Council questions provost on academic centers’ cuts

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Several members of the Faculty Council asked UT Provost Steven Leslie on Monday how the central administration would assist academic centers through the budget cuts and challenged him on the measurements used to determine the productivity of the centers.

The College of Liberal Arts, faced with a reduction in expected funding from tuition, decided to form the faculty-led Academic Policy and Advisory Committee to determine from where the budget should be cut. In early November, the committee recommended a total $1 million budget cut to the college’s 15 area studies centers, and the cuts were based on the productivity of the centers.

Associate English professor Susan Heinzelman, director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, asked Leslie how the administration would support the centers given that they serve the entire University and not just the College of Liberal Arts.

Leslie said the University expects deeper budget cuts in the next legislative session and has had to weather the financial crisis for longer than anticipated. Leslie said the areas of gender and diversity are and will remain top priorities of the University. He said the college will try to use nonrecurring funds to replace recurring budget gaps in the next few years.

“It is probably more important than ever that we adopt a policy for our centers that they need to work hard to try to generate revenues and external funding to support their own operations,” Leslie said.

Philip Doty, an associate professor in the School of Information, said he understands the argument to fund each center across campus in the same way — through college support and heavy reliance on external grants. But the relative youth of the humanities centers in the college preclude them from being able to generate the grants and external support that science centers can get.

“Centers, especially in the humanities and social sciences, are systematically disadvantaged when compared to their sisters in the sciences of the various kinds,” Doty said. “The administration of the University [may need to] recognize that not everybody starts at the same place.”

The standards the committee used to measure the productivity of the centers are too similar to the accountability measures used by Texas A&M in evaluating the value of faculty members, said Ted Gordon, chairman of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies.

In September, Texas A&M released a report on the productivity of their faculty that offered a profit-and-loss look at faculty members. The report weighed a faculty’s number of students versus salary and research grants.

“I have a real preoccupation about using these kind of basic metrics to evaluate anything,” Gordon said.

Leslie responded that he has not delved deeply into the committee process, but he said the committee worked hard to follow through the suggested process.

“They came out with a recommendation, and now we all need to work together to take that recommendation and follow through with what best serves the institution,” Leslie said.

Heinzelman said it’s hard to imagine that the ethnic studies centers in the College of Liberal Arts are so unproductive that they need to be cut by 40 percent each.

The committee collected data from the centers without their understanding of what APAC would use the information for, and then the committee turned it into statistical information, she said.

“The statistical data cannot access and properly report on the qualitative issues,” she said. “What is it worth to educate undergraduates into an understanding of gender and justice? If the premises upon which all of these data were collected is inaccurate or does not reflect what we do, then obviously the results are invalid.”