Wednesday, in my role as chair of the Association of American Universities, I traveled to Washington to meet with congressional leaders including Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the House Republican Conference. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss federal sequestration’s damaging effect on university research and possible solutions as Congress negotiates spending levels for 2014.
Much of our nation’s scientific and economic leadership was built on innovation and research on college campuses and relied on public support. Sequestration is already hurting that research and limiting students’ involvement in the types of innovation that can change the world. We, as a nation, must move forward and support research universities as tools of scientific and economic growth.
Last week, the AAU, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and The Science Coalition, which collectively represent more than 300 higher education institutions, released a survey of U.S. colleges on the impact of sequestration, which took effect in March. They found that the mandatory cuts to federal discretionary spending, from which research budgets are funded, have led to a reduced number of new federal research grants; the delay of some research projects; and fewer admission, stipend, and research opportunities for students.
As AAU President Hunter Rawlings, who participated in the meeting, has said, “As we cut, and then cut some more, and as our competitors overseas increase their investments in research and education, we create an innovation deficit that threatens America’s global leadership. This foolish policy must end.”
Hunter and I were joined on Capitol Hill by officials from the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and presidents and chancellors from Ohio State, UCLA, the University of Maryland, the University of Illinois, and Tulane.
As always, I’m proud to represent The University of Texas at Austin in our nation’s capital and wherever I go.
Last week, Greg Fenves, dean of UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, accepted my invitation to become UT’s next executive vice president and provost. His appointment is effective Oct. 1. Greg is exactly the right person for the job. He has led initiatives to improve research competitiveness, undergraduate retention and graduation rates, international and entrepreneurship programs, and fundraising for the Engineering Education and Research Center. He has the skills and experience to advance UT in many key areas.
I hired Greg to be dean of the Cockrell School in 2008, and he’s been a true leader. He came to the University from UC-Berkeley, where he served as chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, assistant director at the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, and professor of engineering. He studied at Cornell University and UC-Berkeley. He is an expert in simulating and predicting the effects of earthquakes on human-made structures.
Greg has said his top priorities will include strengthening the connections of our undergraduate students to the knowledge-creating communities in departments and programs, increasing the number of highly ranked graduate programs at UT, recruiting and retaining world-class faculty, and building the Dell Medical School as the leader for 21st century medicine and health care delivery.
His selection resulted from a national search by a committee composed of deans, faculty members, and students and chaired by Professor Martha Hilley.
Greg will succeed current Executive Vice President and Provost Steve Leslie, who has served in that role since 2007 and has done an outstanding job. Steve has been instrumental in the creation of the Dell Medical School, greater strategic planning and budgeting of the academic programs, and developing innovative learning technologies. He will remain on our faculty as special assistant to the president working with community partners involved in the Dell Medical School.
An interim dean for the Cockrell School will be named soon.
As you may know, much of UT’s research funding comes from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Federal funding supports our research endeavors, and it also creates life-changing learning opportunities for our undergraduates and graduate students. Just last month a team of UT Austin students led by Engineering professor Todd Humphreys demonstrated the ease with which a state-of-the-art ship could be diverted off course using GPS “spoofing.” By taking control of a ship’s navigation without ever stepping on board under controlled experimental conditions, the team exposed vulnerabilities that could have significant implications on the security of transportation and commerce around the world.
I’m proud of the fact that the research expertise of our faculty has resulted in a 35-percent increase in our external research support, from all sources, during the past six years. Federally funded research also helps stretch our state’s dollars further, while helping to make education more affordable for Texas families.
This week the Association of American Universities (AAU) and more than 160 university chancellors and presidents are making a public appeal to President Obama and Congress to address major federal budget cuts to research and higher education.
These cuts are creating a gap, an “innovation deficit” between needed and actual funding of research and higher education. This deficit could slow or even halt promising research now. It would limit student opportunities well into the future—not just in the classroom or lab, but in the world after graduation. Fewer research breakthroughs mean fewer patents, fewer start-ups, fewer products, and inevitably fewer jobs.
I recognize that there are many factors placing pressure on the federal budget. However, sequestration tends to inflict across-the-board cuts rather than strategic ones. Our long-term national welfare and security depends on innovation.
I hope you will agree that the answer to avoiding an innovation deficit must include sustained strategic federal investment in research and higher education. I will be working on this and many other challenges confronting higher education when I begin service as the chair of the AAU in October.
