NOVEMBER 18, 2013


B. Questions to the President.
President Powers then addressed a request from Professor Llewellyn K. Rabenberg (mechanical engineering) asking the president to comment on the affirmative action cases Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin, and Schuette v. Coalition to defend affirmative action (University of Michigan).

President Powers first talked about the Fisher case saying that he was very gratified that the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to the principles of Grutter. He explained that the Grutter case “affirms the ability of universities to use ethnicity as part of the admission process and narrowly tailored holistic review to promote the educational benefit of educating all of our students in a diverse atmosphere, including a sufficient number of actual classes, not just on the campus, but actual classes.”

He said the Fisher case was now being heard by the Fifth Circuit, that he felt our attorneys had done an “extremely good job of articulating our position,” and that the Fifth Circuit judges were “extremely able” and “extremely well prepared.” He said that a decision could be made “in a month, it could be in six months.” He added that, conceivably, the Fifth Circuit might say further fact finding is needed and remand the case to a trial court. President Powers said that he would keep the Council apprised of any new developments in the case.

President Powers then spoke on the Schuette case out of the University of Michigan saying that there was a state law forbidding universities in the sate of Michigan from using ethnicity, and the question was whether this law “violated equal protection clause or other civil rights laws of the United States.” He said that it was a good sign for our case that the Supreme Court took the Schuette case, which meant that they left the Grutter case intact. President Powers said that he is hoping the Supreme Court will rule that the Michigan law “does violate equal protection clause because that would take it off of the table, not just at Michigan, but elsewhere around the United States.” President Powers said it was likely that Council members would hear about the court’s decision in the news.

President Powers asked if there were further questions on either of the cases; there were none.

Jon Olson (associate professor, petroleum and geosystems engineering) asked the president if he could comment on Shared Services. President Powers said he was happy to comply and that the administration had been working closely with the Staff Council, who he said had been very cooperative.  He said that in a report from the committee on business practices recommendations had been made that involved Shared Services, outsourcing some of our functions, and asset utilization, including selling electricity. President Powers stressed that outsourcing is not a project that is currently being considered, but that “we always have to look at those possibilities.” He said the focus of Shared Services is on back office functions such as HR, bill processing, back office accounting, and ITS. He said that conservative projections were that Shared Services “could save us on average $30 to $40 million a year that would be ploughed into academics.” He said that it will require an investment in a new software platform and processes that will have to take place in any case, specifically, the replacement of the decades old DEFINE business system. President Powers went on to explain that once the investments are in place—the new business system and Shared Services—it will save the University $30 to $40 million over a ten-year period. He added that “(a)ny efficiency in the University is predicated on spending less to get the same or a better job done, and our major cost is labor cost,” and that a reduction of full-time employees over a three to four year period will happen mostly through attrition and will give us a leaner workforce. President Powers emphasized “(w)e’re doing this, I think, in a very thoughtful way over a period of time, working with the Staff Council, working with the consumers, that is faculty, people in the units.” He said that the budget just does not permit us to do business as we have been doing it in the past.

Snehal Shingavi (assistant professor, english) said that he had attended multiple town hall meetings on Shared Services and wondered whether the data that was collected in a report from the thirteen business leaders could be made available to faculty and staff to review. President Powers responded by saying that the report with appendices and data is available, although he could not recall the website URL, but would provide that information following the meeting. [The report, Smarter Systems for a Greater UT: Final Report of the Committee on Business Productivity can be found online.]

Professor William Beckner (chair elect and mathematics) asked for clarification on whether the savings coming in from Shared Services are not primarily designed to pay for the replacement of the administrative management system. President Powers responded saying one plan would be to just take the cost for the new system out of the budget now, but that would have a negative impact on academic programs. Instead, he said the plan was to write a note on some balances and pay them back from the savings that will come from the new management tool. He said that according to their calculations, the University could pay back the money over a six-year period, but the drawback would be that it could take all the savings, and it could take up to six years before the academic programs would see any benefit from the savings. An alternative business plan would be to amortize over a twenty-year period so the money could go back into the academic programs sooner.

Alberto Martinez (associate professor, history) asked about the cash flow graph from the campus plan, which indicates that $26 million will be generated by December 2015 or January 2016. He said that to make this happen, UT Austin would have to eliminate 433 job at approximately $60,000 per job, literally within twelve months. He asked if the president was aware of this?  President Powers said that if the projections do not come true over a four to five year period, they will be realized over a decade and that it will pay for DEFINE and a lot more. He stressed again that UT has the ability to finance the replacement of DEFINE internally. In respect of Chair Hart’s request to limit the time for continued discussion, Professor Martinez agreed to further discuss his concerns with the president outside of the meeting.

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