III.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE PRESIDENT.

B. Questions to the President.

From Professor Susan Heinzelman (director, Center for Women's and Gender Studies):

Would the pesident's office provide an update on the implementation of the 2008 Gender Equity report, focusing specifically on the numbers of senior women of color hired over the last three years and the progress of salary equity for women faculty? What institutional changes do you see as necessary to create gender equity on the campus?

President Powers said the salary gap between female and male full professors had narrowed from 4.5% in 2007 to 1.9% in 2011. He added that female full professors were earning 95.5% on average, after being statistically adjusted, of what male full professors earned on average in 2007; the comparable percentage in September 2011 was 98.1%. The salary gap at the combined assistant and associate professor level was not statistically significant in both 2007 and 2011. With regard to the composition of the faculty, he said there had been modest growth in proportion of female tenured and tenure track faculty over the same time period, increasing from 28% to 30%. After noting there had been progress, he added that the University was “not fully there yet.”

With regard to recent new hires of senior women of color, President Powers reported the following number of new hires by academic year:

 
Academic Year
 
2009-10
2010-11
2011-12
Academic Rank      
Full Professor
1
0
1
Associate Professor
3
1
2

To put these hires in perspective, President Powers said there were seventy-five total tenured senior faculty (full or associate professor level) hired over this three-year period, with eight or 10.7% of them being women of color. Of the seventy-five senior hires, twenty-seven, or 36%, were females, which was somewhat higher than the institutional average of 30% for female tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Professor Ted Gordon (African and African Diaspora studies) asked the president to address the last of Professor Heinzelman’s questions, which asked about institutional changes needed to create gender equity at the University. President Powers thanked him for his question and said additional family-friendly leave policies would be helpful. He mentioned the improvements in travel and other expense reimbursements that were made a few years ago, saying they had been advocated as being of particular benefit to women faculty members. Although continued work was underway, he explained that budgetary constraints on pay raises, such as the 2% merit increase pool, and overall reduced hiring over the past few year have made improvements difficult to achieve. He added, “I actually think, if we were in a budgetary situation where over a biennium there were 4% or 5% pay raises, we would have been able to close the gap.” Because of other pressing needs, President Powers said he had been concerned that the gender equity initiative might end up showing no, or even negative, change, but he was encouraged that some improvement had been made during a difficult financial period. He expected the administration would pay close attention to this issue in the future and move toward closing the gap.

Professor Heinzelman thanked President Powers and the other administrators for their efforts to improve the situation and asked that the issue not be put on the “back burner” during times of “terrible budgetary constraints” because the matter was extremely important to the University’s overall success. Although Professor Heinzelman noted there was keen competition for hiring women of color at the full professor level, she thought progress in this area had been insufficient and efforts needed to be bolstered. President Powers responded by saying he agreed.

From Professor Neikirk

  1. What impact might you expect from articles such as the Austin American-Statesman’s "Do college ratings of professors make the grade?" …on faculty recruiting and retention?
  2. Is there anything in a faculty member’s annual reviews or post-tenure reviews (PTRs) that is protected from an open records request, or is every aspect of our personnel file a “public record? ”
  3. Will everything in the UT Austin ”Faculty Information System” be subject to open records requests?
  4. Will the UT Austin ”Faculty Information System” and/or the UT System “Dashboard” also contain information on annual reports and PTRs (such as “grades” from those departments that assign a categorical ranking to faculty as part of their annual reviews)?        

