The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.
As he heads to Atlanta to lead Emory University, Fenves passes the torch on Monday to Interim President Jay Hartzell, dean of the McCombs School of Business, who takes the helm just three months before classes start on Aug. 26.
Greg Fenves(Marsha Miller/University of Texas)
Hartzell faces a term marked by new protocols aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff on campus. University officials said that the transition, even in such uncertain times, is expected to be smooth.
"Even though this is a challenging time for higher education nationally, UT-Austin has prepared well for the transition in leadership to President ad interim Hartzell," Kevin P. Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, told Austonia on Thursday, saying he has "full support" of the university leadership.
Depending on his own plans and how long it takes university officials to name a permanent replacement, Hartzell will almost certainly also be called upon to play the roles of politician and advocate in the Texas Capitol, just two miles away, when UT faces budget cuts during the Legislature next year.
But officials say Hartzell's immediate mission is to ensure the campus is ready for its approximately 40,000 students to return to a safe, productive learning environment that is as valuable as it was before the pandemic caused so many changes.
Jay Hartzell(University of Texas)
"Our number-one goal at this time is to ensure that UT institutions are prepared to educate students, serve patients and conduct critical research in environments safe for students, faculty and staff," UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken told Austonia on Thursday. "[Hartzell] has very successfully led one of the largest colleges on campus, and for the last couple of months, he has been involved in all major decisions as the institution navigates the challenges of the pandemic and budget reductions. We need this kind of experienced leadership in the months ahead."
Neither Fenves nor Hartzell were available to comment this week.
The news that Fenves was leaving came less than two weeks after the university officially closed to contain the spread of coronavirus. It capped a term marked by success in financial aid and graduation rates, and no headline-grabbing scandals or damaging public infighting.
His announcement was a surprise to many because Fenves' candidacy at Emory, whose president vacated the role late last year, was not made public until both universities made official announcements on April 7.
It was not long after Maurie McInnis, then the provost, said she would leave at the end of the semester to become president of Stony Brook University.
Even Hartzell expressed surprise at his new role, joking last month that he was hurrying to organize his office so the new dean of McCombs, Lillian Mills, could easily take over when he moves to the tower leadership offices.
Fenves wasn't specific about his reasons for the move, but given the nature of the two vastly different jobs, Fenves likely heads to higher pay, better decision-making control, more privacy, less meddling by politicians and an overall less-public role at the prominent private research university in Georgia.
Former UT Chancellor Mark Yudof describes the post as "a great job," but one that is highly accountable to taxpayers, lawmakers, and the media in several ways—particularly as it comes to campus policies and budgeting.
Testifying before the state Legislature and fighting for funding, for example, is a vital part of the role—one Yudof relished, as a lawyer who spent his career at public institutions. By contrast, the focus of private school leadership tends to more "inward" on education and internal campus issues, he said.
"It's very different," said Yudof, who served as president of the University of California after UT. "I've never held a high post in a private school, but I did for a time think about whether I should make the move."
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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