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Chancellor Milliken Remarks - Arlington Black Chamber Event

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(as prepared)

Thank you, Montez, for the introduction and for inviting me to participate today.  It’s a pleasure to virtually be with you all.

President Jackson and I connected when he reached out through Linkedin, and I look forward to seeing all of you in person when that’s a thing again.  I wanted to provide a little background today on the UT System and how I think about and approach my job as Chancellor.

I’ve been in higher education for more than thirty years.  I’m not sure I remember why I got into it – I started my career on Wall Street – but I can tell you why I stayed.

I believe that talent is universal – distributed evenly regardless of gender, zip code, race, national origin, or anything else.   Unfortunately, opportunity is not.  Sadly, the best opportunities remain stubbornly most highly correlated with wealth at birth.

In large part it’s higher education – and public higher education, which produces 70% of the nation’s graduates, in particular – that matches talent and opportunity. 

It is the most powerful engine of social and economic mobility the world has ever known.

And when a student graduates from college – particularly a first generation college-goer – it affects the lives of their family and community members for generations.

That’s why I do what I do, and I hope my small contributions make a difference.  

I’ve helped lead large public university systems in four states, which I believe has been an enormous help to preparing me for this role in Texas. 

Because there’s nowhere in the country where there is more opportunity for the kind of good public higher education can deliver.

Our state’s population is the second largest and third youngest in the country.  And it’s growing fast.  We’re adding roughly 1,000 new people a day, and we may double in population over the next thirty years.

Between now and then, we’re either going use our demographic advantage – it’s a lot easier to educate and prepare people when they’re young than when they’re old – or we’re going to get dragged down by it.

Right now, our educational attainment levels are too low and access to health care is too limited.  These are both areas where the University of Texas System has a key role.  

At the UT System, we educate about 240,000 students a year, across 13 institutions.  That’s almost a quarter million chances to match talent with opportunity – to put students, including the approximately 45% of UT undergraduates from low-income households – on a path to a bright future.

So that’s what drives me – and has driven me for more than thirty years, whether in Nebraska, North Carolina, New York City, or Texas. 

Of course, the last 12 months have been a year like no other.  The business of matching talent and opportunity changed in a multitude of ways.

I’m sure all of your 2020 business plans made a dramatic shift, almost exactly a year ago.  Ours did too.  In addition to seven universities, the UT System includes six health institutions, including UT Southwestern in North Texas – plus two medical schools at UT Austin and UT Rio Grande Valley. And as you would expect they have been at the forefront of our state’s battle against COVID-19.  They have been fully engaged doing COVID-19 testing and providing treatment to the people of Texas.  And four of our health institutions are among the top vaccine providers statewide. 

We also have a $3 billion research enterprise – the second biggest in the country.  And since the pandemic started, UT institutions have launched more than 300 COVID-19 related research and technology development projects, with more than 100 focused on therapies and dozens more on vaccine development. These include the work of UT Austin’s Dr. Jason McLellan and his team, which has provided the underlying science key to four of the national vaccines developed.  

I believe that out of great challenge and adversity, innovation always emerges.  The increased use of telemedicine is a great example.  It is here to stay, and that’s a very good thing for Texans. The growth has been remarkable.  In 2019, UT health institutions conducted under 1,000 telemedicine appointments.   From March 1 through December 31 of 2020, UT institutions conducted more than one million telemedicine appointments.   That’s a thousand-fold increase year over year.

And that’s just one example of how resilient and adaptable our institutions – our faculty, staff, and students – have proven themselves over the past year.  Prior to last March, fewer than 20% of UT System faculty had ever taught online, and just 40% of students had taken a single course online.  Almost overnight, 100% of both faculty and students were online.  And they didn’t just get along; they were enormously successful.   

It’s clear that Texans remain hungry for education beyond high school – for themselves and for their families.  And the good new is the vast majority of our students have been able to continue their education. 

The number of UT students who earned a degree in the spring was up 5% versus 2019.  Summer enrollment was up an astounding 23%.  And, in contrast to the national trend – which was a decline in enrollment – last fall’s enrollment across the 14 UT institutions was up 2%, with freshman enrollment up at 6 of the 8 academic institutions.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.  Many students lost jobs, were forced into family caregiver roles, or became sick themselves. Caring and accounting for the mental health of every member of the campus community was, and remains, a major challenge. 

The pandemic also revealed challenges Texans face with availability of Internet access, whether because of broadband limitations, subscription costs, or hardware ownership. 

According to the Texas Demographic Center, 1.6 million households in the state lack reliable Internet service.  This includes the homes of approximately one in five UT institution undergraduates.

For many students – especially those from low-income families – the shift to remote learning presented an additional obstacle between them and a degree.  We need to bridge the digital divide if we want to match talent with opportunity and unlock the potential and productivity gains we’ve only caught a glimpse of during the past year – in remote delivery of education as well as health care, and in working remotely. 

