Nearly a year after Teik Lim became UTA’s interim president, students and faculty members say he has done a good job in the temporary role but would like to see such an important position filled permanently.
Lim was appointed interim president in May 2020 after former President Vistasp Karbhari stepped down about two months earlier.
Lim has been the acting president amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide protests against social injustice and the severe winter weather storm in February. But almost a year after he was appointed to the interim role, the UT System has not made an official announcement to search for a permanent president.
Bill Carroll, Faculty Senate chair and computer science and engineering professor, said he applauds Lim for being a good interim president. But expectations are different for someone holding the role permanently, he said.
The Faculty Senate has urged UT System Chancellor James Milliken and other UT System administrators continue the presidential search process after it was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carroll said a cemented university president would be able to more aggressively raise the visibility and enhance the stature of UTA.
A permanent president would be expected to establish a vision for the university, improve rankings in places like the U.S. News & World Reports, add new programs and recruit faculty more aggressively than an interim president.
“We would have completely different expectations from someone coming into that job permanently,” said Jacqueline Fay, Faculty Senate chair-elect and English associate professor.
Fay said an open search would give everyone who qualifies for the position the opportunity to apply. The interim president is not prohibited from applying for the permanent position.
“That’s truly allowing everybody to have a seat at that hiring table,” she said.
Carroll said the Faculty Senate supports Lim, but a national search may give a woman or other minority candidates an opportunity to apply, he said.
“You don’t know who’s available and who you might be able to hire unless you conduct a search,” Carroll said.
Lim declined to comment on the topic of the presidential search.
Psychology senior Yousra Samman said Lim has proven his ability during his time as interim president, and he is the most qualified candidate for the permanent position because of his experience on the job.
Political science freshman Esther Odidi said the university should keep Lim in a permanent role because there may not be a better fit for the university.
“We’re doing very good right now,” Odidi said. “Lots of it is because of him and because of the actions and decisions that he had made for the faculty and for us students.”
Students and faculty members said Lim has mainly done a good job during the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic.
The interim president did a good job by implementing online courses, Odidi said. And although there are students who do not respect the on-campus safety guidelines, Lim has done his best when implementing them, she said.
Samman said although she is happy with the university’s COVID-19 response, she does not support the decision to hold most classes in person next semester because not everybody may be vaccinated by then.
Carroll said he’s satisfied with the decisions made for class modality and on-campus safety protocols, but there are some things he thinks could’ve been handled differently.
For example, faculty and staff members were not offered COVID-19 testing on campus until UTA’s partnership with Curative in March, and the university has not become a vaccination center, Carroll said.
UT-Austin, the flagship institution of the UT System, received their first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipment to distribute to UT health care workers in December. As of April 8, the university has administered almost 80,000 doses to residents as well as UT-Austin students, faculty and staff.
“I think if we could be a vaccination site now, that would be beneficial,” Carroll said.
Other than Lim’s decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and safety protocols, his work toward UTA’s diversity issues are appreciated by many students and faculty members.
In March, Lim chose Bryan Samuel as the inaugural vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. The position was one of Lim’s eight initiatives to work toward a more diverse campus that were announced last July.
The search committee found the candidates for the vice president position, but Lim made the final decision.
The other initiatives include diversity and inclusion training for all faculty and staff, the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, and $25 million in scholarships to address student diversity and the financial concerns of first-generation college students.
Carroll said Lim should be applauded for his initiatives in diversity, equity and inclusion.
“His efforts in the diversity area is really one of his main achievements,” he said.
Samman said it was good to see someone selected as the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. Although the student body is diverse, the faculty body is not, and that was concerning to her because faculty should reflect the students, she said.
“It just makes sense to have somebody who’s higher up in the university to represent our diversity as a whole,” she said.
Students also said they appreciate Lim’s quick responses to the severe weather storm in February.
When the storm hit, UTA announced Feb. 16 that all classes were canceled through that Friday.
Odidi said her brother attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, which announced class cancelation day by day. She thought UTA did a good job by announcing everything early and providing students places to shelter.
Samman said when she first heard about the severeness of the winter storm, she found out right away that her classes were canceled.
“It was like a weight off my shoulders because I was worried about getting the information I need during lectures to study for my exam,” she said.
Even though the Faculty Senate supports Lim and thinks he has done his best as an interim, the members still find it necessary to fill the position permanently.
The Faculty Senate held a special meeting Feb. 10 to propose a letter to urge the Milliken to begin the search for UTA’s president. The meeting concluded with all 43 members approving the letter.
Carroll said he does not expect the search to start until the end of the spring semester, but the Faculty Senate wants the UT System to begin the search as quickly as possible depending on the pandemic’s situation.
“We could wish a lot of things, but we actually don’t have control over the aspect of when the search would start,” Fay said.