MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
MAY 6, 2013
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|COMMUNICATION WITH THE PRESIDENT.
||Comments by the President.
Although the meeting’s agenda was quite long, President Powers said he would like to provide a year-end update on some important issues. With regard to UTS 180, the newly proposed Conflict of Interest, Conflict of Commitment, and Outside Activities policy, the president noted that UT Austin has always had a conflict of interest policy with disclosure requirements and a conflict of commitment policy. He said an important change in UTS 180 is that the conflict of interest and commitment policy would now encompass family members of UT employees. He pointed out that the Faculty Council Executive Committee had discussed the new policy for about a year and had raised some serious concerns about many aspects, including public disclosure of what they perceived as private facts and income. Although he had not been present at the April Council meeting, the president said he was proud of the faculty who spoke up and the action taken at that meeting. Even though the policy’s implementation date had been postponed, he thought a policy was inevitable; however, he was hopeful the time for further study would result in a policy with more reasonable features than the ones previously included in UTS 180. He complimented the faculty again by saying, “I think the voice of the faculty was very effective—more effective than the voice of the administration over the last year.” In addition to the UT faculty, the president mentioned the UT System Faculty Advisory Council and other UT system campuses, especially the medical institutions, as having raised their concerns about UTS 180. He said he had spoken with the chancellor, whom he perceived as being genuinely searching for a reasonable solution, and that he believed the chancellor had conferred with the chair of the Board of Regents regarding the issues that had been raised by various faculty members and groups. President Powers expressed his sincere belief that constructive suggestions would be welcomed and appreciated; therefore, he encouraged faculty members to continue providing input over the summer to help create an improved policy.
President Powers then gave an update on the legislature and expressed cautious optimism that funding for UT Austin would be better than after the previous session; however, he noted that the budget is currently in conference committee and that many things can happen in the last few days of a legislative session. He closed his remarks on the budget saying that most of the necessary budget cuts at the University had been handled through attrition over the last two or three years, but that some debt had been accumulated and would need to be resolved. He also made some comments about the status of Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRB), saying they provide the income stream that capital markets require to guarantee the bonds but generally have nothing to do with tuition. He said the state had never failed to appropriate funds to pay for the bonds and therefore TRBs provide for “legislative constructive building” as opposed to construction provided by the Permanent University Fund and/or UT Austin’s own funds. He added that the $95 million TRB looked promising and would help the campus with capital construction beyond what was used for the proposed new engineering building, but he again cautioned that there were still three more weeks in the legislative session for changes in the budget priorities to occur.
Next, the president addressed the bill on guns on campus. He said the bill had passed in the House and was now being considered by the Senate. He indicated that the bill had a feature providing for a local option to opt out of allowing guns on campus through a process of consultation with the institution’s faculty, students, and possibly staff. He said he had written editorials on this issue and was hopeful this provision would allow legislators to vote for the bill, in keeping with many of their constituents’ wishes, but allow institutions to opt out on an individual basis.
He noted that there were other bills, such as the one requiring curricular changes in the breadth requirement for certain courses in history and liberal arts, that appeared unlikely to pass in the current session. He said the budget really was the University’s biggest concern and reiterated his belief that the situation had improved over what it had been in the past due to the efforts of a number of legislators who had worked very hard this session.
President Powers announced that a new dean for the School of Undergraduate Studies had been selected and that the appointee would soon be announced, meetings with the provost search committee had been initiated, and the search for a vice president of development and a few other positions on campus were underway.
The president briefly reflected on the year and thanked faculty, alumni, and students for their continued support. He announced that the University has just exceeded $300 million in fundraising for the year, which would provide tremendous help for student scholarships as well as support for faculty, capital projects, and student initiatives. He shared that five faculty members and two alumni had been elected to national academies this year, a reflection of the quality of the University.
There has been progress on course transformation, bottleneck courses, and four-year graduation rates, as well as the new medical school. He said all these accomplishments build the foundation of a great, world-renowned research university. In addition, he emphasized that the positive vote on Proposition 1 indicated the community’s faith in the University’s ability to grow both academically and to service the healthcare needs of the growing population.
The president commented on the work of the Business Practices Task Force, led by Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty, to increase efficiency across the campus. He promised total transparency with the staff on implementing thoughtful changes over a long period of time and in “the right way.” He said a good deal of investment in systems—both hardware and software—would be needed, as well as time to use attrition and/or move staff into new positions to further improve efficiency.
Lastly, President Powers noted that graduation was only two weeks away. He congratulated and thanked the faculty for their efforts in what he referred to as “the biggest transfer of intellectual property” on campus when students leave the University and go out into the world after receiving “the kind of education that can only be given at a great research university.” He invited members of the Faculty Council to attend the ceremony “to see what we actually do for this country, when we graduate these absolutely fabulous students every year.”