Regents to hear student budget committee plans

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The College of Liberal Arts College Tuition Budget Advisory Committee sent its first round of budget recommendations to College of Liberal Arts deans before spring break and expects a response within the next several weeks. The council has already gotten approval for Dean Randy Diehl’s office to send direct updates to students periodically — particularly when new information arrives — and to notify CTBAC and students at least two weeks before a decision about budget cuts is to be made. Because it has already gotten some measures approved, the liberal arts CTBAC will provide a model for other colleges still in the process of implementing their councils. Pending recommendations include preserving all centers and departments, prioritizing funding for teaching and research over outreach, reevaluating faculty merit pay increases and encouraging efficient use of resources. Carl Thorne-Thomsen, liberal arts CTBAC chair, said they are exploring other means of cutting the college’s costs, such as evaluating which departments and centers could be effectively combined and moving some courses online. “We identified some of the introductory and bigger courses as being able to be offered online,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to replace a 10- or 15-person seminar class, but we still have to put a lot of thought into which courses would work best online.” Thorne-Thomsen also said the council has begun conversations about a responsibility-centered budgeting model that will essentially try to change the way colleges are allocated funds. All the money generated by the University — tuition and other fees — goes to the Tower and the Office of the President and is then distributed to the different colleges. “We want to see if there is a way for that formula funding to be used by the schools directly,” Thorne-Thomsen said. “What we want to do is try to align some of the incentives a little bit better. Namely, more efficient space usage paying for their own utilities.” Thorne-Thomsen said this new process has been effective in getting the deans talking and keeping everybody accountable for the budget. “To hear from the deans how much they appreciate all the time we’ve taken to educate ourselves and others is encouraging,” he said. “It really shows how seriously they are taking these recommendations.” The liberal arts CTBAC is the only CTBAC established that has presented the deans with a set of written recommendations, said Michael Morton, spokesman for the Senate of College Councils. The only other councils that are even close to presenting recommendations are in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the McCombs School of Business, he said. “The reason the COLA CTBAC is so far ahead is because they had to be,” Morton said. “They had to respond extremely quick in order to be a vehicle for student representation for budget cuts.” The College of Liberal Arts, having recently sent its budget recommendations to the administration, is the catalyst for what could become a system-wide trend. The UT System Student Advisory Council, which is made up of student advisers from each system school, unanimously passed a recommendation to form CTBACs at each system campus. In May, the recommendation will go before the Board of Regents, which is required to either pass or fail it. Implementing CTBACs throughout the system will augment what has been accomplished and attest to the success of student involvement in the budget process, said Chelsea Adler, president of Senate of College Councils. With UT-Austin schools having already formed their CTBACs, the other system schools will have working models to examine if the recommendation passes. “UT Austin is ahead of the game and it’s been really exciting to work with students from other schools to figure out how we can get more students involved in this process, as well,” Adler said.