Reminiscences, Hopes Shared at Panel of Presidents
Daniel, Rutford and Jenifer Reflect on University’s Past and Potential
Nov. 20, 2009
“We have learned in America that the surest safeguard against centralization of political power is the diffusion of human knowledge.”
The voice of then-president Lyndon B. Johnson filled the Conference Center auditorium as the Panel of Presidents audience settled in for a multi-media presentation on the University’s history and a conversation with David E. Daniel, president of The University of Texas at Dallas and Dr. Franklyn Jenifer and Dr. Robert Rutford, his two immediate predecessors.
Full Video of Panel Discussion
The 10-minute, space-themed video that opened the event presented highlights from the past four decades at UT Dallas and included excerpts of interviews with acting former President Francis S. Johnson, former President Bryce Jordan and interim former President Alexander Clark.
After the video account, Daniel, Rutford and Jenifer began a lighthearted, personal discussion. Subjects included the University’s beginnings as a collection of temporary buildings housing experiment stations in a North Texas cotton field, the challenges of transitioning from a graduate institution to a four-year university and the University’s future.
Each was asked what brought him to the University. For Rutford, professional contacts and a certain appeal came to mind.
“I’d known about UT Dallas because a couple of my colleagues involved in Antarctic affairs were from UT Dallas,” he said. “Marty Halpern [and I] talked about UT Dallas. I was serving as the vice chancellor for research at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and so saw this place as a … great potential in terms of expansion and becoming a great research university. It was that appeal that certainly brought me here.”
|Dr. Robert Rutford (left) confers with Dr. Franklyn Jenifer before the panel discussion.|
Jenifer saw a best-kept secret that needed to be told.
“I met with the students and met with the faculty, I met with the city leadership, and what was evident is that everybody had the same idea,” said Jenifer. “Everybody wanted a great university that was excellent and within the context of excellence to be diverse. And that partnership of excellence and diversity was really something I had not yet done and wanted to be part of my portfolio.”
Daniel said his interest in coming to the University was sparked by a 45-minute phone conversation containing two main points.
“Number 1 was the exceptional quality of the students at UT Dallas. That was really impressive, especially the part where I heard they had higher SAT scores than UT Austin [students],” he said. “I think the second piece that appealed to me was just the opportunity here to really do something special at a very special institution.”
The conversation continued, discussing the look and culture of campus during their terms as president, and reminiscences about their proudest moments with the University.
“There are actually three things that changed during my tenure: Number 1 was addition of engineering, Number 2 was addition of housing on campus, and Number 3 was the addition of freshmen and sophomores,” said Rutford. “Those all began.”
Jenifer recounted two accomplishments from his time as president.
“One was the growth of the student population, undergraduate students,” he said. “Like no other university that I can recall in the country, we grew top down, not bottom up. Most universities start off as undergraduate institutions, and then they have a master’s program, then they have a PhD program, then eventually they evolve into a university of some note.
Jenifer said another achievement involved the struggle to make it clear to the UT System the level of important research that was being conducted at the University. “But when I talked to the [UT System] chancellor and I talked to most people who were beginning to see what we were doing, everybody agreed that was the case,” he said.
Dr. Daniel sees his term as a work in progress.
“I just want to leave it better than I found it, and these two gentlemen left it a lot better than they found it. It’s just a question of how much differential, or ‘delta’ we would say in mathematical terms, can we add to the University on my watch,” he said.
When speaking of the future of UT Dallas, the three University presidents echoed the sentiments of President Johnson’s taped message commemorating the opening of the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, the first predecessor institution of UT Dallas.
“I am confident that the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest will, through the years to come, play an invaluable role in helping us to fulfill the human resources of a great region,” Johnson said.
“Where we see ourselves really is a top-tier university that draws tens, eventually hundreds of millions of dollars of research here, that draws the best and the brilliant here and becomes a hub of where people want to be,” said Daniel.
Special Panel of President guests included Bob Macy, Richardson City Council; Bill Keffler, city manager of Richardson; Maureen Johnson, widow of Francis Johnson; Karen Clark, widow of Alexander Clark; Margie Rutford, wife of Robert Rutford; and Susan Daniel, wife of David E. Daniel. Patti Henry Pinch, a lifetime member of the UT Dallas Development Board who served with each president participating in the event, was also in attendance.
“Our discussion focused on potential,” said Susan Rogers, vice president for University communications and panel moderator. “Each leader told a story of looking beyond the rough or, in the beginning, nonexistent, campus facilities and landscape and envisioning what could be. The University owes all our presidents and founders and their families a debt of gratitude for their hard work and belief in the University’s future. ”
Panel of Presidents is part of a yearlong series of events and celebrations to commemorate UT Dallas’ first 40 years as a public institution and member of The University of Texas System. For information about other 40 years celebration events, or to view an interactive timeline of UT Dallas’ history, visit the 40 Years Web site.
Current UT Dallas President David E. Daniel (center) hosted former presidents Franklyn Jenifer (left) and Robert Rutford in a panel discussion about the achievements of the University’s first 40 years.
“Where we see ourselves really is a top-tier university that draws tens, eventually hundreds of millions of dollars of research here, that draws the best and the brilliant here and becomes a hub of where people want to be,” said UT President David Daniel.
“Like no other university that I can recall in the country, we grew top down, not bottom up,” Dr. Franklyn Jenifer said.
Dr. Robert Rutford said the University’s “great potential in terms of expansion and becoming a great research university” played a large role in drawing him to UT Dallas.