I used to joke with him — I get up very early because I exercise before work, and so if I ever want to catch Greg, I know that five in the morning is the best time to send him an email,” Wood said. “I know I’ll get a response back immediately.”

In light of budget shortfalls in the state government, Jefferson Coombs, executive director of the Cal Alumni Association, said Fenves would be able to provide strong support for continued funding at UT.

“At this time when public research universities face a lot of challenges in terms of funding from the state, I think he’s a fantastic advocate for the impact and the power and the importance of public higher education,” Coombs said.

Coombs said he believes Fenves will continue and build upon Powers’ goal of maintaining clear lines of communication with the UT community.

“I really get the impression that he is going to not just maintain strong dialogue with students. I get the impression that he wants to expand it and that he is very personally enthusiastic about the connection with students,” Coombs said.

As provost, Fenves has helped lead the effort to launch the Dell Medical School and greenlight construction on the Engineering Education and Research Center, a $310 million, 430,000-square-foot building dedicated to research and student projects. The building is slated for completion in 2017.

Fenves serves on multiple committees at UT, including the Dean Search and the Dell Medical School Steering committees.

He has also received numerous national awards, including the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, and from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Walter L. Huber Research Prize, the Moisseiff Award, and the J. James R. Croes Medal.

Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, previously considered the front-runner for the UT presidency, will become New York University’s president in January 2016.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Phil Sayer | Daily Texan Staff

Two finalists are left in the search for President William Powers Jr.’s replacement after New York University administrators announced that Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton would be their next president.

Hamilton, whom many considered to be the front-runner for the UT presidency, will succeed NYU president John Sexton in January 2016, NYU administrators announced last week. The UT System Board of Regents interviewed Hamilton earlier this month, as did a small search committee.

At this point, Greg Fenves, executive vice president and provost of the University, and UT-Dallas President David Daniel are the remaining finalists in the search for the next UT president, according to sources directly involved with the search committee.

Fenves, who has held his provost position since October 2013, served five years as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. As the University’s chief academic officer, Fenves is closely connected to Powers, whose relationship with the Board of Regents has been tumultuous at times.

Daniel, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in engineering from UT, became UT-Dallas’ president in 2005. During his tenure there, UT-Dallas’ enrollment has grown from 13,000 to 23,000 students, and the university has raised more than $360 million in private funds.

Before joining Oxford in 2009, Hamilton worked as a chemistry assistant professor at Princeton University and then as chemistry professor and department chair at the University of Pittsburgh. He also served as provost of Yale University from 2004 until 2008.

Hamilton said he has been a “keen observer” of NYU over the years and was honored to have been considered in the NYU presidential search.

“I am delighted to be selected as NYU’s 16th president,” Hamilton said in a statement. “I am looking forward with great eagerness to working with NYU’s faculty, students, administrators, and staff, and to joining a university that is so manifestly energetic, innovative, and successful.”

Hamilton is the second to drop from the System’s handful of prospective candidates. The list had previously included Joseph Steinmetz, the executive vice president and provost at The Ohio State University, but he withdrew his candidacy in February.

Following the Board of Regents’ interviews with Daniel, Fenves and Hamilton, UT System Chancellor William McRaven recommended the board defer naming a finalist or list of finalists until later this month. The Board must vote to name one or more finalists and then wait 21 days before making an official appointment.

UT President William Powers Jr. at the Dell Medical School groundbreaking in April 2014.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Over the summer, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa flexed his political muscle by attempting to force President William Powers Jr. to resign in time for the July Board of Regents meeting or face a public firing. The plan backfired, to put it mildly. The student body rallied to Powers’ defense, and the imbroglio culminated with Provost Greg Fenves announcing at a meeting of the Faculty Council that Powers and Cigarroa had reached a deal whereby the former would stay on through the end of this academic year.

Not long after the compromise was struck, the System assembled a search committee to recommend to the regents a suitable replacement. Since the official announcement of its membership, which includes three regents, in mid-September, the committee has met once. This leaves plenty of time for an excellent candidate to be chosen, but the committee members, who are assisted by the executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart, will have to think carefully and creatively about exactly what sort of leader the University needs next.