With regard to Professor Neikirk’s first question, President Powers said he thought the articles about faculty ratings and post-tenure review, as well as others topics, including the “red and black” classification of Texas A&M’s faculty and the Vetter report, do have a negative impact on faculty recruitment. Of all the institutional issues UT Austin is currently facing, the president said recruitment/retention of outstanding faculty is his greatest concern because of the intense competition between peer institutions. According to the president, UT Austin is behind many of its competitors on pay, benefits, and support for faculty and has largely been doing relatively well at recruiting because “this is an extremely attractive place to spend a career.” However, as emphasized in his State of the University address this year and on many other occasions, the president strongly believes, “We need to make this a place where faculty feel valued and supported and comfortable putting their career in this family.” He added that he firmly disagreed with the viewpoint that UT Austin is resistant to change, especially given the recent major reforms accomplished in the undergraduate curriculum. He also did not agree with the criticism that personnel performance is not adequately reviewed across campus. Although the president indicated the institution could weather this type of debate, he strongly emphasized that “disclosures and articles that embarrass individual faculty” definitely have a very negative impact on faculty recruitment and retention.

In response to the second question regarding the personnel files of individual faculty members, President Powers responded, “Texas is an open records state, and it is a, what I call, very open records state.” He explained the attorney general is responsible for interpreting the law, and there are clear precedents that information has not been protected in the past. He thought some information, such as candid evaluations of individuals, should be kept private; however, this type of information would become public if pursued. Consequently, he explained that candid evaluations are not likely to be given, especially in writing, which results in other problems for institutions.

As to the third question, the president indicated that health records are protected. Saying he was not rendering an official legal opinion, he mentioned an example of a faculty member whose tenure clock was suspended due to health reasons. He added that the design of the information system would need to give consideration to such issues and to the requirements of Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but his answer to the third question would need to be similar to the answer he had given to the previous question.

To answer the fourth question, President Powers read a statement prepared by Associate Vice President Renee Wallace. Her statement indicated the following:

  • The Faculty Information System will include imaged copies of paper reports filed with the provost’s office to date plus electronic records of the faculty activities report (annual report) when online implementation of this latter document is completed next spring.
  • There are no plans to include departmental grades or rankings in the system.
  • The requirements of the UT System “Dashboard” are still being developed, but whatever data elements are required will also be included in the Faculty Information System.
  • Members of the provost’s office plan to meet with the FCEC in the near future to provide information of 1) what has been provided thus far in the “Faculty Information System” and 2) the conceptual design of the online faculty activities report, and 3) an overall vision of faculty information.

Professor Neikirk said he was pleased that the University’s internal system would not contain faculty grades or rankings; however, since the annual report would be an open record, this suggested any grades or ratings assigned to individual faculty members by the departments would be subject to open records because that grade would be a part of the annual report. When President Powers responded that Professor Neikirk’s assessment was correct, Professor Neikirk summarized the issue by saying grades or ratings would be public records even though our Faculty Information System will not include this information. President Powers said faculty evaluations, whether on paper, in a file, or on an electronic system, would be subject to open records requests. Because he realized these circumstances made the evaluation process difficult, he offered the following advice:

…at times, when we’re making evaluations of people, we ought to be civil and judicious. It’s one thing to say [the individual is in the] lower part of the faculty, or make an honest evaluation, but, certainly, we would not want to use language that in and of itself, by the choice of words, would be embarrassing to the faculty member.

Professor Alan Cline (computer science) apologized that he was unable to submit his question ahead of the meeting because he had been away for several weeks and just became aware of a situation reported in the previous day’s Austin American-Statesman. He said the article was entitled “UT Regents invest $10 million in start-up with ties to ex-Chancellor and Governor,” and he would be asking the president for comments on some of the particular information about this situation after he gave background information. Professor Cline’ background information was the following:

