History Department
History Department

President Powers addresses Commission of 125 and University of Texas community, lauds Dr. Oshinsky and others

Tue, May 10, 2011
President Powers addresses Commission of 125 and University of Texas community, lauds Dr. Oshinsky and others

Powers said he thought it necessary to address the university about the issues that higher education in general is facing — including UT.

The main one being the budget crisis for the state and therefore the university, what the “vision for the future of UT Austin” is and “how we can reconcile that vision with current questions about higher education in Texas.”

He reiterated all the cost-cutting measures that have already been implemented over recent years and are ongoing in light of the pending Legislature’s bills that will surely further reduce higher education funding. Powers thanked the deans from the colleges and others for their efforts in finding ways to reduce costs while trying to maintain the core purpose of the university “to transform lives for the benefit of society.”

He clearly defended the academic research that the university faculty and its students conduct as one of the most important aspects of a top-tier university. Powers staunchly rejected the ideas espoused by recent critics of reducing research at public universities.

Powers cited the many ways that faculty members and students’ research contributes to the general public, how much the university is engaged in its own evolution in not only the way it operates as an institution, but as a research and teaching university. He gave examples to illustrate how the university is implementing the recommendations of the Commission of 125’s Report and how a research environment prepares students for the future.

One example he used was Department of History Professor David Oshinsky’s research into polio that resulted in his book Polio: An American Story. It won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in the history category. Oshinsky is a Distinguished Teaching Professor of History and the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History.

“His work as a historian revealed an important chapter of the human narrative to thousands of readers,” Powers said. He added that the book had so inspired Bill Gates that he redoubled his commitment to eradicate polio and in 2011 through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $100 million towards eliminating polio worldwide.

Oshinsky has been awarded numerous awards for his book besides the Pulitzer including the Cartwright Prize from Columbia University Medical Center for his research into the history of polio and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean’s Medal for significant contributions to the field of public health.

Powers also talked about the stellar teaching of physics Professor Todd Ditmire, who besides teaching undergraduate classes, is the director of the Center for High-Intensity Laser Science at UT. Ditmire has raised $14 million with most of the funding coming from the National Nuclear Security Administration for UT’s Texas Petawatt Laser Project that “has a power output — for a nanosecond or less — more than 2,000 times that of all the power plants in the United States,” Powers explained.

“The laser gives our faculty members and students the capability to experiment with high-energy reactions, simulate the workings of stars and other celestial bodies, and investigate nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun,” he said. This was one example of a research tool that gives the faculty and students an invaluable learning environment.

He recognized Katie Maass, a chemical engineering senior, who has “worked on projects to improve drug effectiveness and to develop nanoparticles that can release medicine in the small intestine rather than the stomach. That interest recently helped her win a five-year, $250,000 research grant from the Hertz Foundation.”

Powers asked Oshinsky, Ditmire and Maass to stand and be recognized by the audience for their outstanding contributions to the university and society at large.

For the complete speech, visit the Office of the President’s website...

Photo of Professor Oshinsky by Marsha Miller

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