IV.
REPORT OF THE CHAIR.

Chair Neikirk reported on changes in the proposed state budget by both the Texas House and Senate during the legislative session this past month. His PowerPoint slides are attached in Appendix A. He said revisions to House Bill 1, as approved on April 3, 2011, were now $8.3 billion less than the Senate’s new proposed budget of $90.2 billion. According to Chair Neikirk, the amounts under discussion are only estimates that will likely change; however, from his reading, it appeared that the proposed 2012 allocation for UT Austin, as reported recently out of the House committee, was down from the original $342 million to $340.3 million. Next, Chair Neikirk highlighted proposed amendments and bills he felt were pertinent to institutions of higher education, which included institutional funding requirements for centers supporting family and traditional values and an authorization bill for legalization of forced, unpaid furloughs of state workers for budgetary reasons. He also mentioned that the Senate Committee on Finance had created a subcommittee on higher education funding (C546), which is chaired by Senator Royce West.

Chair Neikirk gave a comprehensive, chronological review of recent activities involving The University of Texas System Board of Regents, which is included in the PowerPoint slides he used in his presentation to the Faculty Council (See Appendix A). Because the slides are detailed and contain links to publications and articles appearing in the press and on websites, the narrative of the minutes will not repeat all of the information available in the appendix.

Professor Philip Barrish (English) commented on Chair Neikirk’s report by saying it was his understanding that teaching assistants were not allowed to actually serve as teachers of record and actually teach a course at UT Austin until they had taken 398T and become assistant instructors. He also noted the amendment on family and traditional values centers was not brought to the House floor through a committee. He said this process provided no opportunity for a response from individuals outside the House membership, but he assumed the issue would have to be addressed in the reconciliation committee, where comments could be raised. In preparation for such an opportunity, he suggested that chairs in relevant departments could be queried to determine how many existing courses at the University dealt largely with traditional family structures or types. He said he expected 80 percent of the courses offered by the English department pertained to conventional courtship, marriages, and traditional families. Chair Neikirk said he perceived the amendment would be an unfunded mandate to which the University should have flexibility in determining its response. He also added that he thought well over half of the 317 amendments to House Bill 1 had been approved during the debate. Although he expected that the deliberative nature characteristic of the Senate would play a role in the reconciliation process, he said it was difficult to predict how the process would evolve.

Professor Martha Hilley (music) asked if the provost might have some comments to share about the Board of Regents’ Task Force on University Excellence and Productivity. Provost Leslie thanked her for the question and then thanked Chair Neikirk on the thoroughness of his chair’s report. He said he and President Powers appreciated the leadership Chair Neikirk had demonstrated in being sure faculty members are well informed about these important issues. He said he also felt that the campus community had been unified by recent events, and he wanted to thank the faculty for “taking a strong stance on what The University of Texas at Austin stands for” and conveying that message to the public. He added that he thought the excellence of the faculty is the reason there is such strength in our students.

Provost Leslie said the Task Force on University Excellence and Productivity was working very hard to provide a great deal of data from the campus to the task force members. He said the central focus of the task force thus far had been to gather data and address issues raised in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s efficiency report. He said he had recently traveled with Regent Alex M. Cranberg and other task force members to visit Arizona State University (ASU) in order to learn about the model being used there to increase online learning. He said the upcoming task force meeting would serve as a debriefing about the trip. He thought it was important to be positive and supportive in cooperating with the task force members as the process evolves. When Secretary Greninger asked if members of both task forces traveled to ASU since the trip dealt with online learning, Provost Leslie responded members of both task forces had gone on the trip. In response to Professor Edmund T. Gordon’s (African and African diaspora studies and anthropology) question as why ASU was chosen, Provost Leslie said the task force chair had assembled the attendees and selected the destination.

Chair Neikirk indicated that there had been a good deal of coverage regarding the online expansion underway at ASU, and there were links in the task force reading list to articles about the activity occurring there. Provost Leslie said ASU had been aggressively building up online course and degree program offerings as well as increasing the size of its on-campus student body. He said he thought the model utilized at ASU synchronized with the goals of opening access and enhancing affordability of higher education in Texas and some UT regents. Provost Leslie said ASU President Michael Crow said during the task force visit that the goal of his institution was to increase the on-campus size to around 90,000. When Chair Neikirk asked for clarification as to whether this was on- or off-campus, Provost Leslie, said the goal was 90,000 and then 100,000 for the online degree programs. However, he said he did not think this was the goal for a flagship institution like UT Austin. He added that the flight time to and from the Phoenix area had provided a great opportunity to converse with Regent Cranberg about our mission and objectives here at UT Austin and why they are important. He said there had been discussion about the Deans/Provost Academic Core Planning (DPAC) process and the Course Transformation Program. He added that it was very important for the entire campus to get behind some of these processes and programs so we can demonstrate what could be successful models for other institutions in administrative performance and curriculum reform and excellence while providing an increasingly positive environment for faculty members as well as students.

When Professor Gordon asked if ASU had plans for increasing the size of the faculty as the build-up of student enrollment occurred, Provost Leslie reported that President Crow said the student growth would occur without increasing the size of the faculty. Professor Hilley asked if ASU had a $10,000 degree. Provost Leslie responded that ASU charges about $1,200 per three-hour, online course so they do not have a $10,000 degree. When Secretary Greninger asked the provost if he perceived that ASU had been influenced perhaps by its close proximity to the University of Phoenix or the Western Governors University, Provost Leslie said a response to that question would be speculative, but he thought this was not the case. He added that he heard the goal for ASU was to use its brand to increase access and availability for students in the state to choose ASU for earning degrees, and he applauded the institution in pursuing such a goal. He said he thought there was room for a few universities to use this model in order to enhance the state’s workforce. However, he said he did not view this as an approach for a tier-one university and certainly not one for The University of Texas at Austin. Secretary Greninger said she was curious because she knew the budget in Arizona was extremely austere. Provost Leslie agreed with that assessment and said the ASU administrators reported a 63 percent cut in their budget. When Professor Staiger (radio-television-film) asked about the tier-one status of Arizona’s universities, Provost Leslie said The University of Arizona was a member of the American Association of Universities, but ASU was not.

Professor Mary Rose (sociology) reported that she had heard anecdotally that ASU had recently made a tremendous offer to an assistant professor, which made her wonder about the sustainability of the model adopted there. She asked the provost if there had been any discussion about the resources the institution was devoting to faculty development and research. Provost Leslie said there had been some discussion on the topic, and it was clear that revenue generation was occurring as the student population increased. He said President Crow had indicated he had very selective areas targeted for aggressive faculty recruitment. For example, Provost Leslie thought a couple of Nobel Laureates in economics had recently been hired by ASU. Chair Neikirk thanked Provost Leslie for his report.

Return to main minutes