For more than five years, I have had the most fulfilling job in the nation. I have been responsible for leading a system of higher education whose institutions prepare and send thousands of students into the U.S. workforce every year and whose researchers produce groundbreaking discoveries and cures that will transform lives far into the future. I have been given the opportunity to share the University of Texas' successes with leaders from around the country, tout our progress to the U.S. president and witness firsthand how the combined efforts of all UT constituents contribute to making American higher education the most respected in the world.
But anyone who follows the news is aware of the strong debates and varying views that have also occurred during my tenure. I can vouch that my tenure as chancellor is not for the timid. I also can't say that every moment has been gratifying, and I believe we could have made even more advancements if our energies were not mired in distractions. Now that I am preparing to return to pediatric transplant surgery, people ask me what motivated me most as chancellor, especially during the turmoil over governance.
It’s a very easy question to answer.
For every news story focusing on disagreements, there are thousands of victories and breakthroughs occurring at UT institutions and the UT System every day. I spend considerable time meeting with people who promote and contribute to the UT System in meaningful ways, such as our dedicated alumni and benefactors; students who are changing their lives and the future of their families; and committed leaders, including faculty, administrators, regents and legislators who work tirelessly for our students, patients and our state.
What still gives me an adrenaline rush every day is my interaction with people and the knowledge that, while the daily work is challenging, the end result is eminently worth it. Education saves lives and changes the world. Providing opportunity to the next generation is the greatest responsibility we can assume. Ensuring the health of the citizens of our state — as we are doing by establishing two new medical schools — is a goal we can all support.
Rallying those with disparate views to universal causes like these is what motivates me and gives me hope. It has been an amazing experience meeting thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by our collective efforts to improve higher education, and millions more I haven’t met will benefit from the progress our presidents and leadership teams have made.
As chancellor, I listen to many voices, make the best decisions I can and give my recommendations to the board of regents for its consideration. It is very rare to make everyone happy. But excluding any voice is a mistake.
I come from a family of 10 children, so it’s second nature for me to consider competing opinions and suggestions, to debate and agree or respectfully disagree, to search for compromise and to relish reaching consensus.
One of my greatest privileges has been the opportunity to meet with young students, because they give me great perspective. On a recent visit to the South Texas High School for Health Professions, a student asked if he could study the "p53 gene mutation” at the new UT-Rio Grande Valley medical school. It was the type of question I’d expect to hear in college or a medical school seminar, but hearing it from a high school student made me smile. It demonstrated the amazing resource we have in the children of Texas.
I’m not involved in the search for the next chancellor, but I have ideas about what sort of person the regents should select. We need a leader who builds consensus, who listens and invites a wide range of perspectives in the sometimes complex democratic process of running a large higher education system. We need someone who will take the UT institutions to an even stronger position among the nation’s public universities, always striving to be the very best. We need someone who sees the need to be at the national and international agenda-setting table, advancing not only science and technology but the humanities and arts as well.
My vice chancellors and regents have asked what they could do to honor me in the months ahead. I have one simple answer: Select a chancellor who will leave me in the dust.
This has been an unbelievably exciting time for me personally and an experience I will look back on with great fondness and satisfaction. I wish the regents all the best in their search for a new chancellor. The people of Texas deserve the very best, and I have faith that the regents will select an extraordinary leader who will set the course for the highest level of achievement and success. That’s something we should all agree on.