Benson Touts Progress, Research Success at State of the University
Dec. 1, 2016
In his first State of the University speech, UT Dallas President Richard Benson said the University is a robust, innovative institution, poised to receive a research boost from a prestigious state funding program.
President Benson and staff, faculty and student leaders spoke before an audience of about 1,200 students, faculty, staff and guests who packed the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building lecture hall. Benson highlighted gains in key areas, such as enrollment, up 9 percent from last fall; a high-quality freshman class, with an average SAT score of 1,261 and 119 National Merit Scholars; and a record-setting year in giving, totaling $89.1 million.
He also mentioned areas for further improvement, including graduating a higher percentage of PhD students, diversifying the faculty ranks and attracting increased outside financial support for research.
Statistics of the University
Here are some key statistics of progress that President Richard Benson highlighted during his State of the University address.
- Fall Enrollment: 26,797* (up 9 percent from fall 2015)
- Freshman Class: Average SAT score of 1,261 and 119 National Merit Scholars
- Research Dollars: $106.2 million (up from $99.7 million in fall 2015)
- Endowment: $436.1 million (up from $392.7 million in fall 2015)
*As of Oct. 3, 2016
“We come together at an exciting time in UT Dallas history, now closing in on our 50th anniversary, a time when we will build upon our legacy of not only embracing change, but being defined by change,” Benson said. “We all expect continued transformation in the next few years because it is a way of life here. There is an assumption of innovation and improvement.”
Benson said the University is very close to reaching eligibility for a state program called the National Research University Fund (NRUF), which is intended to boost state research universities to achieve national prominence.
“When I was on the outside looking in, before I became president, I was very envious because I knew institutions such as UT Dallas had a running start with programs like NRUF,” Benson said. “This program is one way to prove that we have emerged — that we are becoming a national research university. And we have just about made it.”
To receive NRUF funds, the eligible Texas “emerging” universities must meet five out of seven quality standards. These standards include having a high-quality freshman class and faculty, and maintaining at least a $400 million endowment. For the first time in 2016, UT Dallas checked off five of the seven criteria, as the endowment surpassed the goal to reach $436 million. Once the five standards are reached, they must be maintained for two years. Benson said those two years will be complete at end of the fiscal year on Aug. 31.
Another recent achievement is the University’s inclusion among universities with highest research activity in The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
“We rose to Carnegie R1 status this year and we’re going to reach the NRUF funds. And if you think about the impact of the work we’re doing, the quality of the work, the sorts of students, faculty and staff that we attract to this campus, this is a Tier One university.”
“We come together at an exciting time in UT Dallas history, now closing in on our 50th anniversary, a time when we will build upon our legacy of not only embracing change, but being defined by change. We all expect continued transformation in the next few years because it is a way of life here. There is an assumption of innovation and improvement.”
While excited that UT Dallas has reached five of the seven marks required by NRUF, Benson said the University must still press on to address the two remaining categories: awarding at least 200 doctoral degrees per year and improving graduate programs graduation rates. He said he was concerned that the rate of entering PhD students who graduate remains around 50 percent.
“Getting a PhD is a very hard thing to do. But I would have hoped that more than half of our entering PhD students would have found a way to complete their doctoral studies,” he said. Benson encouraged faculty to seek strong students and to mentor them so they can be successful in their programs.
Besides NRUF, Benson cited another important source of research funding for UT Dallas — the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The organization was established in 2009 to create and expedite innovation in the area of cancer research. Benson said six current UT Dallas researchers have received nine CPRIT grants totaling more than $5 million.
“Those researchers are coming at cancer from all different angles, from the biology of cancer cells to drug delivery systems and new imaging technologies,” Benson said.
He told the audience that he wants the University to be known as a STEAM school — one that is not only focused on science, technology, engineering and math, but also on the arts. He also highlighted UT Dallas staff and faculty and praised their contributions to the success of the University.
The UT Dallas president said the University must work to improve the diversity of the faculty, to get closer to reflecting the diversity of the UT Dallas student population.
“Faculty diversity hasn’t changed much over the last 10 years. Clearly this is a persistent problem. But I can tell you, this is a tough problem everywhere. There is no easy way to solve it. We have work to do,” he said.
Benson said he often takes walks on campus, meeting with staff, students and faculty. He said he feels a dynamic energy as he talks with them.
“It’s during these conversations that I learn about our people, our culture, our dreams, and sometimes, our challenges,” he said. “These experiences have provided perspectives that shape my thinking as we prepare to sculpt the next era together at UT Dallas.”