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University announces $3 billion Campaign for Texas

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The University of Texas at Austin campus

Someday people with Type 1 diabetes will be able to replace their insulin shots with pills. Someday doctors will be able to target cancer cells directly without exposing patients’ entire bodies to harmful radiation. Someday a vaccine will have the power to render powerless the deadly Ebola virus. Someday paramedics will be able to diagnose a heart attack with a single drop of saliva.

This vision of someday brought to you by The University of Texas at Austin.

The University of Texas at Austin has begun an eight-year capital campaign to raise $3 billion. It’s a campaign that aims to change not only the University but the world.

“Great universities answer the great questions of our time,” President William Powers Jr. said Oct. 17 in announcing the Campaign for Texas. “How to generate economic growth? How to manage and prevent life-threatening disease? How to respond to the global energy crisis? How to protect the environment and our natural resources? How to live in a global community with many cultures, languages, and perspectives?

“When the world asks, we answer. More important, we are studying the issues even before world events frame the questions.”

The University aims to be the world’s best public research university, a goal that has been central to Powers’ administration since he took office in February 2006. The theme for the Campaign for Texas is “We change people. They change the world.”

And those scenarios above? Research being conducted at the University. Nicholas Peppas — a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering known as the “father of modern drug delivery” — is developing an insulin capsule to replace painful insulin injections for people with diabetes. Mechanical Engineering Professor Adela Ben-Yakar has developed a laser “microscalpel” that destroys a single cell while leaving nearby cells intact. The U.S. and Canadian governments have awarded $2.6 million to Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics Maria Croyle to develop a vaccine against Ebola virus infection. Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor John T. McDevitt has designed a nano-bio-chip the size of a credit card that can be used to check a patient’s blood-serum proteins for signs of a heart attack.

The University of Texas at Austin of tomorrow will look as different as the world it seeks to change. One of the University’s main fundraising initiatives will be to raise $130 million to rebuild Speedway and the East Mall. Plans call for turning Speedway into a bustling center of pedestrian activity, while the East Mall would become a scenic gateway with an amphitheater and fountain.

The quiet phase of the Campaign for Texas began Sept. 1, 2006, and since then the University has raised $722 million. The eight-year campaign will conclude Aug. 31, 2014. The university’s most recent capital campaign ran from 1997-2004 and raised $1.63 billion.

The 2006 start date was chosen partly to recognize donors who have made significant gifts to the University. Key donors during the campaign’s quiet phase included Ernest and Sarah Butler, Joe Jamail, Michael and Susan Dell, Tex Moncrief, former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, the Belo Foundation, Robert W. and Maureen H. Decherd, the estate of James M. Moroney Jr., the Jim and Lynn Moroney Family Foundation, William and Beverly O’Hara, AT&T, Red McCombs, and Harold Simmons.

Kenneth Jastrow, chair of the Commission of 125, will also serve as chair of the Campaign for Texas. The Commission of 125, made up of more than 200 alumni and friends, evaluated the University from 2002-2004 and issued a set of goals for the next 25 years that included revamping the undergraduate core curriculum, hiring visionary faculty leaders, and providing them the resources and authority to meet their goals. The commission’s vision: “The University of Texas will be the best in the world at creating a disciplined culture of excellence that generates intellectual excitement, transforms lives, and develops leaders. The University of Texas will define for the 21st century what it means to be a university of the first class.”

Powers said University officials assessed the commission’s recommendations before deciding on the $3 billion figure.

“That’s a big goal, but we’re a big university,” Powers said in announcing the campaign to UT Austin’s Development Board, its key fundraising advisory group.

Powers said University leaders had considered postponing the campaign start because of uncertain economic times — some Texans are still recovering from Hurricane Ike, and the U.S. economy is struggling.

“But we took the long view,” Powers said. “The long view of an organization that has endured for 125 years. While we are sensitive to everyone who is dealing with today’s challenges, we know that our goals extend over many years. Time marches ahead, and so will The University of Texas. We have the opportunity — and the people — to make UT the great public university in America.”

A priority of the campaign is attracting top faculty and graduate students who in turn will produce research that changes the world. The best faculty and the best graduate students will draw one another, said Victoria Rodriguez, vice provost and dean of graduate studies.

“Star graduate students are the ones doing cutting-edge research,” she said. “They’re at the vanguard of scientific knowledge and discoveries.”

And top professors in turn attract students like rising opera star Icy Simpson. The soprano chose to pursue her master’s of music in opera performance at the University at the urging of her undergraduate voice teacher at Nebraska Wesleyan University, herself a University of Texas at Austin alumna. Simpson looked forward to studying with University faculty, including internationally renowned voice Professor Darlene Wiley.

“My voice teacher is amazing,” Simpson said.

Another factor: Receiving a 2007-08 Harrington Fellowship. The Harrington Fellowship was the best offer Simpson received among the graduate schools she was considering. The nonstop practice and the constant auditions required of elite singers make it difficult to support oneself during graduate school, Simpson said.

“You’re just out of luck if you don’t have a benefactor of some kind,” she said. “If I were paying for it on my own, I’d be in a whole world of trouble.”

Simpson has studied in Austria, performed in Costa Rica and Brazil, won state and regional competitions, and performed in operas by such greats as Mozart and Puccini. She recently performed a solo from Bizet’s “Carmen” with the Austin Lyric Opera.

Like the Graduate School and the Butler School of Music, each of the University’s colleges, schools, and units has outlined specific campaign priorities and funding goals to support faculty, students, programs and facilities. Some examples:

  • The College of Pharmacy is striving to meet a nationwide shortage of pharmacists. Inadequate facilities, however, mean that the college can admit only 125 students annually from an applicant pool of more than 600.
  • The University’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences is seeking support to hire talented researchers who will use computer modeling to investigate solutions to such global issues as climate change, energy shortages, and cancer and heart disease.
  • The College of Liberal Arts is seeking to elevate the college into the national spotlight with a 200,000-square-foot, $40 million building that will house the Population Research Center and departments of Sociology, Geography and the Environment, Linguistics, American Studies and Anthropology.

The Campaign for Texas is an opportunity to create a legacy, Jastrow said.

“This will be a gift to generations of students to come, to our state, and to the world — and also a gift to us,” Jastrow said. “To participate in something that will last a lot longer than we will. To be able to give people decades from now a chance to look back and admire what we accomplished.”

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