March 19, 2012


Chair Elect Alba Ortiz (special education) reported that the recent joint meeting of the UT Austin Faculty Council and the Texas A&M Faculty Senate held in College Station had been “excellent,” with approximately sixty people in attendance. In addition to UT Austin being represented by President Powers, Provost Leslie, and several Faculty Council members, two student leaders—Natalie Butler and Carisa Nietsche—attended and contributed to the discussions. Chair Elect Ortiz said the presidents and provosts from both institutions shared their ideas and comments about accountability, faculty rights, and the core curriculum, which set the stage for the afternoon breakout sessions. She said a common theme was the need for faculty to be actively engaged and involved in important issues facing their respective institutions, particularly during an economic downturn when resources are limited. Senator Steve Ogden, chair of the Texas Senate Finance Committee, was the keynote speaker, and Chair Elect Ortiz thought a good part of Senator Ogden’s comments were reflected in what President Powers had said in addressing Professor Bank’s question earlier. She said the senator perceived that the improvement in the Texas economy and tax revenues would be beneficial to higher education, but warned that the competition for increased resources is extremely keen, especially with regard to the need for funding for K-12 education.

Chair Elect Ortiz shared the following two legislative areas of concern that Senator Ogden thought the next Texas legislature would likely address:
  • Making higher education more affordable for Texas citizens via measures such as flat-tax tuition, student vouchers, performance-based funding, student financial aid tied to performance standards, and automatic scholarships for students admitted to Texas A&M and UT Austin.
  • Insisting that athletics become more than an entertainment enterprise by requiring that athletics departments (1) receive no state funds and (2) contribute to the core mission of the universities by paying ten percent of their revenues to improve academics and increase general scholarship funds
Chair Elect Ortiz reported the afternoon breakout sessions were productive and generated lively discussion about faculty evaluations, post-tenure review, core curriculum requirements, MyEdu, the Faculty Information System, shared governance, and alumni involvement. With regard to post-tenure review, there was a general consensus that accountability systems at the unit level (the department level) needed to be developed and utilized. There was discussion about the need to include both qualitative and quantitative data in the evaluation process, as well as the need to develop specific criteria before the new rules are implemented for classifying faculty into the four different categories. In addition, concerns were raised about how faculty would get an overall rating, given that three evaluation areas (teaching, research, and service) were usually considered in the evaluations. Chair Elect Ortiz said there was a good deal of discussion about involving alumni in a more direct and structured manner in advocating for the faculty, especially with regard to what faculty actually do, their contributions, and the reasons and motivations for their contributions. In the area of shared governance, the general perception was “that decisions are increasingly being made at the top and filtered down to the faculty without adequate opportunities for input and without adequate feedback loops, in that department chairs and deans are oftentimes given power at the expense of faculty involvement in important decisions.” UT Austin appeared to be moving toward implementing changes in the undergraduate core curriculum more quickly than Texas A&M. The student attendees from UT Austin provided helpful information regarding our core curriculum and how both the faculty and students are involved in defining and implementing the new requirements that are being readied for 2014. Chair Elect Ortiz reported that little was said about Texas A&M’s exit from the Big Twelve, but there was consensus that the two institutions continue working together on academic issues.

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