‘The perfect job’: UT’s new chancellor, James Milliken, settles in, gears up for legislature

Katie Balevic

After nearly a semester on the job, UT System Chancellor James Milliken has settled into his new position advocating for Texas’ future.

As chancellor, Milliken oversees all 14 academic and health institutions in the UT System, a task he calls the perfect job.

“I consider, in 2018, the University of Texas system as clearly one of the most exciting places to be for higher education in the country,” Milliken said.

The Chancellor took office Sept. 17 after former Chancellor William McRaven stepped down in May 2018 for health reasons. In his first months on the job, Milliken traveled to the institutions he oversees and met with legislators and supporters of the UT System. He said the sense of optimism he saw about the future of Texas was unparalleled.

“That sort of optimism, that sense of the integral role of higher education in the state’s future — it doesn’t exist everywhere,” Milliken said.

As he makes decisions that impact Texans across the state, Milliken said he seeks recommendations from institution presidents as well as the Board of Regents, faculty and students at universities.

“I’m sort of a believer in participatory leadership and the idea that you consult broadly, invite participation and respect people’s input,” Milliken said. “At the end of the day, because of where I sit I will either be making a decision or, if appropriate, making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.”

On his first day on the job, Milliken received a report from a task force of the Board of Regents recommending the System cut 70 to 110 jobs from its Austin administrative offices. But he said reports like this are not uncommon in public higher education systems, and he will release his plan of action by the end of the year. 

“This is not a new discussion,” Milliken said. “It’s only two-and-a-half months old to me, but other people have been discussing it for some time. I think that the 30 years of experience I have has put me in a position to be able to jump in now, get up to speed and take the necessary actions on the work that’s been done so far.” 

As the legislative session approaches in January 2019, Milliken said he hopes to inspire confidence that the UT System is worth the funding it’s asking for.

“I want to demonstrate for the people of Texas and for the political leadership that they should have confidence in this University and what it does for the state,” Milliken said. “The better I can communicate that, the better environment we can create for support for the institutions of the UT System.”

The System will be asking for increased formula funding to support hiring and equipping faculty, enabling new academic programs and supporting students. Since the population of Texas may double by 2050, Texans need to start thinking about how they’re going to educate the next generation, Milliken said.

“We need more opportunities for Texans to get the education they need to be successful and for this state to be competitive,” Milliken said. “I want the UT System to be better than anybody at doing that.”