Office of the President

State of the University

State of the University Address - 2016

State of the University Address
By President Ricardo Romo
The University of Texas at San Antonio
November 7, 2016

Thank you, Jose, for those kind remarks. And, thank you for your leadership and support of public education in Texas. We are honored to have you here with us today. It gives us the opportunity to thank you, in person, for your help in securing $70 million in revenue bonds for our new science and engineering building. We're very excited about seeing those plans develop. We expect to have a preliminary design soon.

I also want to thank you for your support of our joint San Antonio Life Sciences Institute with the UT-Health Science Center, and the $4 million in state funding that you brought to that effort. It has spurred great collaboration between our institutions.

Thanks to all of you, as well, for being here. It's great to have such a large audience for my final State of the University address.

The day I announced my plans to retire, one of my staff showed me a Twitter post from someone who was surprised by my decision. They had written, "First Tim Duncan. Now Romo. How much more can we take?"

I never considered myself to be in the same league as Tim Duncan, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized we did have some things in common. Tim and I both joined teams that were headed for greatness.

When Tim was drafted in 1997, the Spurs were transforming themselves into champions. When I came here in 1999, we needed to transform UTSA into a top-tier university for San Antonio.

After nearly two decades, Tim decided to retire while he was at the top of his game. When people ask me why I've decided to retire after nearly two decades, I tell them the same thing… I want to go out at the top of my game.

I also tell them that, because of the hard work and dedication of our students, faculty and staff, there has never been a better time to make this transition. UTSA is in great shape. I could not be happier where we are today or with my decision.

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to send me a note, or stopped me on campus, to share your good wishes. Most of all, thank you for all you have done to help me be a successful president. It has been an honor to serve you.

When Harriett and I arrived at UTSA in 1999, the world was a lot different than it is today. Ariana Grande was just six years old. Twitter, Snapchat and selfie were not even words. Back then, you rode in a taxi or a cab, not something called Uber. But, in 1999, we were still undefeated in football.

I spent my first year at UTSA doing what most newcomers do… figuring out where to eat, or where the admissions or financial aid offices were. What I found here was the university that San Antonio had asked for. We were providing access to thousands of students and offering them a good education.

Back then, though, we had only four colleges. One of them was Liberal and Fine Arts. You went there to take classes in English, history, art and music. But COLFA also included architecture, education, and public policy. Back then, Engineering was offered through the College of Sciences. We recognized that students took pride in their fields of study and wanted to stand out as future professionals. They wanted their own colleges in their chosen fields.

These disciplines were important to us. So we needed to take a more focused approach… Give them room to grow and measure their progress. But, with open admissions, just three doctoral programs, limited revenue and aging facilities, we were not going to move forward at a fast enough pace.

At the same time, I knew it was important to invest in student life. UTSA was still a commuter campus. We had great students coming here for classes, but there was not much more to keep them here. So, my first few years involved creating a new vision for UTSA, and doing a lot of planning. We needed to build a university for the 21st century.

This was a major undertaking.

First, we expanded to six colleges: Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering, Liberal and Fine Arts, Public Policy, and Sciences. Later, we added a College of Architecture, an Honors College, the Graduate School and University College.

To support our new colleges, we began an era of construction, growing from 1.8 million square feet to 5.4 million today. We built more classrooms, labs, and spaces for students to connect. This included $83 million for a Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering building. We opened a $20 million Recreation and Wellness Center that included the Child Development Center. A few years later, we invested another $45 million for phase two of the rec center.

We committed $40 million to expand the University Center. We allocated $10 million for a new dining hall. And, we developed a long-term plan for $140 million in new student housing --- first, Chaparral Village and Laurel Village, and most recently Alvarez Hall. We recognized, even then, that a student who lives on campus has an easier path to graduation than one who lives off campus.

With those initial investments, our 21st century university was beginning to take shape.

By 2005, the Spurs had two NBA championships under their belt. They were on their way to winning their third. By 2005, we had a lot of momentum, too. So it was time to set new goals and launch new initiatives in our push for excellence. It was time for UTSA to become a research-intensive university.