In 1995, sixteen years ago, William Cunningham was president of our campus, and there was to be a building constructed for molecular biology, and the building, thanks to promotion by President Cunningham, was to be named after a person named James Robert Moffett. Moffett was a graduate, and many people felt that Moffett’s contribution relative to the price of that building was tiny compared to other situations where people have had their names placed upon buildings. Also, it became known that Moffett’s corporation, Freeport McMoRan, had a board of directors, and William Cunningham sat on that board of directors with a nice remuneration. Six years, excuse me, five years later, in 2000, an organization called Pick-A-Prof was getting rolling, and Pick-A-Prof asked that faculty grade distributions be made available to them. Quite a few faculty felt that this was not good information to go out to students—that it would contribute to grade inflation, and that it was not a good advising tool. For whatever reason, in spite of faculty’s concerns, that information was given to Pick-A-Prof, and it became known that Pick-A-Prof was a company that was started by President, then Chancellor, Cunningham’s son. Now, we found out that in 2009, Pick-A-Prof was taken over by a new company called MyEdu. Maybe it’s pronounced my-ed-u? I don’t know. But in any case, Pick-A-Prof has been taken over. And, then we found out, at least some of us found out, in yesterday’s American-Statesman that a $10 million—something between investment and contract—has been devoted to this organization called MyEdu. The article also points out that a bunch of people with ties to the governor and as well as to the UT System, including, once again, William Cunningham, are involved with MyEdu. For me to… I’d like to quote, at least quote from the Statesman, quoting our chancellor. He said, about this product, MyEdu, “simply put, MyEdu is, as they advertise, the best way to manage college. For many students, it is their virtual college adviser and a specialized form for communicating with each other and giving input about all aspects of student life.” I guess I wonder about what this tool will be. I’m somewhat surprised. I think there are a bunch of people who are trying to say, how can we get students through the University experience as quickly as possible. I think all the faculty in this room are not opposed to that right there, but I can speak just for myself in computer science. Our students are totally well advised. That’s not the issue. The issue is having more money for faculty, more money for teaching assistants, so we can offer more courses. Students are finding it’s difficult to finish in four years in computer science, simply because they can’t get the courses. They just have to wait around to take courses that are required for the degree.

After presenting the background, Professor Cline asked President Powers two questions:

  • Did he believe the $10 million was well spent?
  • Did he believe it is appropriate educationally for students to make course selections based on faculty grade distributions?

President Powers said he had not read the entire article that Professor Cline had referenced, but he was at the meeting when the Board of Regents acted with regard to MyEdu. After clarifying that the MyEdu decision was made by the board and not by UT Austin, he affirmed that he would have had different priorities for the $10 million. However, he added that he did not see evidence that the former chancellor and former UT president had conducted himself in any way “that would suggest he ought to be part of this controversy.” He said he knew that the former chancellor’s son had been involved in Pick-A-Prof, but he did not see any influence on the part of the former chancellor. He added this cautionary statement: “I think, we ought to be careful with people’s reputations in that sense. Again, I haven’t read the whole story, but I’ve known President Cunningham for a long time, and he has given great service to this University.”

In response to the second question, he believed he was “fairly libertarian” and willing to allow students to make their choices on a variety of different bases. However, he added that the University should provide advice to students that will increase the quality of their educations, and he did not think grading practices met that standard.

President Powers reported that a demonstration of MyEdu had indicated a number of ways for students to optimize their schedules, and there were some tools that seemed valuable, such as the shortest time to complete a set of courses, least expensive choices to fulfill degree requirements, and best use of summer periods to meet degree requirements. While these optimization tools seemed appropriate, he said optimization based on the easiest courses or past grading patterns did not seem educationally sound to him. When he had inquired as to whether certain optimization featured could be turned off, he was told that they could. According to the president, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had clarified that any tools a particular campus decided were not educationally sound could be turned off at the discretion of that campus.

Professor Cline thanked the president, and then asked if the optimization features were currently available on MyEdu. President Powers said he did not fully know, but UT Austin students have been using MyEdu without the University’s involvement and control. However, with future involvement, he thought the institution should have input into what optimization features could be used. Professor Cline said he had read in the newspaper article that the agreement with MyEdu was unrestricted and unconditional, which implied to him that there were no guarantees that new features would be added if they were not already available on the system. President Powers said he had not addressed that particular issue because he thought they were discussing the availability of optimization by easiest courses. Because this was not a campus decision, the president said he did not know the deliverables included in the terms of the investment.