The UT System Board of Regents took several actions during their two-day meeting this week in Austin that help our campus. In all, the Board approved:
- Our budget proposal for the coming academic year.
- The purchase of a second station for KUT, allowing for the expansion of both music and news programming for our award-winning radio station. (The funds for this will ultimately come from KUT.)
- The design of our future Engineering Education and Research Center.
- The purchase of land near MLK and Guadalupe streets for the construction of a new Graduate School of Business building.
- And the creation of two new PhDs at UT Austin, one in statistics and the other in African and African Diaspora studies, which will be the first of its kind in Texas.
I thank the Regents for their support and look forward to seeing all of these initiatives unfold.
As you may have now heard, today the UT Board of Regents took actions that will have profound effects on our university.
The Board voted to allocate $25 million recurring, with an additional $5 million for eight years, to fund a medical school in Austin. This allocation — along with a pending $250 million commitment from the Seton Healthcare Family for a new teaching hospital — moves us closer than ever to bringing a medical school to UT Austin. The founding of a medical school at UT would be an enormous event in the life of the University, would offer dramatic new opportunities for our students and our faculty, and would advance health care in Central Texas.
Nevertheless, I’m disappointed to report that the Board declined to adopt our tuition recommendation. Instead it voted to freeze undergraduate tuition at its current level for Texas residents at UT Austin for the next two years. It did allocate $6.6 million of non-recurring money from the Available University Fund (the endowment from the West Texas oil lands) for those same two years. It adopted our request for a 3.6 percent increase for graduate students but declined to adopt it for the second year. Tuition for out-of-state undergraduates will increase by 2.1 percent for two years rather than 3.6 percent as we requested. The tuition freeze was not applied to any other UT System school.
While many students naturally will welcome the news of a tuition freeze, we should understand the serious consequences for UT Austin and for the ability of Texans to benefit from strong public universities.
Our university is supported financially by four pillars: state funding, tuition, research grants, and philanthropy. State support in constant dollars per UT student has fallen for more than a quarter century. With a multi-year tuition freeze, the second pillar of our funding structure effectively will be cut each year by the rate of inflation. While we appreciate the AUF allocation, it will provide less than half of the increase we had planned for. Moreover, a one-time allocation, however much it might mitigate short-term problems, cannot substitute for stable, recurring, sustainable funding needed to support long-term efforts aimed at student success.
This action inevitably will affect our ability to teach our students and make new discoveries. Our tuition proposal, which was unanimously recommended by the students on UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, was dedicated to fund initiatives to enhance student success, improve four-year graduation rates, and increase scholarships.
As we prepare for next year’s budget, I will work with faculty, students, staff, and our administrative leadership to address how we use our resources to protect the quality of education here at UT.
The University of Texas has pursued excellence and has steadily grown stronger for 129 years. I am committed to protecting the quality of a UT education for Texans, for our children, and for our grandchildren.
In 2000, my predecessor, President Larry Faulkner, identified the need for a small group of leaders to advise him on UT’s complex budget. The resulting University Budget Council has been a very valuable tool for helping direct our funds toward our institutional priorities. Today I’m announcing that, for the first time, we have established dedicated positions on the council for a faculty member and a student.
Professor Andrea Gore of the College of Pharmacy will serve as the first faculty member, and Natalie Butler, a Plan II senior, has agreed to serve as our first student member. (Natalie happens to be Student Government president this year, but this is not an ex officio position for the SG president.)
In addition to these two new seats, the council includes the president, executive vice president and provost, vice provost, chief financial officer, vice president for university operations, budget director, and deputy to the president for a total of nine.
I believe having a faculty member and a student as permanent positions within the council will add two important dimensions to this deliberative body, will help us better incorporate the perspective of those crucial constituencies, and demonstrates our commitment to transparency.
I look forward to getting Andrea’s and Natalie’s counsel on our university’s priorities.
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!
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.
With more than 52,000 students and many nationally ranked academic programs, The University of Texas at Austin is one of the most productive universities in the United States. But you wouldn’t know it by reading the Center for College Affordability and Productivity’s (CCAP) recently published report, which suggests that if the 80 percent of our faculty that have the lowest teaching load taught half as much as the top 20 percent, tuition could be reduced by half.
