January 28, 2013


Chair Hilley reported on the UT System Faculty Advisory Committee (SysFac) meeting that took place the previous week on January 24-25. She noted that Chair Elect Hart would report in more detail on the Thursday meeting, which included presentations by Regent Robert Stillwell, Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy General Counsel Dan Sharphorn, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff for Academic Affairs John Hayek, and Senator Kel Seliger, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Professor Hilley noted that the System Faculty Advisory Committee had discussed similar issues that are also of concern to the UT Austin Faculty Council, such as domestic partner benefits, low-producing programs, student debt, voting rights for faculty, and core curriculum issues. She then summarized in more detail these individual issues. The SysFac Academic Affairs Committee unanimously approved a resolution in favor of domestic partner benefits, which will be posted on the UT Austin Faculty Council website. Chair Hilley said she hoped the resolution would send a message to the Regents and Texas legislators. The committee also looked at low-producing programs and heard a report citing statistics from Dr. John Lamb of UT Tyler and Dr. Lisa Cain of UTMB Galveston. Chair Hilley noted that the report quoted The Texas Tribune online article from August 20, 2012, written by Reeve Hamilton, “Why STEM Matters. Texas Educators and Experts Sound Off on the STEM Shortage.” In the article, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes told lawmakers that, while shortages of welders, truck drivers, and constructions workers are well known, there are also shortages of high skilled workers, including engineers, basic scientists, physicians, pharmacists, and possibly veterinarians for large animals, that would not be addressed through eliminating programs at colleges and universities. Drs. Lamb and Cain noted that elimination of degree programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas could jeopardize Texas’ goal to graduate 29,000 students with STEM degrees by 2015. Similarly, students’ abilities in the State of Texas to become well-educated teachers, writers, artists, musicians, and historians could be jeopardized by the elimination of programs in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. Drs. Lamb and Cain stressed that creativity is an essential factor in academia.

Chair Hilley reported that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board suggested that the number of graduates for individual degrees over a five-year period go up from twenty-five to forty for bachelor degrees, from fifteen to twenty-five for master’s degrees, and from ten to fifteen for doctoral degrees. She said this might cause system components, such as Permian Basin, Tyler, and Brownsville, to lose degree programs such as physics. Students that could be impacted, according to Chair Hilley, would include public school teachers seeking master’s degrees, who cannot easily attend classes at other universities due to the distances they would have to travel. Chair Hilley noted that the report given by Drs. Lamb and Cain would be posted on the Faculty Council website, along with a combined chair’s report for December and January.

Next, Chair Hilley recommended that Council members read, at a minimum, the executive summary of a report by the University of Texas System Student Debt Reduction Task Force titled College “Credit”: ¬†Reducing Unmanageable Student Debt and Maximizing Return on Education. The report provides three specific sets of recommendations that address (1) improving student graduation rates and on-time degree completions, (2) impacting costs and returns of a college degree, and (3) improving transparency and enhancing decision support for students and parents.¬† The report can be accessed at the following URL:¬† http://www.utsystem.edu/sites/utsfiles/news/assets/student-debt-report.pdf.

With regard to core curriculum changes, Chair Hilley indicated that she expected reports to be forthcoming as the modifications at UT Austin become finalized.

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