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Questions to the President
February 20, 2006

From Thomas Palaima, professor, classics:

Since you are coming on board with a clean slate, I take the liberty of asking you some questions of serious concern not only to me, but to many faculty members, UT alumni/ae, and citizens of our state. Many of these questions ask that rather straightforward information be made available publicly to the faculty council and will simply require that you ask the appropriate offices that the information be provided. Others ask for your informed opinion.

1. Will anything be done to make the upcoming reporting to the Faculty Council on the academic performance in  men's athletics sports fuller and more informative?

The current situation is exemplified in the report for academic year 2004-2005 (see Faculty Council minutes for November 15, 2004 viewable on-line in Appendix A and Appendix B 3698 DOCUMENTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY).

The women's program  gives a detailed breakdown sport by sport for five years spread out over three pages.

The men's program gives a spare one-page summary that only touches upon 2003-2004, gives no GPA's sport by sport, only discusses 2003-2004 GPA's for all athletes combined, and highlights small signs of academic prowess in golf and tennis.

In short, the men's athletics program submitted a document that would get an F if submitted in any course any serious professor or grad instructor among us was teaching. At least I found this report an embarrassment.

a. Would it be possible to ask men's athletics to conform to the women's athletics' model of reporting over five years and sport by sport?

If the women can do it, cannot the men do it?

If the men's athletics program will not do it, can we not get the Men's Athletics Council to give us real statistics?

b. Also a chief issue of concern is the quality of education received by minority athletes, whose graduation rates at other big-time university sports programs is lower than non-minority rates. Could our athletics programs please provide these statistics, too? This issue was raised to me in a recent letter to me from a former Austin mayor.

c. Because of FERPA laws, we cannot know what courses individual athletes are taking, but my general impression from talking to several athletes and sports administrators (see question 2) is that courses like sports management are popular.  And even things like internships are often within the sports cocoon.

Would it be possible to request that both women's and men's athletics do a blind aggregate breakdown of courses taken by student-athletes during the last three years sport by sport, i.e., the courses taken by student athletes and how many student-athletes took them?

2. Having had long and serious talks in the last year with Asst Athletic Director Brian Davis who oversees academics for men's athletics, Director of Women's Athletics Chris Plonsky, Assistant Athletics Director/Media Relations Barb Kowall, and women's basketball player Coco Reed and having toured athletic and academic facilities for men and women student-athletes, I think we should be more concerned than ever about the educational side of our NCAA sports programs.

May I ask you to outline how you feel about the following points:

a. Quality of educational experience for male athletes in major commercialized sports (basketball, football, baseball).

For the major sports, the time demanded for practice and training approximates 40+ hours per week, exclusive of games and travel.  Courses must be scheduled within restricted blocks of time in order to accommodate practices.  The precious free time left for study is often spent in formal study halls in order to focus the attention of the student-athletes on the topics at hand.

Serious and honest conversations with the above-mentioned parties concerned for student-athlete academic affairs make it clear that only an extraordinarily disciplined student-athlete will have the opportunity to form himself or herself intellectually in any way approximating the educational experience available to normal students at UT Austin.

b. Fairness issue.  Other students, many of whom have major non-course commitments, are not provided with special tutoring and study halls to help them academically.

c. 6-year graduation rates in the major men's sports of basketball and football (this year 25% and 40%). I understand from Bill Little that the improvement for upcoming classes under Mack Brown will be considerable. But we need to know what kinds of courses these athletes are taking (1c above).

a. Will you continue to let the men's athletics program operate, as it has, in control of how it raises and spends its own revenues?  If this is a false perception on my part, would you explain to what degree the $80+ million in revenues (and benefits like free cars and country club memberships) is monitored by the university's academic administrators?

b. Does the men's athletics program pay the University any indirect costs on funds it generates?

c. Does the men's athletics program contribute any portion of its revenues to academic programs?

d. What are the rates for rental of skyboxes now for UT men's football and UT men's and women's basketball? Is it still the case that sky box rentals have a tax-deductible contribution to an institution of higher education as part of the rental arrangement? If so, how much are those contributions now (they used to be ca. $55,000 and upwards when I last looked)?  And if they are still being made, are any of those funds actually made available for general student educational use?

4. What do you think about the opinion, expressed to me in several quarters, that major sports success actually overwhelms concerns about academics at UT Austin within the state (e.g., our sports programs being ranked number 1 or 2 in its facilities, resources and achievements, while funding for students and faculty resources is down below 100th nationally and the general undergraduate experience is ranked 52nd in US News and World Report for 2005) and that it encourages applications for admissions from students who are less serious about academics and more serious about partying and attending sports entertainments?

a. Do you intend to continue the arrangement whereby the president's office delegates matters  pertaining to major UT men's and women's athletics  to the office of the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs?

b. What difficulties might such delegation create by having legal specialists who are not and /or have never been academics oversee programs that are at least in some ways academically problematical?

And two non-athletics-related questions.

6. I want to follow up on a question I asked about a year ago about the program to hire 30 new faculty per year  initiated by ex-President Faulkner (3700-3701).  Where has the money for these hires come from and have these hires resulted in a net gain in total full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty for the University. The answer in November 2004 was that there was a net gain between 1999-2000 and 2003-2004 of 109 faculty FTEs. (The number of 120 was projected for the period between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005 academic year.) Are FTE's tenured and tenure-track faculty?

Is the fact that student teacher ratios remained at 19:1 because the number of students increased?

The reason I ask is that in my narrow vision, it is my impression that departments even in targeted colleges like Liberal Arts have had many lines unfilled while this program has hired 'new' faculty.

7. What do you think can be done about the fact that with the closing of Barnes and Noble on Guadalupe, UT Austin is a major research university with no serious bookstore in its immediate environs?

Many thanks for the time you take with these questions. I promise you that these will be my last questions on these subjects during your tenure as president.