The most obvious flaw in this analysis is that the measure of faculty productivity is limited solely to semester credit hours. There is no attempt to measure the quality, and therefore the true productivity, of the learning experience.
At UT, we could easily increase the appearance of efficiency by doing all our teaching in classes of 300 students. According to the CCAP metric, our university would then be far more productive. But what is the goal of a university? At UT, our goal is to provide the most effective learning experience for our undergraduates and graduate students. In addition, we expect our faculty to conduct research to expand knowledge and benefit society.
Let me give one example. As a part of our curriculum reform at UT, we now require all freshmen to complete what we call a First-Year Signature Course. In these courses, taught by senior faculty, students concentrate on writing and speaking, critical thinking, and research. These courses are often taught in small seminars, such as the one that I teach. The CCAP analysis would penalize a faculty member for teaching any small class. Yet exposing our freshmen to a rich learning experience with our best faculty is central to our mission and increases our overall educational productivity.
By the CCAP’s measure a faculty member teaching a class of 300 is 16 times more “productive” than one teaching an 18-student seminar. Our small freshman seminars are labor intensive, but we value the student-faculty interaction, and students tell us they value it, too. The same point could be made regarding upper-division and graduate seminars, which are small and relatively expensive. But we believe that providing high-quality graduate education is important for training the next generation of researchers, scholars, and leaders.
At UT we offer a few classes that are large, some with more than 500 students. But we offer many more small classes: 34 percent have fewer than 20 students, and another 41 percent have between 20 and 49 students. Universities need a healthy balance of class sizes to be efficient while maintaining the quality of our teaching. Therefore it comes as no surprise that a minority of UT instructors teaches a majority of semester credit hours, and there is nothing problematic about this.
Furthermore, our faculty devote large amounts of time to student advising, research, scholarly publications, administrative responsibilities, participation and leadership in national and international organizations, and public service. None of this is measured in the CCAP analysis. Overall productivity is important; the mix of individual contributions to productivity is a tactic to achieve it.
At UT, we are very serious about increasing productivity in teaching, research, business operations, and commercialization of intellectual property. Indeed, among the nation’s 120 leading research universities, we are the 10th most efficient when measuring the amount of tuition and state money we spend to achieve our six-year graduation rate. And we spend less state money and tuition per faculty member than all but one other research university in America.
We welcome all productivity analysis that measures quality—because outstanding teaching and research are our goals. With our state’s largest enrollment, highest ranked programs, and highest four-year graduation rate, we are very productive. And we do this with tuition of less than $10,000 per year while receiving only 14 percent of our budget from state appropriations. However, we’re still not satisfied, and we are implementing multiple initiatives to further improve our efficiency.
For the citizens of Texas, we are a very good investment. Last year, our faculty attracted $648 million in research grants, more than double our current state appropriation of $318 million. When combined with other revenue from tuition, philanthropy, and auxiliary enterprises, taxpayers received the benefit of $5.8 billion in economic activity. All of this comes at an annual cost of about $13 per Texas resident.
It’s curious that advocates for productivity should take aim at one of the most productive universities in the nation. In any event, at The University of Texas at Austin, we welcome productivity analysis that includes measures of academic quality, and we will continue to strive for even greater efficiency and effectiveness.
I wanted to share this message, which I sent to our faculty and staff today:
The regular session of the Legislature ended on Monday, and I want to give you an update. In the current budget, which must be completed during the special session, the 2012-2013 budget for UT Austin will be down by 16.5% from the original 2010-2011 budget.
This represents a $92.1 million decrease in funding for the 2012-2013 biennium compared to 2010-2011. The impact of this is complex and could change as a result of action taken in the special session. But if these changes stand, the budget reductions will be close to the cuts that the units were anticipating. Budget reductions of this scale will be painful, but careful planning by the University Budget Council, the deans, department chairs, and vice presidents will make them manageable.
The cost of group insurance may increase, and there may be revisions to annual deductible amounts and copayments. The employer contribution to retirement plans could also be affected.
Finally, there is the question of how this budget will affect salaries for faculty and staff. That decision has yet to be made. The University Budget Council will review the situation and reach a decision by the end of June. And of course, I will keep you informed.
I know there has been a great deal of uncertainty about our budget, and I want you to know that we are doing our best to minimize the negative impact of these cuts on our people and programs.
I appreciate everything you do for UT.