Powers discusses challenges in State of the University Address

AddThis

President Bill Powers delivers the State of the University Address at the B. Iden Payne Theatre on Wednesday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Victor DePaulo | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. listed funding and technology integration as two of the biggest challenges the University will face in the coming years in his annual State of the University Address on Wednesday.

Though Powers emphasized UT’s status as a “world university,” he said the University will have to overcome budgetary issues and continue to implement technology into its teaching to remain so. Although the Texas Legislature increased UT’s funding by $25 million this year, Powers said the University is still trying to offset a $92 million decrease in state funding from the previous two years. 

“The bottom line is that we continue to operate on a very thin budget,” Powers said.

Student Government President Horacio Villarreal said UT has to balance staying competitive among top universities with affordability.

“The fact that we are a public school [makes it] tougher because a lot of [funding] is coming from tax dollars,” Villarreal said. 

After identifying the faculty as one of the reasons for the University’s success, Powers said the University will risk losing its quality faculty if it does not consistently increase salaries. In July, Powers informed UT faculty and staff there would be no centrally funded salary increases at the University for the fifth fiscal year in a row.

“Our budgetary challenges will affect our ability to recruit and retain our best faculty,” Powers said. “Other universities are strengthening their balance sheets as the economy improves. They will be targeting our faculty. Strengthening our own ability to attract and retain faculty in a very competitive world needs to be our highest long-term priority.”

Powers discussed
funding for future facilities at the University and criticized the state’s system for funding construction projects.

“The feast-or-famine approach we currently have in Texas for funding capital projects makes it difficult to plan, and it’s not keeping up with the state’s needs,” Powers said.

UT failed to receive state funding for the planned Engineering Education and Research Center because of a disagreement between the House and Senate during the final days of the legislative session earlier this year. The UT System Board of Regents is scheduled to discuss funding for the building in a special meeting Thursday.

Powers also addressed the University’s continued efforts to implement technology into courses, including blended learning efforts by faculty and UT’s MOOC program with online education provider edX.

“Surely, technology will change the way we teach,” Powers said. “We have used these opportunities; indeed, UT is seen as a leader in this field … When we get the business model right — which right now is a challenge — it can help lower the cost of a degree.”

Although supportive of technology in higher education learning, Powers said UT and all other major research universities should remain residential.

Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said he supports Powers’ position on implementing technology in the residential college setting.

“More technology in the classroom is necessarily not a bad thing,” Clark said. “If we can produce something that is of high quality [and] can complement and add to the residential experiences of coming to school here, that is something that could be positive for the campus down the road.”

Powers, who will soon serve a one-year term as chairman of the Association of American Universities, also praised efforts over the past year to establish the Dell Medical School, which is scheduled to welcome its inaugural class in fall 2016.