Gregory Fenves

Photo Credit: Trenton Daeschner | Daily Texan Staff

Walking in New York City last week during the National Football Foundation meetings, Chris Del Conte received a phone message that altered not only his career, but his life.

“Bob’s Chop House. 6:30.”

Del Conte promptly arrived at the restaurant and headed for a back corner. There waiting for him was UT President Gregory Fenves, preparing to discuss Texas’ athletic director position.

“When he said, ‘I want to talk to you about this position,’ I was floored. I was honored,” Del Conte said. “We have one rodeo. My thought was if I'm ever going to do it, why not now? Why not at the University of Texas? It’s like riding a bull — you got eight seconds, let's hang on, see what we can do.”

Del Conte metaphorically jumped on that bull as he walked into Bellmont Hall inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Monday morning and was introduced as Texas’ new athletic director.

Countless big names were in attendance to see Del Conte — from former head coaches Mack Brown and Jody Conradt, to current head coaches Shaka Smart and David Pierce, to former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who Del Conte praised as being “a beacon in our industry, someone I looked up to my whole life.”

Del Conte fought back tears in the opening moments of his press conference.

“By the way, I'm an amazing crier,” Del Conte said. “I cry when we win. I cry when we lose. It’s OK to show emotion because it means you're real.”

In a certain way, he was amazed that he had taken this job. Del Conte built a strong reputation as one of the nation’s top athletic directors while at TCU. He took the athletic program of a small private school to new heights with a transition into a Power 5 conference and massive donor-funded projects, including building a new football stadium and renovating a basketball arena.

But Texas offered a new, unique challenge that Del Conte just couldn’t pass up.

“I think that's why you come to the University of Texas, for that challenge,” Del Conte said. “If you’re not ready for those expectations and challenge, you should not be at this podium.”

Del Conte repeatedly passed on answering the hard-hitting, program-altering questions on Monday. He was asked about the new on-campus basketball arena, the potential seating expansion of the south end zone at Royal-Memorial Stadium, turnover in the Longhorn Foundation, fundraising and renewing the rivalry with Texas A&M.

“We’re supposed to ask softball questions in your (first) press conference,” Del Conte said jokingly.

The decision-making will come in due time for Del Conte. Above anything else on Monday, he just wanted to get acclimated with his surroundings. It was just his first day on the job.

But the days ahead are where Del Conte will have to prove his billing. He said he’s going to do “an extensive deep dive over the next two months (and) analyze strengths and weaknesses.” Texas certainly has a host of priorities on the agenda for the future.

“For the next several months, it will be looking and learning,” Del Conte said. “I don’t have all the answers. I have an opinion — an opinion that's shared by 500,000 living alumni, 60,000 students, 500 athletes. We will all have that conversation and share those, look to what's right. There’s not an answer tomorrow.”

Fenves said the hiring of Del Conte came at a good time for Texas, noting that the football regular season had ended. And Fenves also knew that Texas was not the only school potentially interested in Del Conte.

“I wanted to be ahead of any other potential searches,” Fenves said. “Chris Del Conte is a hot commodity. I wanted to get him here to Texas before he had too many other alluring offers.”

Del Conte’s hiring also finally ends Texas’ search for a permanent athletic director, which began in September 2015 after Steve Patterson was fired.

It’s widely known that outgoing athletic director Mike Perrin was never expected to be Texas’ long-term solution, despite having the interim label pulled in December 2015. A former linebacker under legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal, Perrin was brought in for damage-control and to repair relationships that had been broken during Patterson’s tenure.

Del Conte is now the one many Texas fans and supporters expect to move the athletic department forward into a new and brighter era.

“He’s really a special person and will take our program here to even greater heights,” Perrin said.

But before his ceremonious introductory press conference Monday morning, Del Conte found himself in a moment of tranquility, saying a prayer in a suite inside Royal-Memorial Stadium.

“God, help me,” Del Conte said.

And seemingly just to hammer home the point that life was now truly different for Del Conte, he got a humorous phone call Monday morning from TCU football coach Gary Patterson.

“I love you, but I hate you today,” Patterson said to Del Conte.

Del Conte had also received a text last week from his 16-year-old daughter that stuck with him on Monday, reading it aloud for everyone inside Bellmont Hall.

