College of Liberal Arts

Major Gift Makes Liberal Arts Building a Reality

More than four decades ago, The University of Texas at Austin and its Naval ROTC program gave James Mulva the education, discipline and support that would help shape his future.

Today, he is giving back, helping to shape the future of the university, the College of Liberal Arts and, in particular, ROTC.

Mulva, chairman and chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips, and his wife Miriam have donated $15 million to the College of Liberal Arts to construct a new building on the East Mall. The six-story building will include an entire floor for the university’s Naval, Army and Air Force ROTC units, which are part of the college.

“We’ve been looking for the right project so we could, in a more significant way, help support The University of Texas and its commitment to education and research,” Mulva says.

“I went through ROTC — that’s the only way I could attend UT — so I really want to support ROTC students,” he says. “For these young men and women, it’s not about making money. It’s all about service to the country. They’re very dedicated and bright students.”

University President William Powers Jr. announced the gift this fall and will honor the Mulvas at an event on campus in the coming months.

“Jim and Miriam Mulva’s gift demonstrates a deep commitment to The University of Texas at Austin and to ROTC,” says Powers, who first met Mulva when the two were Naval officers stationed in Bahrain 40 years ago. “Through the Mulvas’ generosity, ROTC will remain at the heart of campus for generations to come.”

The East Mall building will include 30 modern classrooms; student study areas and meeting rooms; and laboratories and offices for faculty.

For the first time, it will give Liberal Arts students a space of their own and create an environment in which faculty from different disciplines can collaborate more easily.

“The Mulvas’ generosity makes our longtime dream a reality, “ says Randy L. Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “This building will help propel us to greatness by giving us the space we need to teach our students, nurture outstanding research and foster a vibrant intellectual community.”

It will be built on the site of Russell A. Steindam Hall (RAS), which is being torn down this fall. RAS has been home to ROTC for more than 50 years and was named for a graduate who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam.

Like RAS, the new building will have customized classrooms to meet the needs of all three ROTC programs as they train future military leaders.

“It looks first rate. It will optimize the training our midshipmen receive and ensure they’re ready to lead our sailors and Marines,” says Capt. Dan Dixon, Commanding Officer of Naval ROTC, noting that about half of all U.S. Naval officers are trained in ROTC programs at universities throughout the country. “Our alumni are extremely supportive and passionate about the training of our ROTC students, and Mr. Mulva’s gift reflects that.”

Over the past year, college leaders have been able to reduce the overall cost of the new building from more than $100 million to $93 million. When it’s finished in 2013, it will house anthropology, sociology, geography, linguistics, Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors, among other departments and programs.

“The space needs for disciplines like anthropology have really changed. We need more lab space and more collaborative work space if we are going to do world class research and attract the best students,” says Anthropology Chair Sam Wilson, who heads the Faculty Building Advisory Committee and serves on the advisory committee for the new building. “This building will be very versatile. It’s going to serve the campus for at least 100 years in ways we cant even imagine.”

Students will feel the impact immediately, says Carl Thorne-Thomsen, president of the Liberal Arts Council, the voice of college undergraduates. “Getting students from so many majors in a single place is going to be amazing. It’s going to be a hub for ideas.”

Mulva says he was motivated by his experiences as a student.

The Wisconsin native earned a bachelor’s of business administration from The University of Texas in 1968 and a master’s in business administration the following year. He then served four years in the Navy, much of that time in the Middle East. While there, he developed an interest in oil and energy that helped him launch a four-decade career in that field.

He and Miriam have two sons — including one who is on faculty in the Cockrell School of Engineering — and a granddaughter. In the past, they have made gifts to the Red McCombs School of Business and the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

“This is a time when ROTC is in need of new facilities on campus,” he says. “For us, it’s important, almost an obligation, that we give back to those institutions that have been important to us in our development. That includes ROTC. That includes The University of Texas at Austin.”

For more information on the Liberal Arts building project, visit: