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'We are weathering the storm,' UT Austin president says in first State of the University address

UT President Jay Hartzell addressed the university's response to the pandemic and his vision for the upcoming 2021 year.

AUSTIN, Texas — In his first State of the University address, the University of Texas president touched on the Austin campus's response to the coronavirus pandemic and gave his vision for the upcoming 2021 year.

UT President Jay Hartzell gave the virtual address on Feb. 4, speaking to the university's students, staff, faculty and alumni. 

Hartzell said he was proud of how the university is navigating the pandemic and "weathering the storm."

"Rather than succumbing to panic, incompetence or denial, our response has been based on data, prudence, vigilance, solidarity and operational excellence," he said. "Last year, we invested nearly $30 million to Protect Texas Together. We created testing and tracing capabilities right here on campus – from scratch. Over 60,000 tests have been taken by over 20,000 people. Because of this, we’ve managed to intercept over 700 people who were positive but asymptomatic. We worked with them to isolate from the rest of our community."

Back in September 2020, KVUE reported a rise in COVID-19 cases among the UT population. In fact, on Sept. 18, KVUE reported that an analysis of local COVID-19 data shows cases of the virus at the university accounted for more than one-fourth of all new cases reported in Austin-Travis County since the first day of the fall semester. 

"Longhorn Nation has surely suffered," said Hartzell. "Tragically, three of our beloved staff members contracted COVID-19 and died last year. Their families and colleagues still grieve. In addition, many staff, faculty and students have lost loved ones. Disruptions in our shared life have taken a significant toll on our physical and mental well-being."

Greetings, Longhorn Nation! I'm Jay Hartzell, and since last September, I've had the incredible honor of serving as the 30 th president of The University of Texas at Austin. Each year, the president reports to the faculty on the state of the university.

Hartzell also addressed the university's response to diversity and racial justice issues, including the debate over "The Eyes of Texas."

"Ultimately, we will continue to celebrate our university’s story – both our traditions and our trajectory," he said. "We don’t shy away from the injustice found in our history, nor are we bashful about the progress we’ve made since 1883. We remain on a journey and our work is far from done."

RELATED: Jay Hartzell officially named University of Texas president

Hartzell said after weathering the storm of the past year, "next, we catch new tailwinds." He wants the university to focus on building on what he sees as its three strengths:

1. Continuing to recruit elite faculty and outstanding students

2. Creating an environment characterized by excellence, academic freedom and diversity

3. Leveraging the unique set of opportunities afforded us by our location: in Texas, at Austin

In 2020, Hartzell replaced former President Greg Fenves as the UT president. Before he was named interim president, Hartzell served as the dean of the UT McCombs School of Business. Hartzell earned his doctorate in finance from UT Austin in 1998 and then returned in 2001 as a faculty member, according to a university press release.  

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