We’re on the same team

Ashley Purgason

Editor's note: This column has been updated from the version posted Tuesday. The column below is the original version submitted by the author. 

Serving as the Student Regent on the University of Texas System Board of Regents offers me a unique perspective. I travel the state visiting the 15 UT campuses, talking with students and bringing their concerns back to the nine-member board responsible for governing one of Texas’ most precious resources, the UT System. I also have the privilege of witnessing and participating in the careful deliberations when regents are making decisions that affect UT institutions.

I bring the student perspective, the student voice. And it’s a viewpoint my fellow regents consider and appreciate.

Discussions during many of my recent visits seem to inevitably turn to questions surrounding the board’s governing authority and recent media coverage of the board.

One of the issues I hear about frequently may be of specific concern to students at UT Austin. Regents have been criticized for what some feel is an over-zealous approach, for questioning certain practices at our flagship university and for requesting information.

I understand the concern. Regents may disagree on individual issues and discussion among regents is often spirited. This to me is the hallmark of a healthy and energized board as each member brings individual ideas, experience and talents to the discussion and makes the decision-making better for it.  My message to you is that regardless of the approach or the perception, every member of the board wears the same team jersey and is motivated by one goal and one plan alone. That is to create a system of higher education that best serves the students of Texas and sets the standard for the nation and the world. And, as for UT Austin, my fellow regents and I want nothing less than to help catapult the university to be the finest public institution in the nation.

Already, UT Austin has so many high-quality, innovative initiatives. It’s recognized among the best universities in the world and its graduate programs receive accolades every year. UT Regents want to strengthen and continue that legacy, while looking forward and asking what higher education will need to look like this decade, the next and beyond. Regents also want to ensure UT Austin remains accessible and affordable, so students from across Texas, regardless of their circumstances, can seize opportunity for themselves and their families.

In just the past few years, the board has allocated billions of dollars and launched dozens of innovative initiatives at campuses across Texas. At UT Austin alone, we’ve approved spending of nearly $1 billion. Regents have supported and implemented initiatives such as MyEdu to help students plan their college careers and stay on track and out of debt. They built a partnership with edX, collaborating with prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT to bring UT classes to massive online audiences. Not surprisingly, the first UT courses to be introduced on the edX platform, alongside classes from the likes of Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley, are from UT Austin, representing this campus’s pattern of innovation. The board also committed $25 million a year to UT Austin to help realize the dream of building a medical school and provided $105 million for a new state-of-the art engineering facility.

The board is extremely supportive and appreciative of Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who champions each UT institution every day. He put together the Framework for Advancing Excellence that provides a brilliant blueprint for success and has become a national model, earning the chancellor two visits to the White House. This visionary chancellor and his forward-thinking administration and our 15 selfless presidents and their talented faculty, staff and students are the heartbeat of the UT System and the pride of this board.

Moving forward, we as a board must support, listen to and exchange ideas with our university leadership. We must continue to consider our university community’s convictions in our deliberations. Every member of this board is learning from our decisions, each other, our university leadership, lawmakers and everyone who cares about UT.

Students, alumni and faculty are right in vigilantly observing and questioning the actions of university leadership and the board. If I learned anything in government class, it's that checks and balances are a great thing. But in our discourse, let’s all remember that our motivation, our goal is the same. All of us, from regents to freshmen, must balance our actions, passions and perceptions with respect and acknowledgement that we all want what’s best for the UT System. We must be better communicators and guide our approach by putting people first and having a little faith in one another.

We are teammates after all. Same jersey, same goal.

Purgason is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental toxicology at UTMB in Galveston.