January 27, 2011

Budget Message

I wanted to share this message, which I sent to our faculty and staff yesterday:

Dear Colleagues:

The 82nd Legislature is under way, and news reports have focused on the difficult budgetary challenges facing our state and proposed cuts to higher education and public schools.

Our elected officials must make some tough choices during this session, and those choices will have a significant impact on our university.

I know we are all concerned about how we will be affected by the state’s budget shortfall.  Budgetary issues will be debated in the coming months.

I cannot predict how these deliberations will turn out, but I want to assure you that we have been preparing for this scenario for more than a year and a half. Thanks to the hard work of our provost, deans, vice presidents, and many of you across the campus, we have made significant progress in examining our financial situation, cutting costs, improving efficiency, and planning for a possible reduction in state funding.

This uncertainty is challenging and stressful. I understand how important it is to keep you informed on developments that affect the future of our university.  I also understand that budget cuts are a greater burden for our staff.

Every time I go to our Capitol I am mindful that I represent the interests of faculty, staff, students, and alumni who make The University of Texas at Austin one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education.

We will continue to pursue our mission to become the nation’s leading public research university.

The quality of our university is the result of the dedication, talent, and commitment of all of you.  With your help, I believe that we can emerge from this period as a strong and vibrant institution better poised to pursue our vision to be the best.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Bill's Signature






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4 Responses to “Budget Message”

  1. Argus says:

    Mr. Larson,

    I share your admiration for Dr. Sullivan—-especially her forthright manner.

    Considering that a University of Michigan official as high-ranking as their President deems the condition of Michigan’s finances (in your words) “just fine, as only something like 8 percent of its funds came from the state [of Michigan]“. . .would you be surprised to learn that some years ago the portion of UT’s funding derived from the State of Texas was only 13%?

    I am curious to know what the current level of state funding here is; the way that UT officials routinely bawl about the University’s impoverishment, I sincerely doubt that it has expanded beyond 13%. My guess is that in fact the portion of state funding has declined.

    When we hear about cutbacks, those are invariably portrayed as 5% overall, when in fact the Perry mandate was for a belt-tightening *only* from state allocations. 5% of 13% is an actual reduction of .65%—-hardly chump change in multi-billion-dollar budgets, of course, but if an overall contribution of 8% from the State of Michigan for one of UT’s benchmark institutions leaves them “just fine,” how is the sky falling in Texas if we have to make do with a mere 99.35% of what we had before?

    You might be interested to know that some years ago the Daily Texan conducted an inquiry into some officially-sanctioned UT expenditures. In one instance, UT sent a private aircraft up to Georgetown (Georgetown, Texas, not the one in the District of Columbia—-in other words, an easy if expensive limousine ride away) and back to pick up a 16-year-old so that the teen could attend a funeral with UT officials.

    About the same time, the Texan staff discovered that UT funded 100% of 150 country-club memberships for high-ranking administrators, coaches and other well-connected individuals. The official reason from on high? That UT *had* to treat people to such lavish perks to remain competitive—-in other words, that it was a necessary business expense to retain the fabulous brain trust at UT, because all our peer institutions provided such rewards, and presumably our best people would walk away if we were mean enough to deprive them.

    But when the Texan investigated further, how many country-club memberships did they discover that the University of Michigan budget funded?

    One.

    Not 150, but 1.

    Since the raises for UT employees came in the form of a one-time lump sum last November, it’s tough to determine who has remained in the gravy. However, I doubt that things have changed much—-that is, top-ranking administrators probably did quite well, thank you, just as they always have. . .while many hard-working people at UT got little or nothing, administration continues to fan the flames of job insecurity among the classified staff, and spoiled children of the University such as the football program always get first dibs on new money.

    In other words, it’s business as usual at UT.

    • Anon says:

      Argus: Can you give us a source citation for the claim that: “About the same time, the Texan staff discovered that UT funded 100% of 150 country-club memberships for high-ranking administrators”?

      I searched the archive and couldn’t find any info on this.

      If true, this is an important issue as we discuss the budget and spending priorities. Powers writes: “Our elected officials must make some tough choices during this session,” if this is true, I think we can present them with one spending cut choice that wouldn’t be tough at all!

  2. Danny says:

    You are doing a great job. Times are difficult, but you are handling it with poise and an eye toward the future. Don’t get discouraged.

  3. Eric M. Larson says:

    I can’t help but think that Teresa A. Sullivan, who went from a top position at The University of Texas at Austin to the University of Michigan, and then to the University of Virginia as President, might not be a key advisor on the issue of developing private support in the face of waning state support. She was a co-chair of my dissertation committee, and I’ve stayed in touch over the years. Being raised in Michigan, I was curious how she found the University of Michigan finances during this time of economic strife; she replied that Michigan was just fine, as only something like 8 percent of its funds came from the state; and that while the state of Michigan was facing serious economic challenges, the University of Michigan was doing just fine. The University of Virginia is similarly arranged. There are, no doubt, business models for making this happen. I have dwelt longly on Terry because of her long experience rising through the academic ranks to top managment at the University of Texas, her keen insights into how things work, and her obvious professional successes. I believe The University of Texas at Austin might seriously consider finding a way to make it worth her while to provide some advice on how to more effectively cope with what seem to be inevitable reductions in state support.