Professor Michael Downer (physics) asked the president if he thought UT Austin was doing a good job campus wide on faculty evaluations or if substantial changes were needed. The president thought the data gathered through Project IQ in terms of pathways and time to degree completion for students had helped identify bottlenecks and problem areas at departmental, college/school, and University levels. He also mentioned that progress had been made in optimizing energy utilization. With regard to individual faculty members, he explained that the purpose of the information is essential to determine before deciding to collect data. He also emphasized that the information must be accurate as well as salient and gave, as an example, his perception that the “red and black” report was not a good evaluative tool because much information about faculty research was not included. According to the president, there are good reasons to evaluate individual faculty members, such as for decisions on hiring, tenuring, promoting, giving raises, and allocating space. For these decisions, faculty members are evaluated on their peer-reviewed publications and grant funding. However, this information is not that useful when decisions are focused on more aggregate purposes, such as evaluating how the University as a whole is doing. In the latter case, evaluations of departments and colleges/schools are more useful than evaluations of individual faculty members. At the aggregate level, according to the president, whether it was this particular faculty member or another one who performed a certain task or took on a certain responsibility is not so important as did the task or responsibility get done. He added that he thought much of the current debate was about whether or not the data were being used for the appropriate purposes. He said he had raised the following concern at the System Council meeting by pointing out, “It is one thing to have MyEdu as a tool students can go out and use on their own, but, if they’re just going to tap into our data, I want to know how that data are going to be used.

Professor Brian Evans (electrical and computer engineering) said he had used Pick-A-Prof and then MyEdu for a period of about eleven years and had experienced an issue involving inaccuracies in grade distribution data. He recalled that UT Austin’s Student Government had voted in favor of having grade distribution information transmitted to MyEdu a few years ago. However, his main concern was that faculty evaluations were not removed from MyEdu after a period of time, and his from 2002 were still there with no recourse for him to address the contents. He said he thought it was fine for students to post their thoughts, but he did not think it was appropriate for the University to use the information from MyEdu because, at the current time, any UT Austin user can add comments to MyEdu without verification of enrollment in the class. President Powers said if MyEdu were more formally used, given its new relationship with the UT System, then he thought UT Austin should have the ability to insist that erroneous information be corrected and due diligence standards be met. Professor Evans asked if guidance to department chairs and deans could be provided about the unscientific nature of the evaluations and comments about faculty members. He again stated that he thought the evaluative comments should not be used for promotions and merit raises. The president replied that he did not think UT Austin could be required to use the MyEdu information for promotions and merit raises. When Professor Evans asked about post-tenure review, President Powers replied that UT Austin was not the only actor, but inaccurate information in any evaluation process was not going to be used at the University level. However, there was no way to prevent that such information might be publically available and be of concern to the faculty. He added that the University is still in the early stages of learning about the system.

When Professor Patricia Roberts-Miller (English) said she appreciated that the president was in an awkward situation of perhaps having to defend MyEdu, President Powers said he didn’t think he had defended MyEdu because he was providing accurate comments regarding it. She said the system had in the past been inaccurate in reporting grade distributions and course assignments for her and her colleagues, so she was not surprised that a faculty member from electrical and computer engineering was concerned about the poor programming standards. President Powers reiterated that the president’s promotion and tenure committee would not use information in its decision-making from MyEdu because the University has its own course-instructor evaluations and peer reviews as well as other methods to get more individualized data; but, he could not say what information students were using to make their decisions. He jokingly added, ”They may sign up for that class that you don’t teach, because they think you’re teaching it.”

Professor Evans asked if the president or provost’s office could issue guidance to department chairs about what to include in writing for faculty annual evaluations since they are required and also are subject to open records requests. The president recommended that the evaluations contain fair, thoughtful, balanced information. He added that the University is a public institution so it is the public’s business. Information should not be hidden or inaccurate, nor should it be flippant because the reputations of individuals are at stake.

Chair Friedman thanked President Powers for his commentary on matters of interest and significance to all. President Powers responded by saying, “This is what we ought to be talking about.”


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