The first and clearest delineation will be between internal and external candidates. Native sons and daughters will rightly enjoy a distinct advantage over Longhorn tenderfoots among the UT-dominated search committee. They will have had ample opportunity, particularly if of the aspirational sort, to capture the attention of the 21 individuals acting as filters to the regents and prove their understanding of and loyalty to the University. We imagine that chief among these candidates would be Fenves, the current provost and former engineering dean. (Fenves, for his part, previously had no comment on whether he was interested in the job or being considered for it.)

But the regents, whose allegiances seem to have shifted away from Powers, will likely be biased toward outside candidates. With Powers enjoying less-than-unanimous support from the regents, they may well be looking for someone untainted by his influence. If this is indeed one of their determining criteria, Fenves’ service to the University could, unfortunately, act as an immediate black mark against him; not only does he report to Powers, but he is also seen as a very clear Powers man. 

Given the recent hostile environment toward Powers, however, it will take a very special non-UT academic or administrator to want the job. Granted, one might have said something similar about the position vacated by former head football coach Mack Brown, but for reasons of self-preservation, most potentially interested candidates may not want to expose themselves to the same fate as Powers, whose views, at least before his deeply concerning final State of the University Address, were mainstream for the academic community. 

That could mean someone from outside the academy. This seems to us the most disturbing possibility. A little business savvy certainly wouldn’t hurt the University at a time of greater reliance on non-state sources of funding, but what the University needs most of all is a leader who will not bend under the pressure of the current batch of mostly anti-intellectual regents appointed by outgoing governor Rick Perry. 

In other words, the committee has a challenging task before it: to find a candidate palatable to the regents who won’t kowtow to their business-oriented demands. While we would prefer to see an existing Longhorn installed, we place the greatest value on their independence of mind, because while the worst may have passed, the University still needs a fighter in the Tower.

While the University continues its push to increase four-year graduation rates, UT officials said high numbers of transfer credits present a challenge to ensuring students receive a quality education while obtaining their UT degrees.

At a town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss the transformation of the undergraduate curriculum at the University, Greg Fenves, executive vice president and provost, said ensuring the quality of the credits transferred to UT is one of the challenges the University faces.

“Students are increasingly transferring new credits to their degree at UT Austin, and, at Texas, we have no control of that,” Fenves said. “We don’t have quality control over those courses.”

According to Fenves, about 80,000 classes are transferred in to the University each year, with 25 different courses accounting for about 50 percent of the transfer credits.

Since 2012, the University has campaigned to increase four-year graduation rates from 52 percent to 70 percent by 2017.

David Laude, chemistry professor and senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said he did not think these transferred classes held students back in any way that hard work could not overcome.

“The residency requirements do the appropriate job of ensuring that a student has been assimilated into UT’s intellectual environment and given an opportunity to thrive,” Laude said. “There are a great number of students who matriculate without significant placement credit and perform extremely well in my chemistry course. Hard work is an amazing equalizer.”

Petroleum engineering senior Matthew Inman said he felt unprepared for the Calculus 408D class that he used Advanced Placement credits to test into, instead of taking the precursor Calculus 408C class.

“I ended up getting a ‘B,’ which isn’t bad, but had I either taken 408C first or had been more prepared for the class, I probably would’ve done a lot better,” Inman said.

Inman said his multiple AP credits will help him graduate on time in 2016. Four-year graduation rates in the Cockrell Engineering School are amongst the lowest at the University at
41 percent.

The University is working at both ends of the issue to find a balance. According to Fenves, the University partners with community colleges around Texas to ensure that their course standards meet the rigor of the University.

Laude has worked to improve graduation rates by implementing new programs targeted at freshmen. 360 Connections, places each incoming freshman in a small, 20-person group that meets once a week, and the University Leadership Network helps incoming freshmen develop leadership and academic skills to graduate in four years.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The Engineering Sciences Building — a 50-year-old facility that houses the University’s electrical engineering program — has run its life course. 

Ceilings open up to exposed pipes and wires, electrical fans cool computer servers in a hot building and a study room is closed every summer because it does not have air conditioning. In this industrial building, professors teach students 21st-century engineering without modern labs. But after several years of fundraising and planning, the Cockrell School of Engineering is set to begin constructing the $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center to replace the Engineering Sciences Building. With 430,000 square feet of classrooms, labs and offices, the new building will become the second biggest academic building behind Welch Hall. 

