Invitation Only

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There are massive inefficiencies and areas for cost-savings within Texas higher education. They aren’t in research budgets. They aren’t in ethnic studies departments. They come from some of the offices that are trying to tell us such inefficiencies don’t exist.

Last August, the Goldwater Institute published a study entitled “Administrative Bloat at American Universities” that criticized colleges and universities for the skyrocketing increases in spending on administrative and other non-educational areas over the last 15 years. The study found that at UT, the average salary for administrators was $123,136, compared to $85,910 for faculty.

In response to the report, the UT System office published its own comments on the findings last December. The System’s report extolled that, although the System’s administrative costs had drastically increased over the studied period, they increased at a slower rate than the national average. Interestingly enough, one of the worst offenders was Arizona State University, the same college upon which the current batch of Regents place so much esteem. ASU increased the number of administrators per student by 94 percent over the same period.

However, this type of “we’re bad but not as bad as them” mentality is little more than a finger-pointing contest in a head-in-the-sand attempt to ignore one of the crucial issues facing higher education in this country.

The office of the UT System oversees the nine universities and six medical and health centers that comprise the UT System. Last year, the System offices employed 752 people whose job, according the System’s website, is “to add value on behalf of the UT academic institutions by undertaking certain central responsibilities that result in greater efficiency or higher quality.” Among those employees are a plethora of executive chancellors, vice chancellors and assistant and associate chancellors, 32 of who draw a six-figure salary. All in all, 130 system employees earn more than $100,000 a year.

Furthermore, there is significant overlap in the duties of the System’s various offices and those of the individual universities. The System employs its own staff, for matters such as payroll, information technology and budgeting. Here at UT, we already pay administrators and staff to do essentially the same jobs.

That’s not to say that universities don’t need some degree of business acumen within their administrations. But at what point do those hired to make this University more efficient become a source of inefficiency themselves?

Perhaps the most interesting salary statistic is that the System’s 751 employees cost the state $56,047,537 last year in payroll. The total decrease in state funding the University will experience, depending on which version of the state budget in finally passed, will be between $51 and $63 million.
Last February, the Board of Regents hired Rick O’Donnell and although most of the controversy has revolved around O’Donnell’s proposed reforms, not enough attention has been given to the fact that, while supposedly coping with paralyzing budget cuts, the Regents thought it expedient to create a new high-salary position. Paying a “special adviser” $200,000 to push a political agenda at a time when faculty is being laid off and financial aid is being cut is inexcusable. O’Donnell’s salary vastly surpassed the school’s funding for the Center for East Asian Studies, the Humanities Institute or the Center for Eastern European Studies, all of which had their university funding entirely cut for next year. Or it could have paid for 20 one-year scholarships, which would be sorely appreciated given the anticipated cuts to TEXAS Grants by the state Legislature. Or rather, it would have paid for 20 scholarships this year. The Regents are likely to raise tuition and fees for next year because, after all, times are tough and we all have to make little sacrifices.

There’s no problem with having a discussion about the future of UT and the other six universities within the system. In the future, there may come a time when “blended online learning” or “results-based contracts” are needed to increase the quality of education offered by Texas universities. However, the process of implementing those changes needs to involve all relevant stakeholders, including students, faculty, administrators and residents of this state. A single nonvoting student regent does not constitute student input any more than the nine regents appointed by the governor are reflective of this state’s 25 million constituents.

Instead, these “reforms” are being pondered behind closed doors away from the prying eyes of the affected parties, by a Board and System who seem grossly disconnected with the dollar-and-cents realities that each decision spawns.

The cuts will continue, and inevitably some parties will be left angry and bitter. But those are debates which should be taking place in the public sphere.

All Texans deserve a seat at the table for this conversation. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Regents and their office, it’s invitation only.

— Dave Player for the editorial board