November 28, 2011


B. Questions to the President.
  1. Questions to the President.
    From the Faculty Council Executive Committee
    A number of faculty members have expressed their concern—even bewilderment—over the "devolving" of the Graduate School funding for faculty research assignments (FRA), summer research assignments (SRA), and graduate fellowships.  Could you please address the following questions about what has occurred and what will occur in the future?
    1. What exactly is the problem that led to this action? Which faculty if any were consulted about this decision and what was their role in the process? What did they advise?
    2. How will the strategic disbursement of the Graduate School funds to the schools and colleges be determined and by whom?
    3. Will the current criteria that are used by the Graduate School for making awards remain the same for the schools and colleges? Or have new written instructions or protocols as to how to proceed been given to the deans? If so, may we see them? If they have not been drafted, will they be forthcoming and will faculty be involved in writing them? Will the faculty role in making these awards be significantly diminished from what it has been, as many now fear?
    4. Exactly how will faculty be involved in the decisions for allocating these funds within the colleges, schools, and departments? To what extent will the units be required to include faculty, and in what capacity, in establishing procedures and in making the awards?
    5. How will the changes be evaluated and by whom?

President Powers welcomed everyone and said he looked forward to a happy holiday season. He said the questions to the president followed discussions that had been held with the Faculty Council Executive Committee (FCEC) and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets (FACB) regarding faculty concerns about the devolving of Graduate School funding for FRAs, SRAs, and graduate fellowships. With regard to what led to this action and the involvement of faculty in the process, President Powers said, the limited resources for graduate student stipends and research support for faculty had been a priority topic for ten to fifteen years and certainly during the period of his presidency. He said the President’s Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC), which was comprised of faculty, students, staff, deans, and a few of vice presidents, had surveyed what the University’s priorities, including funding priorities, should be. The two priorities where the University was “woefully behind our peers, our competitors,” according to President Powers, were faculty support, including salaries and funding for research, travel, and conferences, as well as graduate student support. He added that a great deal of effort would be required to build up the needed resources because economic and budgetary issues had slowed progress toward these important goals.

In recruitment of faculty members and graduate students, he said UT Austin does well, but often finds that the packages that recruits receive from peer institutions are “more robust than we can sometimes offer.” He said the philosophy underlying the change was a strategic one designed to be “more effective about targeting those resources where they will do the most good.” For example, he said, the amounts offered for graduate stipends, as well as for faculty support, to successfully attract recruits are more critical in some areas of study than in others. He said centralized decision-making “is not going to be as strategic as putting those resources out into the units that are on the ground and know what the trade-offs are and how to use those resources as effectively as we possibly can.” He added that a large committee reviewing individual proposals would not be in a position to effectively and expeditiously use resources as the units that actually are out there doing the recruiting. President Powers emphasized the importance of making early offers by saying, “When the holidays come, you don’t want your students, undergraduates, graduate students, or faculty, who are thinking, where am I going to be next year, buying the Michigan t-shirt over Christmas.” He added this philosophy was consistent with what was being done with regard to budgets in the Deans/Provost Academic Core (DPAC) process as well as with undergraduate recruitment and scholarship support.

President Powers said this shift in strategy was a work in progress. Although there had been a prior decision to move in this direction, the administration had talked about this with the FCEC. Although the issues involved had not been resolved, he thought the discussion had been good and the FCEC’s input would be helpful. In addition, he said there had been discussion with the FACB, but he explained that the discussion had occurred after the administration had initiated the change.

In response to the questions of how the strategic disbursement of graduate funds to the colleges/schools would be determined and by whom, President Powers said that was also a work in progress. He said in the long discussion regarding faculty involvement at the FCEC meeting, he had asked the FCEC to refer that question to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) and looked forward to any input the committee had to offer. At the deans’ meeting held before the current Council meeting, President Powers said he had been assured the deans would be talking with their faculty to get processes established about how these decisions will be made. As a result, he expected there would be faculty involvement in the design of the processes; however, he noted, “it may or may not be the same in every college and department, and it may or may not be the same as it was, when it was being administered by the Graduate School.” President Powers said there was a philosophical question as to how these funds should be perceived and utilized. One way would be to view them somewhat traditionally, like National Science Foundation (NSF) funds, where proposals were submitted, reviewed, and chosen on competitive merit. The other way would be to determine the best use strategically, such as when a department is seeking to build up a particular area by recruiting an individual that meets that priority. For a young recruit, funds for summer research support may be required to assist the recruit in achieving tenure. President Powers said he thought faculty members needed to be involved in discussions to determine priorities and decisions on how the funds should be used.