Engineering dean Greg Fenves said students will learn modern engineering through a hands-on approach in the new building, which will create more spaces for collaborative research. He said this is a necessity in engineering education that the college has struggled to meet with existing facilities.

“There are dramatic changes taking place in how we educate engineers. It’s moving from the classroom to the laboratory,” said Fenves, who will leave his position as dean and become the University’s provost in October. “We are severely limited by our facilities because they were never designed to do this. They were designed to teach students sitting in chairs that are bolted to the floor with a professor at the blackboard at the front.” 

The Engineering Sciences Building was built in 1963 for applied physics research. In the 50 years since, the building has become home to electrical engineering students — the Cockrell School of Engineering’s largest undergraduate program. 

Perry Durkee, the building manager who has worked in the Engineering Sciences Building for 32 years, said it has constantly been patched up with construction and renovation projects.

“It’s been in a constant state of change. The building was built for one purpose, and we have used it for another purpose,” Durkee said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of trouble trying to make it look more modern. But it’s a lost cause now.”

Fenves said the building was constructed in an age when vacuum tubes, which were retired decades ago, were used in radios, and electronic integrated circuits were much simpler with seven components rather than billions of components that make them up today. 

The lack of modern labs has hurt the engineering school’s ability to recruit top faculty, Durkee said.

“It’s impossible to say how many faculty recruits we’ve lost when they’ve come to this building to see it,” Durkee said.

Even though most of UT’s engineering buildings are older than those of other universities, including Texas A&M University and the University of California-Berkeley, the University’s engineering program has remained competitively ranked.

“We have primarily been doing well because we’ve been so successful in hiring great faculty,” Fenves said. “But that is getting tougher to do because of our facilities. We will not be able to continue without the new facilities.”

Meanwhile, Durkee said the building has several other issues, including an air conditioning system that is no longer sufficient to support the number of people who occupy the building. 

Earlier this summer, smoke from the air conditioning system caused the fire alarms to go off and led to a building evacuation. Meanwhile at the Texas Capitol, lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have provided $2.7 billion in state funding for higher education construction projects, including the proposed Engineering Education and Research Center. Following the failed bill, the UT System Board of Regents approved up to $150 million in available funds the University could borrow to supplement fundraising efforts to finance the new building earlier this month. 

The Engineering Education and Research Center is the first of nine construction projects in the school’s “Master Facility Plan,” which aims to construct six new facilities and renovate three outdated engineering buildings on campus. 

“The plan is very logical, very well laid out and visionary. But it was very clear that the first step had to be a building in the center of our engineering precinct,” Fenves said. “It had to replace [the Engineering Sciences Building].”

Unlike the current facilities, Fenves said the new building will allow for interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurial efforts, and its facilities will be adaptable to changes in engineering education.

“We don’t know exactly what kind of research is going to be done in the labs in the next 10, 20 or 50 years,” Fenves said. “It’s going to change. We’ve never had facilities like that before.” 

Associate engineering dean John Ekerdt said the University is still making final decisions on a timeline for building the new facilities, but construction on the building could begin late in 2014 or early 2015. The building is set to open in 2018.

While the building is being constructed, Fenves said the college will disperse classes, labs and faculty to other buildings. He said undergraduate instructional labs will move to Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall, and many faculty and graduate students will move to an administrative building on the corner of 17th and Guadalupe Streets.

“It’s important that everybody understand that there will be disruption, and we’re going to try to minimize it, but the benefit of that destruction is moving back to an incredible, state-of-the-art facility,” Fenves said.

slideshow courtesy of the Cockrell School of Engineering

 

Created with flickr slideshow.

 

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.

Who is the Provost?

President William Powers Jr. named Greg Fenves the University provost Thursday. Fenves was the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, and this is what he’ll be expected to do in his new position. 

The provost is supposed to make sure the concerns and goals of deans, department chairs, faculty and staff reach Powers, and that information from Powers gets back to them.

The provost is also to put into action recommendations on how to improve the University academically. The provost receives reports from the Commission of 125 that includes many former UT System Regents. Recommendations have included a focus to develop a new undergraduate core curriculum and to establish a more demanding standard for leadership of academic departments and research centers.

Fenves is replacing Steven Leslie, who was provost for six years. Leslie has said he wants to return to teaching. During his term the responsibilities were expanded to not only oversee academics but also financial aid and. the registrar.