Budgeting for student input

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With academics taking a hit as budget cuts make their way around the University, student input is more important than ever.

Take, for example, the Vietnamese language program, which was eliminated last spring. Though the cut did not take effect until this fall, students did not learn of the program’s fate until it was too late.

To avoid similar situations, the Senate of College Councils passed a resolution Thursday creating the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Councils (CTBAC). All but two colleges — the Graduate School and the Division of Continuing Education — will have an advisory council composed of students from the respective college.

Ideally, members of CTBAC will discuss concerns with their constituents and bring those concerns to the attention of the respective college deans, allowing administrators to gauge which academic areas students value most. Hopefully those charged with the responsibility of making budget cuts will seriously consider this information during all stages of the decision-making process.

While the first round of budget cuts was mostly targeted at administrative areas in order to protect the academic quality of the University, the next round will inevitably affect those academic programs.

Academic programs should be the biggest concern for the student body. When the University faces budget cuts, it eventually resorts to cutting courses, programs, lecturers and other nontenure-track instructors. This can lead to fewer course options and availability, larger classes and poorer teaching quality. Ultimately, students feel the cuts the most.

With this in mind, it’s equally important that students get involved with the tuition-setting process. The Tuition Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) was created in 2003 with this very purpose. However, as we learned last year, student input isn’t always considered.

Four student leaders and five faculty members compose TPAC, which drafts and submits a tuition recommendation to the University president. The president then uses the proposal to formulate a recommendation he presents to the Board of Regents, which is ultimately responsible for setting tuition in the UT System.

Despite the committee’s claims of being transparent, TPAC meetings are not open to non-committee members. Last fall, TPAC student members, including former Student Government President Liam O’Rourke, insisted the meetings remain closed for efficiency and to allow for “more candid discussions,” he told The Daily Texan last fall.

Student response following the proposed increase — which ultimately did take effect — revealed the lack of input gauged during the initial recommendation process.

Through CTBAC, students can be better informed and, as a result, more capable to provide constructive feedback in response to proposed tuition changes.

But CTBAC shouldn’t just inform students about the budgeting process; it should also educate administrators on what students think. CTBAC can potentially keep students well-informed and ensure they remain active participants in budgetary decisions, both of which will prove especially important as the University implements these cuts.