When Dr. Francisco Cigarroa is not busy being chancellor for the UT System, he is working rounds as a pediatric surgeon at his old stomping grounds, the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, where he served as president for nine years. In fact, after visiting the UTSA campus, he concluded his San Antonio visit with a pediatric liver transplant.
Cigarroa sat down with The Paisano to discuss his vision for the UT System of “making tomorrow a better day than yesterday.”
On enhancing academic programs
I’ve never distanced myself from the fundamental cores of why we exist: to facilitate education, research and quality care. So, what we need to do is add value to our universities by improving the educational curriculum. The board of regents for the UT system has provided $10 million in awards to reward innovations in undergraduate education. We’re incentivizing that kind of behavior for our faculty to be constantly thinking about improving the curriculum for the undergraduate students.
From the business side, we have been very creative at cost containment through joint purchasing power. There are a lot of things being done that can keep dollars at the university to be directed toward academic programs. We have to protect our most precious resource, which is our academic environment, and we want to have the finances to be able to build great institutions.
Our mission is to create the best educational environment for our students, to be able to recruit the best faculty, to create the best knowledge through research, to convey that knowledge to our students and to be able to provide outstanding medical care throughout our health science centers. But our mission is not make a profit.
On Football vs. Academics
The Board of Regents really deliberated upon this, and part of the decision-making process of establishing a football program here was that we can not take the eye off the ball of establishing an academic setting for students. A football team could certainly instill student pride, it could instill more attention from the community at large to UTSA and it could be a means of garnering enhanced philanthropy for UTSA. It is a way of bringing the community more into the university as well. The board was very careful to be certain that there be no compromise of the academic mission at UTSA.
Now, it is a costly endeavor, but most of those endeavors will be derived from auxiliary funds and not state general revenue. Hopefully by bringing more of the community to UTSA, we can garner more philanthropy for scholarships and so forth. One has to be focused on building the program, and one has to be very sensitive about not harming the academic mission. But, I believe with the current administration, the current faculty and the demands of our students wanting the very best from their education, I can ensure you that academics will not be compromised. The president of this university would not let that happen. I am convinced of it.
On the Top 10 Percent Law
The Top 10 Percent law came about as a constitutionally acceptable way to work around the Hopwood case. When the Top 10 percent was passed, I do not think anyone ever dreamed that 100 percent of the student body would be selected by that one metric.
Currently at UT Austin, 83 percent of the student body is being accepted under Top 10 percent. By the year 2013, 100 percent of the student body will be admitted based on GPA alone. I think accepting a student body just on one metric, without taking into consideration other wonderful attributes in a student, could be harmful for a student body long term.
My first year at Yale I was suboptimal at my performance. My first year I got Cs, my second year probably Bs and then my third and fourth years I was definitely an A student. But if medical school was admitting students strictly on GPA, and you had to be top 10 percent of your class to be admitted to that school, I would have never gotten into medical school and all of these wonderful opportunities that Texas has given me as an under-represented minority probably would not have happened. I think that the admissions committee ought to review the students in a holistic manner.
We are advocating to our legislature for the strong consideration of modifying this legislation-not eliminating it, but modifying. We are asking that 50 percent of the class be admitted through top 10 percent, and the other 50 percent through a holistic approach. By doing that, it is my position that we can enhance diversity at all levels-not only race and ethnicity, but geographic diversity and different personal attributes: musicians, writers-everything that makes a student body fantastic.
On a Top 100 Research Institution
This is one of the most vibrant, growing universities in the state of Texas, if not in the United States. What UTSA has accomplished over the last decade has basically been evolving into what is now considered an emerging research institution. With a lot of hard work and developing a strategic plan, like Vision 2016, you all have a real potential of attracting a successful and talented student body and faculty, especially at a time when Texas is at a competitive edge over other states. Your faculty is embarking on certain areas where they want to be viewed nationally as experts. For example, you all are establishing a wonderful engineering school, a wonderful school of architecture and there is enhanced emphasis on performing arts through the growing department of music. In the sciences, you all are beginning to get focused on areas where you can recruit some really outstanding faculty members, especially in the neurosciences and medicinal chemistry for drug benefits areas.
We can never forget the benefits of outstanding teaching all along the way. You all have entrusted us with your education, and that’s an incredible responsibility. Nothing can be more important to us than continuing to improve the educational environment for all of us to be life-long learners-faculty and students alike. Once we foster that spirit of continual improvement, life-long learning and making a better tomorrow, now you are really beginning to establish a university of the first class. I see UTSA poised to really become one of the great universities in the nation. I have seen it grow so beautifully in the past eight years. It’s a wonderful place.