MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
May 14, 2012
IV. REPORT OF THE CHAIR.
A. UT Austin Faculty Council Resolution in Support of President Bill Powers (D 9702)
After thanking President Powers for his remarks, Chair Friedman read the following resolution that was submitted by the 2011-12 Faculty Council Executive Committee (FCEC) and opened the floor for discussion:
Recognizing the extraordinary efforts exerted by UT Austin President Bill Powers and his administrative team in support of the recent proposal for a modest, well-documented, and crucial tuition increase, the Faculty Council strongly commends them for seeking to protect and enhance the quality of our students’ education and the value of their degrees, as well as the research and public service achievements of the faculty. The fact that the Regents ultimately rejected the proposal diminishes neither the support nor the efforts made to attain it. The faculty of the University of Texas at Austin offer their support for William Powers in the performance of his duties as president of the University.
Professor Snehal Shingavi (English, 2011-12 Council member) said he would not vote for or against the resolution and hoped there would be an opportunity to register an abstention. Even though he understood the need for the Council to show unanimity, he thought it was unfortunate that support for President Powers was being tied to the question of tuition increases. He lamented that unfortunate narratives were developing in Texas that the UT Austin faculty were “lazy, inefficient, unproductive, and overpaid,” and that higher education was “immensely expensive, unavailable, inaccessible, and closes its door to a lot of people here in Texas.” Although a great deal of pushback against the first perception had been expended and some success has been achieved, he questioned the wisdom of following up the “fight against organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation” with another one against Texas citizens and taxpayers who “deserve and demand a need for quality public higher education.” He called the choice being offered between tuition increases and budget cuts a “false choice,” because one undercuts the excellence of UT Austin and the other undercuts the students enrolling here.
Other alternatives were needed, according to Professor Shingavi, who explained, “the only real solution for sustainable higher education in Texas is an increase in the budgetary allocation from the state, which will only happen through higher taxes, but in the interim, we’re fighting scrimmages, which will only be political traps.” He added he thought the Faculty Council should avoid establishing a recorded vote of supporting tuition increases, which he thought would be seen as only a request to benefit the finances of faculty members. As a result, Professor Shingavi said he would abstain, because he thought the volatile atmosphere between the regents and the president would overshadow the crucial questions about what is needed to provide sustainable higher education in Texas. Therefore, he asked the Council members to consider what would be the consequences of supporting the resolution and what that act would actually accomplish. Professor Shingavi thanked the audience for listening to his concerns.
Dean Manuel Justiz (education, non-voting member of the 2011-12 Council) said it was his privilege, as a senior dean, to report that the academic deans unanimously endorsed the resolution supporting President Powers. He added, “The deans stand firmly with President Powers with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for his remarkable leadership.”
Professor David Hillis (integrative biology, 2011-12 Council member) addressed Professor Shingavi’s comments regarding tuition increases by saying no one wanted higher tuition and everyone would like greater state support. He explained that the University’s process for review and consideration of tuition increases had been followed and received the support of the faculty and student committees. Since the University followed the process and the increases were supported, he said he thought it was totally appropriate for the issue of the tuition increases to be part of the resolution under consideration.
After being granted permission to speak, Mr. Bernardino Villasenor (student, Mexican-American Studies), said the majority of students attending the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) forums were opposed to tuition increases and budget cuts. He reported the students had expended great energy and effort to get a tuition referendum passed with the majority of the student voters opposing tuition increases and budget cuts. He said the resolution under consideration by the Council would “lock out students” because it was a “false choice.” He explained that the students understand the need for the Council to support President Powers, because, without tuition increases, there will be budget cuts falling on the backs of the faculty. However, with tuition increases, the impact would be on the backs of the students, many of whom cannot afford to pay the resulting higher costs. He thought a third option was for the two groups to band together and take the issues to the legislature next session to demand that education is adequately funded. He said it would be foolish to assume that backing one individual—the president—would make a difference. Instead, he advocated “going to the legislature in mass, holding them accountable for what they did last session, and demanding that they fund us.” He pointed out that 18 student arrests were required to open up negotiations with the UT Austin administration, so he did not think a solution would develop from merely supporting the president.
Professor Daniela Bini (French and Italian) said the resolution would probably not have evolved and a mass of people would not have shown up at the Council meeting if the Board of Regents had respected President Powers’ expression of disagreement with their decision. With regard to the claim that tuition increases should not be connected to the resolution, Professor Bini thought the implied threat against the president for disagreeing with the board’s decision regarding tuition increases made that claim “inadmissible.”
Professor Dean Neikirk (electrical and computer engineering, 2011-12 Council member, and past chair of the Council) said he felt obliged to point out that the resolution reflects a recurring concern the University is facing, given the difficult, nonconstructive environment he and the president had experienced last year. He emphasized that the false choices were coming from external sources that appear to want to divide our University community when we fundamentally share common goals. He also noted that the central statement in the resolution supports the administration’s efforts to protect and enhance our students’ educations and the value of their degrees. Allowing divisions to occur will not get us anywhere. He expressed his gratitude to President Powers “for getting us through last year and for getting us through this year.”
Ms. Natalie Butler (student, communication studies and Plan II, 2011-12 Council member, and student government president) reported that many of the students attending the meeting agreed it would be necessary to take these issues to the legislature and would be eager and willing to participate in the effort and that many came to the meeting in support of President Powers, even though they do not agree with a tuition increase. However, they do support his vision for UT Austin and believe he is the one to lead the way toward achieving that vision and to lead the University “to the next level of excellence.”
Professor Alba Ortiz (special education, past chair of the Council who recently resigned as chair elect) was granted permission to speak. She said she was representing the Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association and had been asked to share the following resolution adopted by that group:
The Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association affirms its confidence in President William Powers Jr’s extraordinary leadership on behalf of the students, staff, and faculty at The University of Texas at Austin. The HFSA applauds President Powers and his administrative team for their advocacy aimed at enhancing the quality of undergraduate and graduate education at UT Austin. The president’s tuition proposal reinforces the administration’s efforts to enhance diversity, improve research and teaching, increase graduation rates, and augment scholarships.
Chair Friedman asked if there were other comments, and there were none. He reminded everyone that only the members of the 2011-12 Faculty Council could vote on the resolution. He called for the vote by raised hands, and the resolution passed with 45 in favor, none opposed, and one abstention.
Chair Friedman announced that Professor Shernaz Garcia (special education and chair of the Graduate Assembly) had asked if a separate vote could be taken of the members of the Graduate Assembly attending the meeting. Professor Garcia thanked Chair Friedman for the formal opportunity for the Graduate Assembly to stand together with the Faculty Council on expressing our appreciation to President Powers for his leadership. She said members of the Agenda Committee of the Graduate Assembly had expressed concerns all year about the need for adequate support for current graduate students and funds to recruit and retain the highest caliber students and endorsed the resolution that was just passed by the Faculty Council, and disseminated it to Assembly members prior to the Faculty Council meeting. On behalf of the Agenda Committee, Professor Garcia asked the Assembly members present at the meeting to vote on the resolution. Taking the email votes that she had collected prior to the meeting from those who could not attend and the voice votes tallied at the meeting, Professor Garcia declared the Graduate Assembly had endorsed the resolution.