We live in a global, knowledge-based economy. Students need to be taught by the very best if they are going to be successful in the jobs of the future – including jobs that have not been created yet. Those jobs come from innovation and creativity. Both are rooted in critical thinking. Research universities specialize in teaching students how to think critically… to be inquisitive and approach concepts in new ways.

Our enrollment was growing fast. We had jumped from 18,000 to 25,000 students. To help guide these students, we needed more faculty. We recruited researchers with expertise in health, cybersecurity, energy and the social sciences. They came from Harvard, Yale, Rutgers and Purdue. We also looked to international universities, in Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Hong Kong.

At the same time, we knew we needed to address our admissions standards. Over the next several years, we raised them three times. And, the choices we made were the right ones.

I was also thinking a lot about graduate students. Our researchers will tell you that graduate students are an essential part of the research community at any university. To attract graduate students, we needed to expand our master's and doctoral programs. This was no easy feat. It can take years to get new graduate programs submitted and approved. We persisted, though, and we grew from 36 master's degree programs to 68 today. Doctoral programs have grown from just three to 24 today.

To encourage a culture of innovation, we developed an infrastructure to support new discoveries. We created national and international partnerships. We established funding programs to launch new research projects. We started planning for a campus incubator. And, we developed a support system to get UTSA discoveries to market.

We began seeing real progress.

Then, we got yet another boost. The Texas Legislature designated UTSA as one of the state's emerging research institutions. This designation signaled that we had made tangible progress. We were just 39 years old and already had what it takes to become a great research institution. Our goal became Tier One, and that has been our focus ever since.

Prospective students were recognizing that we were building something great, and they wanted to be a part of it.

By 2008, research had quadrupled, to $34.3 million. Graduate enrollment had increased to nearly 3,500 students. And, we were home to hundreds of student organizations – groups focused on community service, culture, athletics and, of course, politics. UTSA was becoming a new institution.

We also launched our first-ever capital campaign in 2008. We needed it to help fund our priorities. You all know the story about how the consultants thought we would not be able to raise more than $100 million. We surprised everyone by surpassing $202 million.

That success was a very clear statement that San Antonio believes in UTSA. Our supporters recognized that the investments they made in students, community outreach programs, and faculty research would boost San Antonio's economic growth. And they were right. We're making a $1.2 billion economic impact on San Antonio.

As an example, we pioneered a new growth industry in San Antonio. Long ago, we recognized the critical role of cybersecurity. We knew the need for highly trained professionals was only going to grow larger. We offered our first cybersecurity course in 1999, and we've been building the program ever since. That vision positioned us to become the nation's leader in cybersecurity research and education.

Today, San Antonio has the largest concentration of cybersecurity professionals in the country outside of the nation's capital. The 24th and 25th Air Force, the National Security Agency, the FBI and others have a significant cyber presence here.

We are their pipeline for the next generation of cyber warriors.

There are more than one million cybersecurity jobs globally. That number is expected to jump to more than six million by 2019. To develop this workforce and build on our strengths, we are now cluster hiring six new cybersecurity researchers. They will concentrate on enterprise security, cyber analytics, privacy and data protection, and cloud computing.

Another of our priorities is brain health. We already have more than two dozen researchers studying the biology of the brain, nervous system diseases and brain injuries. This research has tremendous potential to help our military community. Nearly 30 percent of our soldiers return from combat with traumatic brain injuries and concussions.

We owe it to them to use every resource we have to better understand and treat these injuries. There is no better place to make these breakthroughs than at UTSA… in Military City, USA.

Over the past year, we've added three new researchers in brain health through cluster hiring. They specialize in how the brain functions, how it deteriorates and how it's affected by age. Now, we are recruiting for an endowed professor to lead our brain health initiative.

To build the university of the 21st century, we need the very best leaders on our team. We need world-renowned researchers to carry on all the great work underway here – in neuroscience and cybersecurity… in biomedicine, clean energy, cloud computing, education and many other areas. But recruiting researchers with a world-class reputation is an expensive endeavor. That's why our capital campaign was so important. It gave us nearly $44 million to establish 41 new endowed faculty positions. Those positions are critical to our competitiveness.