And speaking of the world of work, the state of the job market – and the trends that have been building for years – make it clear we need a change of mindset in higher education.  We are experiencing historic unemployment rates—highest in communities of color—and many who lost their jobs will have a hard time finding employment in the future unless they can learn new skills. 

I believe that the job of reskilling and up-skilling workers, whether displaced older workers or recent graduates, is the responsibility of all of post-secondary education, including our universities.  The UT System is working to identify and develop best-in-class programs for credentials and skills, recognized by industry, so we can offer them to students and graduates throughout their careers.

A century-old education model won’t suffice in a time when almost every new job requires education beyond high school, graduates change careers 7 times by the time they’re 35, and artificial intelligence, robotics, and outsourcing are impacting the future of work dramatically. 

We in higher education are in the business of creating opportunity and upward mobility – and part of doing our job well is recognizing when and where we haven’t done enough.

We have a special responsibility to find and elevate talent that’s all around us – in particular, talent that has historically been overlooked, whether in a student, in our leadership ranks, or in the enterprises we do business with.  Each year, I evaluate our 14 presidents, and there are a few metrics that are at the top of my list—diversity of the student body, the faculty and staff, and the leadership.   This year I have informed the Board of Regents and the Legislature that I am adding participation and success in our Historically Underutilized Business programs to that short list.  

I believe we need to model desired behavior at the top.   Practice what we preach.   At the UT System administration, I am determined to having a leadership team that is as diverse as the people we serve – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it will make us better.

Hiring since I arrived has demonstrated that.   We have significantly increased the number of African American, Latino and women senior executives.  Two recent executive hires—one starting in late fall and the other just this year—are cases in point.   Dr. Archie Holmes is my new Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the top academic spot at System Administration.  He oversees all 8 of our academic institutions, which means his work impacts the lives and careers of about 225,000 students and 40,000 faculty and staff.

And Derek Horton is the UT System’s chief budget officer.  Our annual budget is more than $21 billion.  To put that in perspective, $21 billion in revenue would place about #150 on the Fortune 500 – roughly equal to Southwest Airlines, Marriott, or McDonald’s.

Last August, the UT System marked an important milestone – the 30th anniversary of our Historically Underutilized Business, or HUB program.  At every stop of my career, I have seen how HUBs don’t just create opportunity where it has historically been lacking – they make university systems better.  In NYC, where I worked most recently before coming to Texas, we had among the most aggressive goals in the country, and we were successful.  

To recognize our 30th anniversary, I asked the UT Board of Regents to not only mark the occasion, but to recommit to the program’s success going forward.  They enthusiastically agreed.

Since our program was approved in 1990, the UT System and its institutions have spent more than $9 billion with HUB firms.  In 2020, our total HUB spend was $575 million – representing an increase of 19% in four years (2016 to 2020).  During that same time frame, the UT System’s spending with black-owned enterprises rose by 60% -- from less than $59 million in 2016 to more than $94 million in 2020.  To be sure, there’s room to grow in terms of the share of our HUB spending and our total spending, system-wide.

As for your hometown university, UT Arlington has increased its total HUB spend from less than $20 million to more than $30 million since 2016, and its spending with black-owned firms has more than quadrupled – from less than $1.5 million to nearly $7 million.

We have made progress.  But I believe that we can and should do more.  In addition to working with the Board of Regents, I have met with all 13 of my institution presidents and let them know that I expect them to increase their efforts to help HUBs, and black-owned businesses specifically, establish working relationships with UT institutions.

Remember, we are in the business of matching talent with opportunity, and that should extend to everything we do.

The presidents know that this is a priority for me, and that we will all be accountable.

One of the tools we encourage them to use is our mentor-protégé program.  The UT System sponsors a number of relationships between large companies and HUB firms to enhance the ability of HUBs to compete for contracting and subcontracting opportunities. Some of our most successful relationships with black-owned firms have come through these relationships.  Currently we are sponsoring 11 mentor-protégé relationships, featuring six black-owned firms, including two in the DFW area.  A great example is 3I, an inspecting and consulting company that won a substantial contract on a major capital project at UT Dallas as a result of its mentor-protégé relationship, and is working with its mentor to extend its footprint to Houston.

Before I turn this over to Montez, I want to be sure to mention that on April 8, the UT System and UT institutions are sponsoring a Virtual HUB Outreach event, where representatives of our purchasing departments will be making presentations on the procurement process and upcoming opportunities, and answering questions.  I plan to be there, and I hope you will be too.  

To conclude:

First, I take issues of access to opportunity, to upward mobility, very personally.  It’s why I’m in public higher education – to help match talent with opportunity, and supporting HUBs is, to me, a natural extension of that philosophy.

Second, I’m proud of what the UT System and UT institutions have achieved over the last 30 years, but I’m not satisfied.  We can and should do more.

And third, we will do more!  Not just because increasing equity in business opportunities is the right thing to do, but because I know it will make our institutions stronger, smarter, and better.

So thank you all for letting me share these thoughts with you today.