MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
September 21, 2009
COMMUNICATION WITH THE PRESIDENT.
Comments by the President.
President Powers said he was “a big believer in having non-agenda conversations” with Council members, where ideas could be shared. He described the work of the Faculty Council’s committee chaired by Professor Hillis on the Brackenridge Tract as “excellent” and especially valuable in terms of its modular approach. He said the activities occurring on the west side of Lake Austin Boulevard and the southern portion of the tract, graduate student housing and the field lab, were “clearly within the University’s mission and use.” He said moving some of the graduate student housing located on the tract to the Gateway area had been discussed over the past two and a half years, and he thought “that is an issue we need to address.” He pointed out that even if the scientific aspect were undertaken as an individual project, as advocated in the faculty committee’s proposal, this would involve a great deal of time and effort in interfacing with the city and securing the requisite financing “when there are other critical needs on the campus.” He said he thought the University needed to secure value from the overall tract, including the golf course, to meet these critical needs, whether they were increasing graduate student stipends or supporting other programs across campus. He emphasized the importance of the modular approach used in the committee’s proposal, especially since the golf course land would not be available for a number of years and the decisions regarding priorities on campus would be difficult ones involving time to work out. Although there could be synergy in using the area around the field lab to pursue further scientific research partnerships, President Powers said this might cost the University the opportunities to pursue other important needs across campus. In discussions with some of the regents, President Powers noted that “they were taken with the kind of process that David’s committee went through,” and he expected this modular approach would facilitate progress in the future decisions regarding the Brackenridge Tract.
President Powers said the modular approach was also needed due to the budgetary constraints facing the University. He said the current economic situation would not allow the development of a science park unless “somebody else pays for it.” He said the next four or five years might produce a different financial situation and would allow time for determining “what the needs of other parts of the campus” involve. He said he had made the point in his State of the University speech in September that there are financial challenges that will involve “very hard choices that we will have to make as a community.” Even though general revenue allocations were slightly higher than during the previous year, he pointed out that much of the increase involved non-recurring funds largely resulting from stimulus money. He said these funds could not be used on budgetary items that would involve recurring expenses, such as new faculty hires. He also noted that the tuition increases were not as high as had been anticipated and that the AUF returns had substantially declined and would continue this downward trajectory for some time given how the returns are calculated. As a result, President Powers said the University’s budget would be flat during the coming years and would likely experience a slight decline. He said this would be a change from the normal practice followed in the past of funding salary increases and new programs from increased budgetary allocations. Although the situation in Texas is less austere than in other areas of the country, he said there would be substantial challenges across campus for programs to remain strong and competitive in attracting the best talent available. He said the process of determining strategic resource allocation would require hard work involving discussions over the next one to three years as priorities are established and resources are reallocated to meet them. He emphasized that finding funds for faculty and staff raises, a sabbatical program, and increased graduate student stipends are essential for UT Austin to remain competitive.
In an effort to initiate this process, President Powers said he had made the difficult and unpopular decision to omit salary and wage increases for staff members this year. He said this was a temporary measure and emphasized that the University “cannot go forward and be competitive if we don’t have competitive staff raises in the future.” With regard to faculty salaries, President Powers said the serious nature of the research findings on gender equity and salary compression across campus had made it important this year for the central administration to work with the deans to “pull together some money” in order to initiate steps to address these structural problems in faculty pay. With regard to other priorities, such as increasing graduate student stipends, President Powers said “we are going to have to work very hard so that we can continue to put some money into these.”