Wednesday, May 18, 2011

UT regents seek more detail about faculty workloads

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On the same day that University of Texas System regents unanimously agreed to refrain from micromanaging the state's largest university system, at least one regent seemed to do just that by requesting records on individual faculty members' workloads, average grades for each undergraduate course and student evaluation scores of teachers, as well as a timeline for producing those materials, emails obtained by the American-Statesman show.

Regent Alex Cranberg requested the materials for each course taught in the 2009-10 academic year at the UT System's nine academic campuses, according to the emails. One email said Regent Brenda Pejovich joined Cranberg in the request, but officials said in interviews that she had not done so.

Cranberg submitted his request to Sandra Woodley, a vice chancellor for the system, on Thursday afternoon, hours after Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa received an unqualified vote of support, including a standing ovation, from the Board of Regents following a speech in which he declared that universities “simply cannot be micromanaged.” Woodley had a staff member send the request to the campuses on Friday.

Gene Powell, chairman of the regents, emphasized Cigarroa's role as the system's CEO at Thursday's meeting and in an interview later that day.

"And from this point forward," Powell told the Statesman, "the board's going to be working on his goals and his measurements for how we continue to be great and how we continue to change as we go forward to continue to be a university, a group of universities, of the first class."

But the emails, along with a UT System spreadsheet detailing earlier requests for information from the campuses, indicate that Cranberg and Pejovich are playing a significant role when it comes to determining the measurements. Their focus on faculty productivity borrows in part from seven controversial "breakthrough solutions" offered by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based think tank, and partially endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry.

Pejovich is a member of the foundation's board of directors. Cranberg is a longtime associate of Jeff Sandefer, a foundation director, architect of the breakthrough solutions and a major Perry donor. Cranberg did not return calls, and Pejovich referred a request for comment to Powell.

Powell said in an interview Tuesday that requests by regents to collect and organize data don't amount to micromanaging.

"No one is telling these institutions what to do," Powell said. "The regents are not managing; they're gathering information to study, which is their fiduciary responsibility."

However, Powell emailed a "clarification" to campus officials Tuesday in which he said that a deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday for submitting a timeline for producing additional information was no longer operative.

"So, no one needs to gather any data or answers to Regent Cranberg's questions until after the task force members have a chance to visit with Regent Cranberg this Wednesday (today)," Powell wrote.

The task force in question is an advisory panel on excellence and productivity. Pejovich chairs the panel and Cranberg is a member.

Powell said he sent the email in response to questions and concerns raised by regents and campus leaders who serve on the task force. He said the task force members didn't realize that Cranberg was requesting the materials "as an individual regent and not as a member of the task force."

The UT System employs 18,893 faculty members at nine universities and six health institutions, according to information posted on the system's website.

The campuses previously supplied the UT System with lists of teacher salaries, number of courses taught, value of research grants and other matters. In releasing an 821-page spreadsheet with that data on May 5 in response to an open-records request, system officials cautioned that it was of limited value and said it would not be used to rate teachers.

Anthony de Bruyn, a spokesman for the UT System, said the additional information sought by Cranberg includes average student ratings of professors for each class, average grades and an accounting of each faculty member's workload, including credits taught, administrative duties, research activities and so forth.

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