UT faculty want say in budget planning

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As shrinking financial resources force college deans to cut back on personnel and other expenses, UT’s Faculty Council is pressing for greater faculty involvement in budgetary decision-making.

Currently, everything from 2-percent merit-based raises and long-term direction for colleges is essentially determined by the deans. During Monday’s Faculty Council meeting, computer science professor Alan Cline said he remembers 25 years ago when the faculty budget council in his college had the right to sign off on faculty salaries and make an impact on the budget. For the past few years, he said he hasn’t even seen a budget for his department, though he can’t remember giving up that authority to the chair of his department.

“Nowadays, there is no participation or any signing of anything,” Cline said. “I guess I’d like the process to guarantee that somehow decisions from the faculty will determine how they deal with [the budget], as opposed to administrators telling faculty how to deal with it.”

Since the 1994-95 academic year, deans and the provost work together on budget planning and management under the Dean/Provost Academic Core planning process. The process uses a five-year plan to fulfill the long-term priorities of colleges. Each college determines the point that faculty can contribute to the planning process. For instance, the College of Liberal Arts has a Budget Council that sends recommendations to the dean regarding the college budget.

Janet Staiger, a radio-television-film professor and past chair of the council, said as far as she knows, there is no faculty discussion of the budget in her department. During Monday’s discussion, Staiger asked Steven Leslie, UT provost and executive vice president, what instructions he has given to deans and department chairs to involve faculty in budgetary decisions. Leslie responded that he has not given any instructions to individual colleges to involve faculty.

“What I’ve asked the deans to do at this point is to work at the dean’s level through a budget-planning process so we can get started on determining what the school’s priorities are,” Leslie said.

Faculty Council Chairman Dean Neikirk, an electrical and computer engineering professor, presented several suggestions from council committees about ways the faculty would like to see the University allocate resources. The Faculty Welfare Committee proposed monitoring the rights of nontenured faculty and making changes to benefits for UT employees and retirees. The Faculty Building Advisory Committee suggested undertaking a new Campus Master Plan in which there would be a technical assessment of electrical power, storm drains, sewers and other building features.

The council also passed a resolution of guiding principles that make up the council’s consensus view on the budget — postponing new construction projects and increasing administrative positions were among the principles. Through the resolution, the council also voiced its support of living wages and benefits for all UT employees, and its opposition to categorical firings and wage reductions of low-wage faculty, staff members and graduate students.

Music professor Martha Hilley said she believes there are problems in the merit-based pay raise distributions and other budget decision processes.

“It would be helpful if there was some kind of suggestion about an effective process, if there was something the deans bring into the conversation with [faculty],” Hilley said.

Leslie said transparency is important, and that he wants the campus to be driven by faculty.

“To the extent that we can achieve a process, campus-wide, where faculty are engaged in the setting of the budget, we’re going to be better off,” Leslie said. "There’s a lot of stress on our campus and it is exceedingly important that we work together. How we do this in difficult times is the challenge.”