“Life is all about taking risks,” the text said. “If you never take a risk, you’ll never achieve your dreams.”

The task he has ahead of him now is a monumental one. Texas’ athletic department is a large business all on its own, one with its main revenue-producer — football — struggling on the field and searching for a starved return to national prominence.

Del Conte knows what he’s getting himself into.

But he also sees the chance to fulfill a mission.

“We know when this place is rowing the boat in the same direction, there’s nothing that can stop it,” Del Conte said. “Mike (Perrin) calmed those waters and put us in a position today that it is a tsunami coming with a reckoning. My job is just to guide that.”

Photo Credit: Ralph Barrera

The president of UT has considerably more power to determine the outcome of student sexual misconduct cases than presidents at other universities. At most universities, the president is not involved in the decision making process for these cases. This power is currently being contested in a lawsuit, where the plaintiff's attorney says that it's unfair for the president to be able to reverse decisions like this. 

Click here to read the full story.

Seven Puerto Rican faculty members sent a letter to President Gregory Fenves asking the University to provide support to universities on the island impacted by Hurricane Maria.

The open letter, available on the College of Liberal Arts’ website, states that the hurricane “has tragically plunged the island into a nightmarish, worst-case scenario” and encourages UT to mobilize and offer immediate help. The letter said the University could provide donations such as lab equipment and textbooks, as well as allow students at affected universities to take their courses at UT.

César Salgado, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese who signed the letter, said it is important to recognize issues affecting the sizable Puerto Rican community.

“Acknowledging their plight is something that should be extended to Puerto Ricans as American citizens and as people,” said Salgado, a Puerto Rico native. “To make any sort of gesture to colleagues or students in the Puerto Rican university system, anything that could be feasible, we encourage that.”

The letter was sent on Sept. 28, but the University has yet to openly respond. Media relations director J.B. Bird said in an email that the administration is looking at ways to feasibly support Puerto Rican students.

“There are some constraints on what the University can do unilaterally since costs like tuition are regulated by rules and state laws,” Bird said. “What we can say for sure at this point is that for students impacted by the storm in Puerto Rico, UT will consider academic accommodations for those who seek them.”

Salgado said when he heard about Maria, he knew it would only worsen damage caused previously by Hurricane Irma.

“Having a Category 4 hurricane like Maria ravage the island, we knew it would compound the complications, and it would make the whole infrastructure of the country collapse,” Salgado said. “We had a foreboding sense that we would be confronting a catastrophe.”

Salgado said his family on the island has been heavily impacted following Maria’s landfall on Sept. 20.

Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work, is one of seven signers of the letter. Zayas said seeing images of the devastation, including one of his old high school under water, made him want to give as much material and emotional support as he could. 

“Rivers were going through streets … The levels of water are to the roofs,” Zayas said. “It’s saddening to see. Everybody has been affected. It’s gone across social class and region — everyone’s felt it.”

Zayas said he understands the University’s choice to immediately respond to other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey this year because of their close proximity, but said it is still important to support Puerto Ricans. 

“Puerto Rico isn’t going to be up and running any time soon so there is time for the University to provide some support,” Zayas said.

Salgado said he feels the U.S. has been slow to respond to the disaster, and he will continue to advocate for relief efforts.

“We will keep Puerto Rico in the headlines so we can make sure Puerto Ricans can get the help they need and that people don’t forget,” Salgado said. “The situation is urgent.” 

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

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss Gregory Fenves', the next president of UT Austin, goals as president, an update on regent Wallace Hall's records requests, proposed changes to the Permanent University Fund, and developing news to keep watching over the summer.

Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, will step down from his position in August of this year. 

“It has been a pleasure and a privilege for me to serve this great university of ours as VP for research,” Sanchez said.

Before he started at UT in 1989 in the mechanical engineering department, Sanchez was a materials science professor at Columbia University from 1987–1989 and a renowned researcher worldwide.

During his service as vice president of research, Sanchez established the Office of Research Support to increase faculty research support, extended the University’s research collaboration with the private sector and contributed to the tenfold increase in revenues for technological commercialization, according to the Office of the Provost.

“Dr. Sanchez has led the research enterprise at UT with distinction, and I am grateful for his leadership,” said Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost and next UT president, in a statement. “UT Austin has developed a worldwide reputation for successes in research and scholarship by faculty, students and research staff with support from the Office of the Vice President for Research.”

