November 15, 2010

A Difficult Legislative Session on the Horizon

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Earlier this month I was in Houston with Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin to meet with legislators, alumni, and the editorial board of The Houston Chronicle. As many of you know, Texas is facing a large budget shortfall. President Loftin and I are traveling to several key cities in the state to build awareness of the importance of state support for UT Austin and Texas A&M–the only public Tier 1 universities in Texas.

Our message is simple.

In the budget cut earlier this year, higher education in Texas was treated disproportionately compared to other state agencies. Higher education represents only 12.5% of the state budget, but it bore 41% of the budget reductions. We want to do our share, but continuing with disproportionate reductions will erode our state’s universities.

The Research University Development Fund (previously called the Competitive Knowledge Fund) rewards research universities by providing $1 of state support for every $10 earned in external research grants. Our research enterprise provides much needed economic stimulus to the Texas economy. UT and Texas A&M attracted more than $1.3 billion in external research grants to Texas in 2009-10. That’s 62% of all externally funded research at public universities in Texas. The Research University Development Fund is an effective way to support comprehensive research universities in the state.

UT and Texas A&M educate more than 100,000 students every year, that is nearly one of every five public university students in Texas. And our two universities have the lowest administrative costs in Texas—about half the state average.

Finally, UT and Texas A&M each have key building projects. At UT, our highest priority is a new building for our highly ranked engineering program, which would greatly benefit from Tuition Revenue Bond support.

I believe that higher education is an investment in our state’s future.  In the months ahead, President Loftin and I will continue our efforts to communicate the crucial importance of preserving the competitiveness of our state’s national research universities.  I hope the alumni and friends of both our universities will support us in this endeavor.

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7 Responses to “A Difficult Legislative Session on the Horizon”

  1. Mike says:

    Wow. So do Rick Perry’s assistants troll this website looking to make cheap, unsubstantiated shots at higher education?

    It is crazy to believe that we can create more jobs, raise wages, and grow the economy by cutting UT and A&M’s budgets (budget cuts that lead to job cuts, lower wages, fewer construction projects for starters).

    UT & A&M are not bloated and overfunded; they do a great job with meager support from the state.

    Universities need even greater funding from the state. Higher education is not the problem; it is the solution.

    • Argus says:

      Hello, Mike–

      No, I do not work for Rick Perry. My opinion of that man is unprintable. The only praise I can give him (to quote Esquire magazine) is that his hair is *perfect.*

      I am a UT classified staff member with more than 10 years of experience on campus who has seen dedicated and hard-working employees with genuine passion for the University misused, abused, ignored, taken for granted and railroaded out of jobs which they performed admirably. Why? Because (except when something explodes in their faces: witness the recent Cactus Cafe fiasco) there is essentially no oversight of upper management at UT. Whatever you call them—-Directors, Executive Directors, Associate Executive Directors or any sort of VP—-it is left entirely to the conscience of the individual as to how they run their fiefdoms. Generally they take good care of themselves and a small coterie of sycophants but tell everybody else there’s no money for any raises. Thus those who get ahead do so much more on the basis of personal favor than merit. In fact at UT the word “merit” (as in “merit raise”) usually *means* favor. And all HR ever does is back up administration.

      As Jeff says in a comment, UT’s staff is most definitely bloated in two areas: its fabulously top-heavy upper administration, and lowly employees in departments such as Ticketing & Towing (oops, I meant Parking & Transportation) “Services.” The former live in a different world from working people, and they think it is their birthright; the latter scurry around doing the bidding of their masters without thinking at all.

      I have no delusion that a lament such as mine will change anything. The reason for my cynicism? When it’s time to tighten belts, nobody ever cuts a VP or some other overpaid administrator whose job is so ill-defined (and whose hours are so flexible and minimal, usually on the pretense that they get to work every morning at 4:30 a.m., so of course they have to leave right after lunch) that nobody can tell what they do for a living. Their jobs are sinecures unless a scandal erupts in the media. Then they might get eased out with a golden parachute.

