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Alumnus Gives $15 Million to Support New Liberal Arts Building, ROTC

Giving News

By Gary Susswein

More than four decades ago, The University of Texas at Austin and its Naval ROTC program gave James Mulva the education, discipline, and support that would help shape his future. Now Mulva, BBA ’68, MBA ’69, is giving back, helping to shape the future of the University, the College of Liberal Arts, and, in particular, the ROTC.

University of Texas alumnus and ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva

Mulva, chairman and chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips, and his wife Miriam have donated $15 million to the College of Liberal Arts toward construction of its new building on the East Mall. The six-story structure will have an entire floor for the University’s Naval, Army and Air Force ROTC units, which are part of the college.

“We’ve been looking for the right project so we could, in a more significant way, help support The University of Texas and its commitment to education and research,” says Mulva, who was named a UT Distinguished Alumnus five years ago and whose previous philanthropy includes gifts to the Red McCombs School of Business and Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

Mulva says he was motivated by his own experiences as a student. “I went through ROTC — that’s the only way I could attend UT — so I really want to support ROTC students,” he says. “For these young men and women, it’s not about making money. It’s all about service to the country. They’re very dedicated and bright students.”

After earning his degrees the Wisconsin native served four years in the Navy, much of that time in the Middle East. While there, he developed an interest in oil and energy that helped him launch a four-decade career in that field.

“Jim and Miriam Mulva’s gift demonstrates a deep commitment to The University of Texas at Austin and to ROTC,” says UT President Bill Powers, who first met James Mulva 40 years ago when the two were Naval officers stationed in Bahrain. “Through their generosity, ROTC will remain at the heart of campus for generations to come.”

A conceptual drawing of the new Liberal Arts building's Plan II offices (Courtesy Overland Partners | Architects)

The new building will include 30 modern classrooms, student study areas and meeting rooms, and laboratories and offices for faculty. For the first time it will give Liberal Arts students a space of their own and create an environment in which faculty from different disciplines can collaborate more easily. “The Mulvas’ generosity makes our longtime dream a reality, “ says Randy L. Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “This building will help propel us to greatness by giving us the space we need to teach our students, nurture outstanding research, and foster a vibrant intellectual community.”

It will be built, starting in January, on the site of Russell A. Steindam Hall, which will be torn down this fall. Steindam Hall has been ROTC’s home for more than 50 years and was named for a graduate who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Like Steindam Hall, the new building will have customized classrooms to meet the needs of all three ROTC programs as they train future military leaders.

“It looks first rate,” says Capt. Dan Dixon, commanding officer of UT’s Naval ROTC. “It will optimize the training our midshipmen receive and ensure they’re ready to lead our sailors and Marines.” Dixon says about half of all U.S. Naval officers are trained in ROTC programs at universities throughout the country. “Our alumni are extremely supportive and passionate about the training of our ROTC students, and Mr. Mulva’s gift reflects that.”

Over the past year, college leaders have been able to reduce the overall cost of the building from more than $100 million to about $96 million. When finished in 2013, it will house anthropology, sociology, geography, linguistics, Plan II, and Liberal Arts Honors, among other departments and programs.

“The space needs for disciplines like anthropology have really changed,” says anthropology chair Sam Wilson, who heads UT’s Faculty Building Advisory Committee and also serves on the advisory committee for the new building. “We need more lab space and more collaborative work space if we are going to do world-class research and attract the best students. This building will be very versatile. It’s going to serve the campus for at least 100 years in ways we can’t even imagine.”

Students will feel the impact immediately, says Carl Thorne-Thomsen, economics senior and president of the Liberal Arts Council, the voice of the college’s undergraduates. “Getting students from so many majors in a single place is going to be amazing. It’s going to be a hub for ideas.”

In addition to his 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Mulva received a similarly prestigious honor from the UT NROTC and Midshipman’s Foundation. He also has been inducted into the McCombs School’s Hall of Fame. Miriam Mulva, a graduate of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin and a former teacher, is active in education and arts organizations. The Mulvas have two sons, including one who is on faculty in the Cockrell School of Engineering.

“This is a time when ROTC is in need of new facilities on campus,” Mulva says. “For us, it’s important, almost an obligation, that we give back to those institutions that have been important to us in our development. That includes ROTC. That includes The University of Texas at Austin.”

Learn more about the new Liberal Arts building.

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