Thursday, September 17, 2009

UT scaling back faculty hiring, programs, other initiatives

Budget realities force difficult choices, president says in state of the university address.

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Thursday, September 17, 2009

The University of Texas is scaling back some programs while expanding others as it strives for the highest status among the nation's public universities during challenging economic times, the school's president said Wednesday.

The annual state of the university address by William Powers Jr. was alternately upbeat and downbeat.

On a positive note, UT received $281.7 million in donations during the fiscal year that just ended — one of its most lucrative fundraising years ever — to bring the kitty for an ongoing campaign to $919 million. The goal is $3 billion by Aug. 31, 2014.

In addition, the Legislature boosted the university's allocation of general revenue by 4 percent, dwarfing the 20-year average increase of less than 2 percent. Ten new faculty positions will be funded at a time when many universities across the nation are in freeze or cutback mode. And financial support for graduate students, a top priority, will increase by $1 million.

On a more discouraging note, Powers explained that income from the university's endowments, which were battered by the recession, is down, leaving its budget essentially flat.

UT received $165.3 million in 2008-09 from the Permanent University Fund, one of its main endowments, and has budgeted $160.7 million for 2009-10, said Mary Knight, associate vice president and budget director.

And revenue from tuition, though up, is not as high as the university had planned because of a 4.95 percent cap on increases imposed by the Board of Regents under pressure from legislators and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The upshot is that the university has made and will continue to make tough choices about where to advance and where to retrench, Powers said. He described freezing staff salaries as "one of the hardest decisions I've had to make."

"We need to be competitive with our peer institutions in the way we support our faculty and graduate students," the president said.

"We can't continue to compete with one hand tied behind our back, with overall salary and research support for our faculty and with support for our graduate students lagging far behind our competitors," Powers said. "Whatever other issues we face, our future is dim if we don't continue to work steadily to catch up."

Nevertheless, faculty raises that are normally effective the first of September will not take effect until Jan. 16 to give departments time to figure out how to allocate more than $6 million for "targeted salary raises," Powers said.

The 10 new faculty slots — in addition to replacements for departing and retiring faculty members — are down from the 30 new positions that were funded in eight of the past nine years.

In the College of Liberal Arts, the university's largest, Dean Randy Diehl is working with departments to consider increasing class sizes and cutting some foreign language offerings and the size of some graduate programs, Powers said.

"These cuts would pay for salary raises, a new building and other initiatives," Powers said. "And our other deans are doing similar things."

The belt-tightening will help make it possible for the university to recruit top faculty members from other schools, he said. He pledged to continue pursuing longer-range goals, such as a fully funded sabbatical research leave program and a reduced student-faculty ratio.

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