In answer to the third set of questions, the president said the processes are still being determined and did not need to be consistent across colleges/schools or even within particular departments in the larger units. He explained, materials had been distributed to the deans on the overall process, but written instructions have not been provided because the procedures for different colleges/schools and departments had not been fully decided. He asked Associate Dean Marvin Hackert (Graduate School) to provide more details as to what written procedures had been distributed. Associate Dean Hackert said instructions for the faculty development program funds for FRAs and SRAs had previously been sent out and the process was largely completed; however, only general instructions regarding fellowships had been given thus far. President Powers said there would be “quite a bit of latitude within departments” on how those funds would be allocated since the deans had been instructed to “consult with faculty leadership and faculty in going forward.” Associate Dean Hackert agreed and added that the colleges would decide how to allocate funds among various kinds of fellowships (recruitment, continuing, and diversity) as well as determine editorial assistantships and stipend levels. He added these allocations had previously been somewhat standardized across the campus, but greater flexibility would now be possible according to the needs of each individual unit. The president said that the specific protocols were as yet not drafted and would be developed in the colleges and schools where input from faculty was expected to occur.

In answer to the fourth set of questions, President Powers again mentioned that the deans would be consulting with faculty members in their respective colleges/schools to determine the allocation protocols. He repeated that he was open to a flexible approach that allowed variability across and within units ranging from a more strategic priority-setting process to a more NSF-like peer-review process open to all faculty members within the unit. With regard to the questions about evaluation, President Powers said the deans would be responsible for monitoring and evaluating how allocation decisions were being made and their outcomes, and they would be reporting this information back to the Graduate School as well as to him. He indicated that he would gladly share this information with the FCEC; after an allocation cycle had been completed, it would be important to assess how well the new process was working.

The president recalled that the Graduate School is currently administering about $13 million in endowed resources. Funds from donated fellowships (e.g., Harrington, Powers, and McNair) have requirements and conditions that are attached, and some of these will continue to be administered by the Graduate School. He added that funds being devolved to other campus units must comply with the funding entities’ objectives and requirements. Associate Dean Hackert clarified that the graduate fellowship program currently totals approximately $13 million. Of this total, the Graduate School will continue to administer, under the new plan, about $5.4 million, which is comprised of $3.5 million in external awards such as from the NSF; $1.5 million in gifts and endowments that specifically mention the Graduate School; and $400,000 in University-wide awards, such as the McNair, South Texas, and West Texas graduate fellowships. Associate Dean Hackert indicated that the remaining amount, approximately $7.6 million, would be devolved to units across campus. The president thanked the associate dean for these details and returned to the question about evaluating the new allocation system. He indicated that the Graduate School would continue to be involved and collaborate with the EPC and the FCEC to evaluate the new system and see how well it works. It was his opinion that the new approach would provide a “much more strategic use of our resources,” but he stated: “If that turns out not to be correct, we’ll have to make adjustments to it.” In addition to the approximately $13 million that the Graduate School had been administering, there were pre-existing funds already positioned in some of the colleges/schools, according to the president, for faculty research leaves, summer support, graduate stipends, etc.

Professor Martha Hilley (music) said she had not heard a response to the question: “To what extent will the units be required to include faculty, and in what capacity, in establishing procedures and in making the awards?” President Powers replied: “Well, the faculty will be included in designing how this is done.” He added that his instructions at the deans’ meeting had been “more than a suggestion this morning.” Again, he reiterated that he expected that some departments might decide to continue with a similar process to that used in the Graduate School, which he referred to as the NSF model, whereby a faculty committee would determine the best proposals for funding each year. However, he thought other departments might decide on strategic goals that would facilitate the recruitment and support of new faculty by allocating funds for automatic pre-tenure summer or semester research grants.

Professor Hilley asked if the president was saying that faculty members are to be included in the process established by their individual units. The president explained there were other models than the two he had used in his example; however, if a department were choosing between those two models in his hypothetical scenario, he said the faculty should be included in the discussion of which model to use, but he was not saying the faculty would make the decision. If the decision were to go with the NSF-type proposal-review process, he expected there would be faculty members involved from that department in the peer review of proposals. If the decision were to provide funding for pre-tenure, fourth-year research grants, then he expected there would be less faculty involvement in the actual award process. However, he thought the discussion of which models or mixture of models to follow should involve faculty consultation.

