Q&A: Interim President Hartzell on his new job and returning to campus in the fall

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar


Jay Hartzell, dean of the McCombs School of Business, started his role as interim president of The University of Texas at Austin on June 1. The UT System Board of Regents appointed Hartzell as interim president in April after President Gregory Fenves announced he would leave to become president of Emory University. On his first day on the job, The Daily Texan spoke with Hartzell about his plans for the coming semesters in light of the coronavirus.

DT: What would you say to students and faculty who have concerns about physically returning to campus in the fall?

On June 3, Hartzell announced up to 2,100 of the 11,000 classes offered this fall will be held online. Last month, Fenves and Hartzell announced fall classes will be held on-campus beginning August 26 as planned but will end at the start of Thanksgiving break.

Hartzell said as guidelines surrounding the coronavirus continue to change, individual students or faculty members should take reasonable precautions based on their needs. 

“It sounds hard to do at a 70,000 person place, but some of it’s gonna have to be at the individual level to figure out what fits that person’s needs,” he said. “We are working through the various things we know we need, from how we worry about people who are diagnosed with COVID-19, how we keep track of how the risks are evolving over time for our community, how we take care of those who need protection.”

DT: What are you doing to keep students enrolled and feeling safe?

“We want to make sure students continue to take advantage of UT and keep on their paths,” Hartzell said. “You look at all the great ground we’ve gained in terms of graduation rates for example, and we just hate to see that slip because of the pandemic.”

Hartzell said there is going to be a support network in place for students with resources for mental health and physical well-being. 

“There’s a wide safety net at a place like UT for students to know that if they come they’re gonna be supported,” he said. “We’re all aligned. We all want the students to succeed.”

DT: What do you hope to convey to students, staff and faculty during the pandemic?

“We’re gonna get through this together,” Hartzell said. “This University has wonderful fundamentals, has wonderful people, and I just wouldn’t trade what we have at our place for virtually any other university in the world. The future is still bright. There are gonna be bumps for a while to get to that future.”

DT: Are you planning on pursuing the permanent president position? How do you view your current role as interim?

Hartzell said it is in the best interests of the University to keep moving forward on initiatives that President Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis were working on to continue the momentum.

“I love this University, and it was an easy choice for me to say yes when I got the chance to step in,” Hartzell said. “If asked to serve, my tendency is to want to say yes … but it’s up to the regents and the chancellor to decide how they want to go.”

DT: What is your favorite UT tradition?

“It was not until I got to UT that I had a sense of the scale of pride and passion that this place creates,” Hartzell said. “There’s just this idea of a world-class, fantastic institution that is this big. That excellence at scale, I think, is the thing that gets me the most excited every day.”