J. Tinsley Oden, associate vice president for research, said Sanchez has raised the school’s reputation as a research university. Under Sanchez, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Bureau of Economic Geology, Applied Research Laboratories and several other UT research units have become top research enterprises in their respective areas in the world, according to Oden.

“His remarkable work as vice president of research will have a lasting impact on UT’s research image and record,” Oden said. “He has been an extraordinary administrator, an indefatigable worker, an international spokesman and advocate for UT-Austin and a superb manager during those years.” 

Sanchez will go on to lead a research program as a faculty member, as well as teach in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The search for his replacement will commence in the next few weeks.

In the future of research, the University will build on Sanchez’s successes by expanding opportunities in areas such as medicine and health care to advance the University’s mission to create knowledge, according to Fenves.

“He certainly will leave the office of the [vice president for research] in sound shape and well-positioned to continue its growth and service to UT and the state,” Oden said.

Sanchez’s official last day will be August 31.

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

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

After a months-long search for a new dean of the Moody College of Communication yielded no results, UT Provost and President-elect Gregory Fenves named Jay Bernhardt as interim dean Thursday. 

Bernhardt is currently a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. He helped launch the Center for Health Communication and serves as its director. Bernhardt will begin his position as interim dean on Sept. 1. 

Bernhardt said although he has been at UT for about a year, he is impressed with the talent of the students and faculty at the Moody College.

 “As interim dean, I plan to use my academic, government, and industry experience to make sure that Moody College continues on the path of excellence and leadership in all aspects of our teaching, research, practice, and production,” Bernhardt said in an email. 

The dean search committee initially brought three finalists to campus to interview for the position and also planned on interviewing a fourth candidate. According to an email Fenves sent in March, the fourth candidate, whose name administrators declined to provide, dropped from the search process. Fenves announced last week that he would continue the search for a permanent Moody dean. 

Barry Brummett, co-chair of the dean search committee and communication studies professor, said the provost made the ultimate decision to continue the search.  

 “The considerations for the new dean continue to be what they were — that we want the best candidate in the country,” Brummett said. “We are actively recruiting applications.”    

Bernhardt will temporarily replace current Moody Dean Roderick Hart, who has spent more than 10 years in the position. Hart announced his resignation in August 2014 and will step down from his position in May.

Hart said he was influential in recruiting Bernhardt from his position of chair of the Department of Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida.

“This is someone I have great, great regard for,” Hart said. “I’m glad we were able to get someone of his caliber.”

Bernhardt said he was honored the provost selected him to be interim dean and said he is going to work to that standard.

“My main goal is to be a great listener and spend time with people at every level and from every unit throughout the college and do what I can to help them to be successful in their work and their studies,” Bernhardt said.  

Fenves said the search committee will continue looking for a new dean of the Moody College during Bernhardt’s term.

Judith Langlois will serve as interim provost

UT President William Powers Jr. announced an interim replacement for Gregory Fenves, provost and executive vice president, who was named UT’s next president earlier this week.

Judith Langlois, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies, will serve in the interim provost and executive vice president, while administrators conduct a search for a permanent replacement, according to an email sent by Powers to students, faculty and staff. Langlois will assume the position May 26.

Langlois has served as associate dean and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and also served as chair of the Presidential Committee on the Status of Non-Tenure Faculty.

In the email announcement, Powers said the search for a permenant replacement for Fenves will begin immediately.

Fenves will begin his term as president June 3.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

The UT System Board of Regents voted to name Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, UT’s next president.

The regents met by phone call for a special meeting Monday to vote on Fenves’ appointment, with eight of the nine regents voting in favor and one abstaining.

Reflecting on an uncertain and, at times, rocky relationship between the Board of Regents and past presidents, Fenves said he looks forward to working together for the benefit of UT.

“As the leader of UT-Austin, I look forward to working with the entire Board of Regents in advancing our great university,” Fenves said.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he has become familiar with Fenves in his time as chancellor.

“I’ve had an opportunity to work with Dr. Fenves closely here over the last three-and-a-half months in my time as the chancellor, and I think he is an excellent choice for the job,” McRaven said.

Fenves said his ultimate goal for UT is to move forward and help the University continue to become a world-class institution.

