It’s been more than 15 months since University of Texas System regents named four-star Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, to be their new chancellor.
Everyone was well aware that McRaven had no direct experience in higher education, the types of cutting-edge research that occupy great minds at great universities or the clinical care and research done at UT’s medical schools.
What he had was 37 years of military experience, the last 14 of which he was among the U.S. military’s top leaders. That was enough to make him highly qualified for his new job.
In a 45 minute speech on Nov. 5, McRaven laid out for regents what he’s been doing to shape UT’s top administration into the kind of organization he sees as necessary — one that can quickly adapt to change, a “team of teams,” constantly communicating, avoiding bureaucratic logjams and following a strategic vision.
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It was impressive.
McRaven also laid out eight “quantum leap” initiatives, from working at “unprecedented levels” of cooperation with K-12 educators across Texas to improve literacy, to teaching leadership and ethics to all UT students, to hiring more women and minorities in top administrative positions, among other goals.
He saved what might be his most controversial “quantum leap” for last: a new campus on more than 300 acres in Houston.
The University of Houston long has dominated public higher education in the state’s largest city. Some people see McRaven’s move as a threat to that status.
He addressed their fear.
“This will not be a University of Texas at Houston,” he said. “Rather it will be an ‘intellectual hub’ for UT — an opportunity for all our campuses to take advantage of the Houston professionals in the fields of medicine, energy, engineering, business, aerospace, healthcare and the arts.”
But he also said “the UT System must broaden its access to more of Texas’ brightest students” with a greater presence in Houston.
“Imagine the research dollars flowing to Texas, and particularly to Houston,” he said. “Imagine the impact on generations and generations of Texans who will have greater access to a world-class education.”
It sounds a lot like he intends to compete with the University of Houston in its own back yard.
McRaven said he’ll name a task force after the first of the year to begin planning the Houston campus, which he also said will be “decades in the making.”
And it probably won’t be easy.