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Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets

The Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets serves in an advisory capacity to the president and provost.  Its charge is to review University budgets and make appropriate recommendations.

The Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets (FACB) met five times in the course of the 2004-05 academic year. Although the committee brought no resolutions to the Faculty Council, the meetings, which were characterized by frank, open, and productive discussions, represented valuable opportunities for the FACB to make known to the administration faculty perspectives on numerous budgetary issues.

The first meeting (October 18, 2004) began with “Budget 101,” a crash course on the UT budget delivered by Executive Vice Provost Steve Monti. Its purpose was to bring members of the FACB up to speed on both the general structure of the budget and the annual budget formation process. During the last part of the meeting, Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson briefly outlined the administration’s budgetary priorities for 2004-05. At the top of the list were two items: (1) funding at least a 3% raise for faculty and staff and (2) maintaining in aggressive mode President Faulkner’s faculty expansion initiative. Discussion of the various priorities was put off until the next meeting.

The second FACB meeting (November 22, 2004) was devoted to two topics: (a) the report of the 2004-05 Tuition Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) and its budgetary implications and (b) a detailed discussion of the administration’s budget priorities. The element of the TPAC’s report that elicited the most discussion was the recommendation that the University adopt a college-dependent, flat-rate tuition structure (based on a 15-hour course load) for all UT undergraduates. A particular item of interest was the impact this change would have on the University’s fee structure, since under the proposed model most fees would be folded into the flat-rate tuition. [The UT-System Board of Regents ultimately approved the bulk of the TPAC’s recommendations, with one significant change: the base course load for the flat-rate was lowered from fifteen to fourteen hours. The budgetary consequence of this change will be the loss of roughly $5M in revenue for 2005-06.] The second half of the meeting was a free-flowing dialogue on the budget priorities that the provost had presented in the October meeting. The provost described how attempts to address the stated priorities might fare under several scenarios, ranging from the rosy to the grim, that might play themselves out against the backdrop of the legislative session. He then turned the tables on the committee and asked: Suppose that you were in my place and were confronted with a disappointing outcome in the Legislature with respect to higher education funding, one that forced you to choose between a raise for current faculty and continuation of the faculty expansion program. What would you do? And what concrete measures would you recommend for the reallocation of institutional resources so as to allow the administration to address budgetary issues (especially issues surrounding faculty and staff salaries) more effectively in both the short term and the long term? The meeting ended with a charge to the committee to ponder these questions.

The third meeting of the FACB (January 31, 2005) dealt almost entirely with the two questions the provost had posed in the November FACB meeting. On the first of these there was plenty of give-and-take on the “keeping the home folks happy” versus “bringing in the new blood” issue. In the end, the committee reached consensus that the faculty expansion initiative was sufficiently important that using a portion of the faculty raise pool to keep it afloat would be in the best interest of the University, but that asking the faculty to forego a raise entirely in order to fund faculty expansion would have a demoralizing effect. The committee’s suggestions in response to the provost’s second question were less satisfactory. Although a number of ideas for reallocation of resources were put forth, most were either impractical or involved hidden costs. This issue is plainly one with which the FACB will have to wrestle for years to come. At the meeting the committee also endorsed two proposals that it was asked to consider by the University Budget Council: the first was a proposal to adjust the University’s ORP contributions for newer faculty in order to bring them in line with the level of contributions received by faculty who were already at UT when a change in state policy temporarily caused a discrepancy in the contribution rates to arise; the second was a proposal to increase the level of the “standard” raises that faculty receive in conjunction with significant promotions (assistant professor to associate professor, associate professor to professor, lecture to senior lecturer).

At its fourth meeting (April 4, 2005) the FACB was given a detailed report on the results of the “We’re Texas” capital campaign by Vice President and CFO Kevin Hegarty and Rick Eason, the new vice president for development. Eason gave hints about possible future directions for development efforts, but he did not get into specifics. Committee members made a number of suggestions for Eason to consider, among them the following two: (a) that greater emphasis be placed on raising money for graduate fellowships and (b) that faculty be invited to play a more active role in the development enterprise, especially after a potential donor has been identified and the University is attempting to convince him or her of a gift’s concrete impact at the department or program level. Eason seemed quite amenable to both suggestions, although he stressed the difficulty of selling donors on the value (in particular, the PR value for the donor) of graduate fellowships.

The final meeting of the FACB took place on May 16, 2005. The main objective of this meeting was to update the committee on the happenings at the Legislature, which was at the time of the meeting approaching conference committee deliberation of a number of bills that relate directly to higher education budgets. A couple of other matters were discussed at some length. The first pertained to a strategy for maintaining a salary balance among a department’s “elite” faculty (i.e., those most vulnerable to outside offers from prestigious institutions) by allowing salary adjustments to be made for such individuals at the time when a new faculty member of the same stature is hired at a higher salary. The provost would oversee a pool of funds that could aid a department in forestalling attacks on its star faculty by preemptive salary adjustments in the circumstances indicated (rationale: it makes little sense to hire National Academy member X if Nobel Laureate Y and MacArthur Fellow Z are lost in the process). The committee was sympathetic to this proposal, at the same time expressing hope that a mechanism could be found to address the broader issue of salary compression. The committee also discussed the merits of doing some raises for 2005-06 on a deferred basis (say, doing staff raises in the fall, faculty raises in the spring) if the outcome of the legislative session leaves the University with a greater than anticipated budgetary shortfall. Steve Monti explained how the deferred-raise strategy would help to relieve certain budgetary pressures. Again, the committee was supportive of doing this if circumstances dictate.

Bruce Palka, chair