AUSTIN – The University of Texas System Board of Regents today (Nov. 11) awarded its highest distinction – the Santa Rita Award – to longtime regent and former Chairman of the Board, James R. Huffines.
First appointed to a six-year term on the UT System Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2003, Huffines was reappointed for a second consecutive term in 2009 and served until March 2010.
"No one has been more selfless or passionate about improving The University of Texas System and its institutions than James Huffines," Regents' Chairman Colleen McHugh said. "He is a visionary leader who inspires people to work together in effective teams to accomplish magnificent things and his singular ability to build consensus led to unparalleled achievements during his chairmanship of the Board of Regents."
The Board first elected him chairman in June 2004, and he served in that capacity until November 2007, when he was elected as a vice chairman of the Board. As vice chairman, Huffines served as the Chairman of the Facilities Planning and Construction Committee and as a member of the Health Affairs Committee as well as the Student, Faculty, and Staff Campus Life Committee. He also served on the Academic Affairs and Finance and Planning Committees, and was the Board's Athletics Liaison. On April 13, 2009, the Board elected him chairman for a second term.
Huffines was instrumental in helping guide or launch several key UT System initiatives, among them the Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) program, a 6-year-old effort aimed at recruiting and retaining top talent in the faculty ranks, which so far has generated a net return of more than $345 million in research grants and clinical trial support; a comprehensive initiative to improve graduation rates; and the $2.56 billion competitiveness initiative, which bolstered the UT System's science, technology, engineering and health infrastructure, which, among other things, included 44 facilities projects that added or renovated more than 5.9 million square feet of infrastructure at UT System institutions.
In addition to his work as a regent, Huffines served on the Board of Directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Co. (UTIMCO), the Task Force on University of Texas Medical Branch Clinical Operations, the Chancellor's Council Executive Committee, Austin Caritas, Austin Rape Crisis Center, Austin Settlement Club for Girls, Child Care Partnership of Dallas, the March of Dimes, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at UT Austin, Performing Arts Center at UT Austin, School of Education at UT Austin, Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, Dallas Council on World Affairs, Dallas United Nations, the Austin and Dallas Symphony Orchestras, Dallas Theatre Center, U.S.A. Film Festival and the Dallas Children's Arts and Ideas Foundation. He also served as Chairman on the Dallas Mayor's Committee on the Employment of the Disabled.
A commercial banker, Huffines is the President and Chief Operating Officer of The PlainsCapital Corporation.
Chairman Huffines earned his bachelor's degree in finance from UT Austin in 1973 and attended Southwestern Graduate School of Banking at Southern Methodist University. He is married to the former Patty Hayes Shepherd, a 1977 graduate of UT Austin.
The award, first handed down in 1968, is named for the Santa Rita No. 1, the first producing oil well on UT System property in West Texas. The well produced oil from 1923 to 1990 and spurred growth of the Permanent University Fund.
The University of Texas System is one of the nation's largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $12.8 billion (FY 2011) including $2.3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Preliminary student enrollment exceeded 202,000 in the 2009 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state's undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state's health care professionals annually. With more than 84,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.