Anticipating the future needs of a university the size of The University of Texas at Austin is no easy task, but Maureen Decherd is forging ahead, helping to shape that future.
“While this may seem simplistic, I have a very deep belief in the university and its purposes,” says Decherd, a 1973 English graduate and 2009 Pro Bene Meritis recipient.
Decherd serves on the Commission of 125, a group of 218 members that was first convened in 2002 to develop a vision for how the university can best serve Texas and society over the next 25 years. The commission issues its recommendations directly to President William Powers Jr.
Decherd is also a long-time, active member of the College of Liberal Arts Advisory Council, a volunteer group that works with the dean of Liberal Arts to help advance the college’s key initiatives.
“I’ve focused most of my attention on the quality of teaching and scholarship in the College of Liberal Arts, with an emphasis on the Department of English,” says Decherd. “Outstanding writing skills and an appreciation for literature are fundamental to the progress of any society.
“And I hope that the university will continue to find ways to make sure that the very best students are attracted — and admitted — to UT Austin.”
Decherd is particularly proud of the endowments she and her husband Robert Decherd, chief executive officer of A. H. Belo Corp., have established for the College of Liberal Arts and the School of Journalism, and of their participation in a $15 million pledge for the planned Belo Center for New Media in the College of Communication.
In 2007, the Decherds personally donated $1.5 million to create the Maureen Healy Decherd ’73 Teaching Endowments for English in the College of Liberal Arts and for Journalism in the College of Communication. Both create stipends for non-tenured faculty and doctoral candidates engaged in teaching about literature, American society or the U.S. media.
“My time in the College of Liberal Arts reinforced my love of writing and reading,” says Decherd. “and also gave me research skills that have proved to be invaluable in many activities over the years. Of course, all of these experiences enabled me to be a better mother as well — my most important accomplishment in life.” Decherd has two children, William, 31, and Audrey, 22.
“We are blessed with two wonderful children who have accomplished a great deal, and who place family and friends first in their lives,” says Decherd, who is particularly delighted that the two siblings are the best of friends.
Beyond her commitment to family and alma mater, Decherd’s and her husband’s philanthropy has helped shape the future of many organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area — St. Mark’s School of Texas, the Gladney Center, the Dallas YWCA, and the Hockaday School — as well as his alma mater, Harvard University. She is also president of the Decherd Foundation, which has contributed more than $4 million to support education and urban design initiatives since its inception in 1994.
Decherd says she began supporting these organizations, in particular, because they adhere to high standards. While she continues with her philanthropic work, she has also pursued a master’s of liberal arts from Southern Methodist University.