Archive for July, 2011
During the heat of summer, our thoughts naturally turn toward the coast. And I’m delighted to announce the opening of a major new research facility at UT Austin’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.
This building designed for sustainability expands the research capacity of the Marine Science Institute with three floors of state-of-the-art marine laboratories. It also is the headquarters for the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), a 185,708-acre area of estuarine habitat established in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the institute.
The Marine Science Institute is a gem in our collection of academic and research units. I’m proud of the vital work its faculty and staff do every day, and I want to thank and congratulate institute director Lee Fuiman on this major accomplishment.
Learn more about it at here.
I hope you’re all having a safe and enjoyable summer.
Hook ’em Horns,
Now that the 82nd Legislature and its subsequent special session are over, I’d like to give you an update.
The Legislature passed bills that are designed to make textbooks more affordable to our students, to make the financial aid application process more user-friendly, to improve student success, to provide graduate fellows with insurance coverage, and to relieve some of the costly burdens of state regulation of higher education.
But for UT Austin and our state’s other public universities, the biggest news is the budget.
The state revenue shortfall resulted in cuts throughout government, including higher education. UT Austin’s budget was reduced by $92 million for the biennium, which includes the 2011-2012 and the 2012-2013 fiscal years. That translates into about a 16.5% reduction in our state support.
This action extends a decades-long trend—UT Austin increasingly relies on resources other than state revenue. In the fiscal year ending this August, state support to UT Austin amounts to about 14% of our annual budget. In 2011-2012, our state support will decline to about 13.3%.
It is important that we recognize that our elected representatives faced great challenges during the legislative session. There were no easy solutions. I thank our friends in the Legislature as well as all of you who voiced your support for higher education.
Fortunately, we anticipated the state budget shortfall, and UT Austin has been preparing for these cuts for almost two years. My office, for example, has reduced total spending by more than 10% by trimming entertainment, discretionary programs, and staff.
But make no mistake, a $92-million budget cut will affect our core academic mission. While we have done our best to protect UT’s academic programs, our students will encounter reduced student services, course offerings, and financial aid. Our faculty and staff will have to do more with less, and we will be forced to eliminate jobs. I will share more details about the consequences of these cuts as we move forward.
I recently announced that we will provide modest merit-based salary increases for some faculty and staff. Funding for this has been created internally through our austerity. Remaining competitive for faculty and staff talent is one of our top strategic priorities. To allow our talent base to erode would betray our Constitutional mandate to be “a university of the first class” and shortchange the young people who will lead Texas in the future.
The most important message is this. We are resolved to pursue our vision for UT Austin, and this requires change. We are reinventing the way we do certain things, such as harnessing technology to teach more effectively and more efficiently. We are aggressively commercializing intellectual property and developing other revenue streams. We are working daily to streamline our operations and to make our campus more energy efficient and sustainable. And we are collaborating with other universities across the nation to define the public research university of the future.
But some things never change, such as our commitment to education and to nurturing the people and the research that changes the world.
I have heard from many of you in recent months. I cannot express how grateful I am for your ongoing support. Thank you.
Hook ’em Horns!
I’m delighted to announce the appointment of UT’s first staff ombudsperson. The Staff Ombuds Search Committee conducted a national search this spring, and on their recommendation I have appointed Jennifer Graf Sims as staff ombuds effective July 20. An ombuds is a neutral third-party who assists in problem solving and conflict resolution.
Jennifer’s prior experience as an ombuds in higher education makes her an ideal choice for our staff ombuds position. She comes to us from Bridgepoint Education, where she was associate ombuds. Jennifer also served as an ombuds officer at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa. I am very happy to welcome her to the 40 Acres. You can read more about Jennifer’s experience and education, as well as more description of the role of her office here.
As many of you know, the creation of this position has been several years in the making. I’d like to take a moment to thank the search committee for its work: Chair Charles Roeckle, deputy to the president; Jennifer Smith, student affairs administrator in the College of Natural Sciences; Del Watson, director of human resources planning in the McCombs School; Mary Steinhardt, faculty ombudsperson; and Lauren Bloom, student ombudsperson.
I’d also like to thank the UT Staff Council leaders and the Staff Council ad hoc committee that conducted an extensive study of the staff grievance process as well as the role of a staff ombudsperson. Without their hard work and perseverance, establishing this position might not have been possible.
The staff ombuds will report directly to my office. Formal staff grievances will continue to be handled by the Human Resource Services Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Office.
I believe it has been helpful to have an ombudsperson serving faculty and students, and adding a staff ombuds will make the University a better place for staff to work.
We must be competitive for talented faculty and staff in order to remain a leading university. Even in difficult times, I believe this is a high priority.
The University Budget Council and I have decided to set aside funds for modest, strategic, merit-based salary increases for our faculty and staff for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Funding for this has been made possible through budget cuts by the deans and vice presidents, and this action is consistent with our policy of making sacrifices to fund our highest institutional priorities.
As you know, the last permanent salary increase for staff was in 2008-2009. In 2010-2011, we implemented a one-time merit-based payment program for faculty and staff. The 2011-2012 salary increases will be permanent and are independent of the one-time payments. Increases are based on performance, so not all employees will receive one. More information will be forthcoming in August from your department.
Faculty and staff increases will be effective September 1, 2011. Only employees who have been employed for at least six consecutive months are eligible, provided they have not received a merit increase in the past six months.
I want to reinforce that these salary increases are only possible through greater austerity and efficiency on the part of the entire University community. I also want you to know that I am proud of the countless ways that our faculty and staff are meeting the challenges of funding reductions while maintaining the high standards of performance that characterize UT.
As I said in my recent report to the UT community, we need to improve our four-year graduation rates. Doing so will save the state and Texas families millions of dollars annually, and enable the University to accommodate more of the outstanding students who want to attend UT. In my May 9 address, I challenged all of us to deepen our commitment to this goal.
Today I am announcing the formation of a task force on graduation rates. It will be chaired by Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. I have invited eight faculty members in addition to Dean Diehl and five students to serve on the task force, and I’ll share their names as soon as I receive confirmation.
I have asked the task force to submit a report and recommendations by December.
We have great students and great faculty, and our four-year graduation rates should be among the highest in the nation. Although our graduation rates are the highest in the state, we should not be satisfied until they are among the very best. Together we will make this happen.
Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates:
Dr. Randy Diehl, Task Force Chair
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Dr. Rowena Fong, Professor
School of Social Work
Dr. Robert Gilbert, Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Beverly Hadaway, Associate Professor
Department of Finance
Dr. Brent Iverson, Professor and Chair
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Dr. Charles Ramirez-Berg, Professor
Department of Radio-Television-Film
Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, Associate Professor
Department of English
Dr. Mary Steinhardt, Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Health
Dr. Philip Uri Treisman, Professor,
Department of Mathematics
Ms. Shannon Allport
Biology/Premed, Predental, Preveterinary
Mr. Gilberto Ortega-Rivera,
Ms. Ilse Quijano
Comm. Studies / Political Comm.
Mr. Francisco Tamayo
Mr. Wesley Williams