“We want to move forward in a positive way,” Fenves said. “I think we need to agree on a common purpose and a vision for the University, agree on what our goals are and how we’re going to achieve those goals.” 

Regent Alex Cranberg voted against naming Fenves as the sole finalist for the position last month, but he voted in favor of Fenves on Monday. Cranberg said he worried about how Fenves would handle growth at the University.

“I voted against naming Provost Fenves as the sole finalist in the last meeting mostly because of my concerns about the opportunity for growth in undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Austin — balancing extensive growth and desired growth,” Cranberg said.

After conversations with Fenves and UT System chancellor William McRaven, Cranberg said he feels Fenves would lead the University’s growth in the right direction.

“I believe he’ll lead the University forward,” Cranberg said. “I feel that if we choose to embrace enrollment growth that was successfully done with engineering and potentially business — that Dr. Fenves will do a great job leading that.”

Regent Wallace Hall also voted against naming Fenves the sole finalist to be UT’s next President at the meeting in March. Hall said he would prefer UT’s new leadership to have come from outside sources.

“I’ve expressed my strong and unambiguous desire for fresher leadership from outside the University,” Hall said. “This should not be taken as criticism of Dr. Fenves, man or the leader.”

Because of unanswered questions regarding admissions policy at UT, he abstained from the vote Monday, Hall said.

“I look very much forward to working with him as our president in years ahead,” Hall said before the vote. “But due to the lingering and unresolved questions concerning the previous and ongoing admission processes, I will abstain from voting.”

UT-Austin has committed to working with the UT System to resolve issues regarding the admissions process, Fenves said.

“Clearly there are a lot of discussions about admission,” Fenves said. “We have committed as a campus, and I commit as the leader of the University, to work with the chancellor and the board in establishing policies for admission going forward.” 

Fenves will take his position as president June 3.

President William Powers Jr. hopes that the new administration also prioritizes accessibility and affordability.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down from office, he said he hopes affordability and accessibility remain priorities for the new administration.

Powers said although he has worked to keep cost and access primary focal points during his presidency, there is still work for the next UT president — likely Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, who was recently named the sole finalist for the position.

“We’re always looking for ways [to be] more productive,” Powers said. “It’s not just reducing cost; it’s the relationship between cost and output.”

Improved four-year graduation rates have helped reduce the burden on students and their families who can now pay less in tuition, Powers said.

“There’s a lot of discussion and, rightly so, about affordability and the resources that a family has to devote to public higher education,” Powers said. “We’re sensitive to that.” 

An accountability report UT produced found that between 2000 and 2014, the four-year graduation rate improved by roughly 15 percent.

The use of scholarship money is another valuable tool in taking on the cost of education for students, Powers said.

“One way [to improve affordability] is scholarship money. We’ve raised a lot of it. We use a lot of it,” Powers said. “A quarter of our students don’t pay any tuition. The average student pays about half the full sticker price because of the grants and tuition they get or financial aid they get.”

Undergraduate studies freshman Kayla Potter said that although affordability has not been an issue for her personally, she believes high out-of-state tuition makes attracting talented, non-Texas students challenging.

“I think in-state tuition isn’t ridiculous,” Potter said. “Out-of-state tuition has stopped a lot of my friends from places like California because the tuition is so high.”

Powers said there is not one single answer for making higher education affordable while maintaining a national reputation for quality.

“We want the education to improve — undergraduate curriculum, better advising, better undergraduate studies — and to be a good value for the inputs that we’re putting into it,” Powers said. “There’s no single bullet. We just always keep trying to do it as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

 UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he shared Powers’ concern regarding affordability and accessibility at a press conference in March.

“A lot of [concern] is about affordability and access in terms of how do we ensure that we get more students in our system writ large across the UT System, make it affordable to them [and] make sure that good education is accessible,” McRaven said.

It is dangerous for UT System institutions to swing too far in either direction with regards to affordability versus the quality of education, McRaven said.

“This is a balancing act — to make education as affordable as can be but still as high quality as it can be,” McRaven said. “Frankly, the students that are looking for a high-quality education, if they don’t think that we’re giving them a high enough quality education, they will go outside the state.”

The UT System Board of Regents is expected to name Fenves as the next president Monday, after he was selected as the sole finalist in late March.