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The University of Texas at Austin on Friday announced the largest philanthropic campaign ever undertaken by a Texas university, pledging to raise $6 billion, with one-sixth of that amount going to scholarships and student support.
The $1 billion for undergraduates is believed to be the largest fundraising goal for such causes in the history of public higher education and is part of the institution’s goal to become the “most influential public research university in the world,” administration officials said.
“We face incredible opportunities as we pursue our goal of becoming the world’s most influential public research university,” President Jay Hartzell said in a statement. “We will accomplish this by continuing to attract highly talented employees, leverage our unique location in Austin and Texas, and focus on transformative endeavors.”
The campaign, titled What Starts Here, aims to attract and retain top talent and enhance the university’s research. It will also focus on student recruitment and financial aid assistance.
UT Austin already offers some level of income-based tuition assistance: The UT System Board of Regents created a $167 million endowment in 2019 to cover tuition and fees for students whose families earn less than $65,000 a year earn.
Austin’s cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years.
The university relies on a mix of state government, tuition and donations, but the proportion of its revenue from the state has fallen from 34% two decades ago to 10% in 2020-21.
As part of the campaign goal, the university hopes to strengthen its Dell Medical School, which opened in 2016, as a clinical and research center and as a “hub for point-of-care care, similar to Houston, Dallas and other major health centers,” the university said in a press release . It will also focus on helping Austin become a “hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The campaign will seek to recruit talented faculty as these have become increasingly competitive across the country.
Last month, Lt. gov. Dan Patrick says he wants to end the tenure for new hires at the state’s public universities to fight professors who “indoctrinate” students with teachings on critical race theory. Conservatives have used the term as a generic label to attack progressive teachings on race and gender for the past year.
Patrick, whose position as head of the Senate allows him to drive the state’s legislative agenda, also proposed an amendment to state law that could make teaching critical race theory grounds for terminating professors who already hold them. He suggested that the tenure review be reviewed annually instead of every six years.
Academics said weakening tenure would harm the state’s universities and drive students and faculty elsewhere. They said the tenure should protect professors from politics and preserve academic freedom.
In a statement, Kevin Eltife, a former Republican state senator and chair of the University of Texas’ System Board of Regents, said the university’s new fundraising campaign builds on its support from Texas lawmakers.
“We are grateful for all of the philanthropic support already provided and are confident that this fundraiser will ensure a future where the University of Texas continues to produce longhorns that are changing the world,” said Eltife.
The “quiet period” of the most recent UT campaign began in September 2016. Since then, more than 240,000 donors have contributed at least $3.3 billion, more than the university’s previous fundraiser between 2006 and 2014.
“The What Starts Here campaign has gotten off to an incredible start thanks to the volunteer leaders and individual donors who are passionate about helping the University of Texas at Austin change the world,” Scott Rabenold, vice president of development, said in a statement.
Disclosure: Dell, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas System were financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial backers play no part in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list can be found here.