Professor Ted Gordon (African and African diaspora studies) made the following statement:

Decentralization has not been particularly kind to racial or even gender diversity, generally in the nation or at this University. There are still, as you know, colleges and schools that don’t have any African-American tenured faculty—and never have had any. In the case of African-American graduate students, we’re still wavering somewhere just below or just above three percent With these changes and the flexibility that colleges and schools are going to have in terms of allocating graduate fellowships, is the amount of money that’s to be spent on diversity going to remain the same? Who is going to enforce diversity in terms of how these things are allocated, etc., etc.? What is the definition of diversity that’s going to be used? It is going to be up to each college or department or college or school to determine that? How is that going to work?

President Powers said these were important questions, and it would be essential to monitor the situation to maintain diversity as a top priority. He indicated there had been considerable discussion on these issues at the deans’ meeting. A key part of the monitoring process was that the deans knew the funding outcomes would be reported back to the provost’s office. The president said his comment was not in any way a reflection on commitment or goodwill of the individuals who had been making decisions in the past, but the increase in graduate stipends for minorities was initiated though direct grants to the affiliated centers and departments for the reasons Professor Gordon had mentioned. The president said he did not mean that the stipends can only go to an African-American or Latina or Latino, but they are being used much like thematic hires to departments that are effective in recruiting first-generation students and a diverse faculty. He did not expect the new process would affect the progress thematic themes had produced and added: “I can guarantee it won’t affect the priorities of the University in making sure that we continue to diversify our graduate students and our faculty.” Professor Gordon asked if thematic initiatives would be continued and then added he perceived they had been largely discontinued. President Powers said he did not think the grant of graduate funding to the Warfield Center was changing under the new system, but he would need to check on this.

Secretary Greninger said she was unclear as to how the allocations would be made to the colleges and schools. President Powers indicated that historical distributions had been tracked, and the initial allocations under the new system would be similar to those made in the past. However, further monitoring would be needed, especially if new funding were received. He emphasized that it was important to avoid locking in University funding priorities for the future, but that using past funding patterns for the initial distributions provided “a good first, rough cut.” This pattern, according to the president, could be problematic in smaller colleges and schools, where funds were not consistently awarded and so further study of these situations would be merited. Chair Elect Alba Ortiz (special education) encouraged President Powers to involve representatives from the Faculty Council in the evaluation of the new system. She thought the administration’s goals of decentralization and the actual implementation at the colleges/schools and departments level of were somewhat disconnected. As an example, she pointed out that Associate Dean Hackert had indicated the funds for FRAs and SRAs had been largely expended before there was faculty involvement within the college/school and departments regarding possible models of distribution. As a result, she had concerns the message regarding the president’s priority was not “filtering all the way down.” It would be important, according to Chair Elect Ortiz, that there be significant faculty involvement in the evaluation to determine if the new change was actually working better than the method used by the Graduate School. President Powers described the new system as a work in progress, and his discussions at the deans’ meeting earlier that day indicated the deans were committed to involving faculty in the process.

Professor Pauline Strong (anthropology) pointed out that granting an FRA to a faculty member was the closest UT Austin came to providing a sabbatical. If the University moved toward an increased emphasis on strategic priorities, she was concerned this change might reduce the chances of some faculty receiving research leave. For example, if the priority were set to award FRAs to assistant professors to facilitate their productivity and likelihood of securing tenure, would this make it less likely that associate professors would receive FRAs in their quests to achieve full professor status? President Powers said the change would not “diminish the amount of money going to either of these goals.” He explained the new system might change the distribution of where that money goes, but it won’t diminish the amount of research support or graduate student supporting the future. He added that he hoped the University could increase those funds over time. After agreeing that an FRA was the closest UT Austin had to a sabbatical, the president emphasized that an FRA was only “a tiny fraction of what other universities have” and contributed to UT Austin being at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining faculty.

President Powers restated that resources should be used strategically to achieve each department’s goals and that he expected there to be variation in the objectives and priorities across campus. He repeated that some departments might emphasize pre-tenure leaves to help their young faculty members get first books out before tenure packets are sent out for evaluation. In their recruitment efforts, those departments could tell recruits there was funding available for some assistant professors to get a semester’s leave before the tenure decision. Another department, with a shortage of full professors, might choose to provide a semester’s leave for some of their associate professors to facilitate increased research productivity and promotions to the higher rank. When Professor Strong suggested that the evaluation process seek to determine “how faculty may be disproportionately affected by the decisions that are being made” under the new system, President Powers agreed. He added, if the goal were to enhance the recruitment of new faculty by funding pre-tenure leaves and recruitment effectiveness remained static, then it would be important to review why the objective was not being achieved. He closed by saying the new system should be evaluated on how well it is working to accomplish a department’s goals, and the Council responded with applause.

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