The research taking place at UTSA is changing the world. Just this past year, we conducted more than $83 million in research and sponsored programs. The academic community is taking notice. This year, two of the most influential rankings place us among the very best universities in the world. Times Higher Education puts us in the top 400 in the world. Among research universities here in the U.S., Times Higher Education puts us in the top 100.

Just a few weeks ago, U.S. News and World Report came out with its Best Global Universities rankings. It looked at 1,000 universities in 60 countries. UTSA is number 79 among American public academic institutions. Overall, we're number 444 worldwide.

Rankings like these are invaluable. They give us a great assessment of our growing reputation – how we measure up to our peers, and how others perceive us. These are huge accomplishments and we should all be very proud.

You all know that higher education is very competitive. There are lots of universities out there trying to attract the very best students. We need those students, too, if we're going to reach Tier One.

Over the past several semesters, we've invested $3 million in merit scholarships for undergraduate and transfer students. And, it is paying dividends. You can see that all around us today. Half of our incoming freshmen now come from the top quartile of their high school graduating class.

We are putting another $1.2 million into graduate fellowships. My goal is to provide financial support to every doctoral student here and expand our support for master's students.

Yet, the reality is, there is never enough money to go around. And budgets are just going to get tighter. We're already getting clear signals that the next legislative session is going to be tough for education. I want you to know what I know. We've been told to plan for a four percent reduction in our budget. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we should expect any additional state funding over the next two years. We will be under a lot of pressure to hold the line on hiring.

At the same time, we struggle with the cost of state mandated programs including the Hazlewood Act. We support veterans' benefits. But every year, we forego nearly $12 million in tuition and fees under Hazlewood to provide an education to their families. In the upcoming session, we will once again be asking the state to cover the costs of Hazlewood or change its legacy exemption.

Hazlewood is just one of the constraints we're facing. So we need to be realistic about our budget. And we need to be realistic about our priorities.

This past year, I asked many of you to help identify those priorities and develop a blueprint to keep us moving forward. You came up with more than 60 initiatives. When we looked at them, we saw recurring themes that fell into five major categories. These have become the goals of Blueprint UTSA.

They center on transformational student experiences, impactful research, enriched community service, improved business processes and infrastructure, and greater recognition and esteem.

Over the next week, every faculty and staff member will receive a copy of Blueprint UTSA. Please take the time to read it. This plan is going to drive every aspect of what we do as a university over the next year, and beyond. We have a lot of work to do.

So where do we start? I've asked our vice presidents to take the lead in developing strategy teams to work on our first priorities. There are ten, essential first steps. They cut across academics, research, resources management and brand.

In academics, we will focus on undergraduate and graduate recruitment and retention, and on improving advising, counseling and mentoring. Research will include more cluster hiring of brilliant faculty, more exceptional graduate students and greater emphasis on pursuing research grants. We will identify and secure new revenue sources, create a new budget model, streamline our processes and improve IT systems. The role of the Downtown Campus will be aligned more closely to support our strategic priorities. And, in this initial phase, we will also focus on greater recognition and esteem for UTSA by developing a distinct brand. Whenever you say "UTSA" anywhere in the world, we want people to immediately think of excellence and innovation.

All of our efforts will be measurable. We will benchmark ourselves against our peer institutions and aspirant peers to make sure we remain competitive. As I said, this will be a lot of work, and you are essential to our success. We are building our future, and I need you to be a part of this.

There has never been a more exciting time to be at UTSA.

Just like the Spurs, we've worked hard over the last 17 years to build a world-class organization. We have created a culture of teamwork and collaboration. We have improved our community. We have earned respect and admiration. And just like the Spurs, we have become a symbol of excellence.

We ARE the university of the 21st century. Every time I see a student walk across campus, I'm reminded that we change lives.

I could never have imagined in 1999 that we would move so quickly or achieve so much. None of it would have been possible without you. Next summer, when I hand the baton of leadership to our next president, I will be counting on you to keep our momentum going. I will be right there with you. Remember why we are building a Tier One institution.

Our students deserve it. Our city deserves it. Everyone who has ever believed in us deserves it.

And, I believe in you. For everything you have done for UTSA and our students, mil gracias!

Go 'Runners!

Ricardo Romo
The University of Texas at San Antonio