President Powers delivers final State of the University Address

Alex Wilts

During his ninth and final State of the University Address on Monday, President William Powers Jr. said one of the keys to making UT the best public university in America involves being able to take specific program designs and use them to focus on the University’s large-scale mission of achieving excellence.

Powers, who will step down from his post in June, said one example is the Freshman Research Initiative, a program intended to teach students to solve problems and find new solutions, therefore creating innovative thinkers.

“Lectures by faculty who create the knowledge are good experiences for our students, but they just give our students the product of research,” Powers said. “They don’t expose our students to the process of research with all of its dead ends, failures and frustrations. The Freshman Research Initiative does. So we get more bang for our buck by designing the FRI the way we do.”

Powers praised the signature courses of the School of Undergraduate Studies for their ability to expose students to the thought processes of disciplines outside their chosen major. Powers said more classes should be designed to give students a variety of experiences beyond their chosen field.

“We need to push our debate about how to teach our students into every nook and cranny of our curriculum, and we need to be relentless about that,” Powers said. “We also need to remember that our outputs come not from just one class but from a four-year experience in an entire ecosystem of learning.”

Powers also called for increased flexibility for faculty to promote more innovation.

“They can’t innovate if our rules are so inflexible that degree requirements and rules about faculty teaching loads stifle them,” Powers said.   

Robert Svoboda, urban studies and advertising senior, said he agreed with Powers’ thoughts on curriculum creation.

“It’s not for administrators to design courses,” Powers said. “Faculty does that. Administrators shouldn’t direct how individual faculty structure their research or the questions they ask. But [administrators] do need to make broad-brush decisions about what areas to support and how our research effort aligns with our teaching method.”

In one of the final portions of his speech, Powers highlighted the University’s need for adequate resources to fund both recurring operations and for capital projects.

Student Government President Kori Rady said Powers — who discussed topics spanning from technology advances to the positives and negatives of faculty tenure — covered everything he anticipated.

“It was a remarkable event in terms of the atmosphere,” Rady said in reference to the large amount of alumni who came to support the University. 

Rady said the students, faculty and alumni in attendance believe in Powers’ goal for UT to become the best public university in the country.  

“I think and hope we can do exactly that,” Rady said.