The idea for a Dean of Undergraduate Studies emerged early in the discussions of the Task Force on Curricular Reform at The University of Texas at Austin in 2004–2005, under the leadership of William Powers, then dean of the law school. Most members of the task force felt that curricular reform in core areas must be an ongoing, dynamic process responsive to the rapidly changing needs of students, as well as to changes in departmental requirements. They also recognized that changes of the scope they envisioned might require years to implement.
Accordingly, a task force subcommittee recommended the creation of a new unit led by a dean who would have the care and maintenance of the core curriculum as his or her main mission. The subcommittee also recommended that the new unit would be the home for a number of existing undergraduate programs as well as undeclared students. The unit would be set up with faculty oversight and closely coordinated with existing colleges and schools.
A committee of deans, under the leadership of then Dean Steven Leslie of Pharmacy (now executive vice president and provost), met during the spring and summer of 2006 and agreed that such a unit was indeed needed and recommended that a committee composed equally of senior faculty and associate deans guide it. Concurrently, the Faculty Council Educational Policy Committee met to consider the task force’s curricular proposals, recommending approval in fall 2006. The motion of the Educational Policy Committee was circulated to the entire faculty and finally passed on Dec. 8, 2006.
President Powers appointed Paul Woodruff on Sept. 1, 2006 as the inaugural dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS). The Executive Committee of the Faculty Council seconded the plan for the unit’s governance, and the Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee was convened in November 2006.
UGS became an official college-level unit reporting directly to the executive vice president and provost when the necessary approvals were received from The University of Texas System and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in May 2008.
By the time of the publication of the 2008–2010 Undergraduate Catalog in August 2008, the first round of revisions to the core curriculum had been adopted by the faculty, and degree programs in the School of Architecture, Red McCombs School of Business, College of Communication, College of Education, Jackson School of Geosciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Natural Sciences, and School of Nursing had been reformed to incorporate the revised core. UGS admitted its first cohort of approximately 800 undeclared students in fall 2009.
With the publication of the 2010-2012 Undergraduate Catalog, the core had been further revised to include, among other things, new science and technology course offerings, a number of course flags in important curricular areas, and an optional strand of great books courses running through the core areas. All students were now required to enroll in a signature course as part of the core requirements. Signature courses introduce first-year students to the university’s academic community, giving students a common intellectual experience through the exploration of new interests. Degree programs in the Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Fine Arts, College of Pharmacy, and School of Social Work were brought into compliance with the core curriculum, making the reformed core available to all UT students. Because all degree programs now referenced the university-wide core curriculum directly, all future reforms to the core would automatically be implemented in each of UT’s undergraduate degree programs. UGS admitted its second cohort of approximately 1,183 undeclared students.
In fall 2011, the Sanger Learning Center (SLC) joined UGS, serving as the university’s main resource for academic support. SLC provides tutoring, learning specialists, classes, workshops, and study strategies for all disciplines on campus. UGS admitted its third cohort of approximately 1,152 undeclared students.
By 2012, students from the 2009 cohort successfully transferred into all of the university’s colleges. A year later, 86% of the students who started in UGS were still in the major they first declared.
In July 2013, Brent Iverson was appointed as the school’s second dean. That fall the Center for Strategic Advising & Career Counseling, established in 2008, was renamed in honor of Dr. James W. Vick, former vice president for student affairs. The center continues to serve students campus-wide who need guidance as they explore potential majors and careers.
As of fall 2016, every undergraduate degree program at the university requires all six course flags as part of the degree requirements, thereby creating a foundation of essential knowledge for all students. UGS is now an integral part of the university’s academic infrastructure, working hand-in-hand with every college and school on campus to enhance the undergraduate experience. This year also saw the creation of the Public Speaking Center, a collaboration between the Sanger Learning Center and UT Libraries that provides students with assistance on public speaking assignments.
In fall of 2016, UGS created the Transfer-Year Experience Program for incoming transfer students. The program creates transfer-specific academic spaces, connects transfer students to experienced mentors, and builds avenues for transfer students to establish peer networks. The program offers transfer specific Signature Courses as well as a Transfer-Year Interest Group, where students have a reserved seat in high-demand courses, a built-in network of fellow transfer students, and a peer mentor with the experience and training to help them navigate their transition to UT Austin.
April 2017 marked the creation of Blackstone Launchpad, a centralized, cross-curricular, accessible hub for entrepreneurship on campus. Blackstone Launchpad offers students, faculty, and staff a variety of resources at all stages of idea and venture development, including opportunities to engage in workshops and networking, mentorship, and competition. Blackstone LaunchPad is hosted jointly with the Office of the Vice President for Research and is funded by a generous Blackstone Charitable Foundation grant.