      As for Ticketing & Towing: few of their people earn a big salary, but that department rakes in a *boatload* of money. If you have a problem, good luck getting any “service” from them—-but if you leave your car someplace where it’s not supposed to be for five minutes, WHAM! They come down on that with a ticket, boot or tow truck pronto.

  2. Argus says:

    President Powers,

    Wow.

    Sir, against my every expectation, you printed my comments exactly as I wrote them.

    For that I give you credit. Thank you.

    Any chance we might get some answers? Granted, my tone was impudent, but I shot you straight. How about more of the same in return?

    Here is what raises my hackles: Each and every time you start talking about how tight UT’s finances are (like, gee, our poor little University is bound to go bust), we hear a lot of sweeping generalities, along with a bunch of numbers tossed around like confetti. . .but you offer no supporting evidence, no hard specifics, no particulars. Meanwhile, huge but completely unnecessary expenses such as running that gigantic television screen at your football games go unremarked: circus maximus texanus.

    The only factor which is understood implicitly is that the lower-echelon classified staff will have to absorb any cuts.

    Can you or anyone else on the upper pay scale at UT identify a single step you have taken to restrain or reduce expenses that impacts you personally? (No fair counting taking away the job of some lowly office assistant.) If so, by all means let us know. Because if you could present even the slightest evidence that making a genuine sacrifice includes anybody on high, it would go a long way toward dispelling the perception that UT is run by an oligarchy impervious to realities affecting mere working people.

  3. Lizzy says:

    Cut the football budget. The team hasn’t even won any big games this year.

  4. Jeff says:

    Part of the problem lies with our priorities. UT is a perpetual construction zone with unnecessary investments being made in expensive and glamorous new facilities. The administration is bloated, as are the ranks of the low-paid employees (e.g., traffic attendants stationed at various entrances to campus). Absolutely any and all financial support/incentives towards our athletic programs should be terminated and what athletic programs aren’t “self-sustaining” should be downsized or eliminated altogether. Indeed, there is a staggering amount of fat to be trimmed.

    The absolute last resort should be cutting into academic programs, course offerings, faculty, common research facilities, and any other core components of teaching and research. If raising tuition is the only way to prevent such cuts, then so be it. Preserving the “dream” of affordable higher education for everyone simply may not be an option in this economic climate and in our low-tax state. Above all, the accessibility of UT Austin should be compromised long before our faculty and programs are.

    When the inevitable crunch time comes, President Powers, I hope you act in the best interest of UT, by doing all you can to preserve our university with administrative and infrastructural cuts, along with possible tuition raises, rather than cutting into the core services and people that are the essence of the university.

  5. Amy says:

    Thank you!

  6. Argus says:

    Hey Bill,

    Any possibility of substantiating some of the numbers you like to throw around?

    41% sounds really scary, but may I remind you again that with the State of Texas contributing only 13% of UT’s funding, the 5% reduction Governor Perry requested for the biennium is only .65%? Now, of course that gives you putative justification to eliminate the jobs of housekeepers and other low-paid employees to keep the classified staff scared–believe me, it is no surprise at all that UT’s administrative costs are “about half the state average,” which is a tacit admission on your part that the classified staff is underpaid–but it didn’t stop you from giving your head football coach a 67% base raise last December, did it?

    By the way, what’s the official line on how much the football team supposedly “gives” the University this year? Like, do you have any more “academic initiatives” underway for a few hundred thousand dollars to move trees around the stadium or whatever?

    And who decided exactly whom would receive one of those raises sufficient to give everybody a 2% increase? The very same directors (or Executive Director) who merrily lopped off a nice 7.99925% slice for himself the last time around before anybody else got to the trough?

    You have a little credibility problem when it comes to figures, Bill. You can’t expect to stimulate gigantic donations from the private sector by portraying the contribution of the State as a pittance, then turn around and pretend UT has suffered a gigantic hit.

    Can you offer any solid reason why we should not believe that the rich (meaning the herds of sycophantic overpaid upper administrators at UT) get richer, the poor get poorer and the Regents’ prize toy between San Jacinto Boulevard and Robert Dedman Drive remains every bit as categorically off-limits to criticism as the private airplane you’re not really supposed to fly to Hobby or Love Field?