Endowments help decrease UT's financial burdens

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Pressure has mounted on faculty in the semesters following the last Texas legislative session, but endowments can ease the increasing financial burdens that may otherwise push faculty away from the University.

Endowments are donations that are invested by the University. How the returns of these investments are used is chosen by the donor. Tadeusz Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, administers a $1 million endowment within his department. Patzek said he believes this is the type of funding that every department strives to receive in order to get faculty to remain at the University.

“Suddenly you don't need to seek outside employment,” Patzek said. “You can have more time to think and be creative. It's sort of an engine that powers creativity within the faculty.”

During the last Texas legislative session in 2011, $92 million of state funding to the University was cut. Since last year, the UT System Board of Regents, among other groups, has scrutinized the importance of research in higher education.

Patzek said the endowment serves as a funding safety blanket to help with general departmental functions, such as sending a student to a conference or purchasing new equipment.

“These are very important things for running a big and complex department,” Patzek said. “We are one of the most overworked departments. In that stressed-out environment, having a little peace of mind is important.”

President William Powers Jr. spoke with The Daily Texan in December about his recommendation to increase tuition and the UT System's directives that any increase must be tied to improving four-year graduation rates.

“None of this will go to increasing our ability to attract faculty through salary,” Powers said. “We're not meeting what I would call the real needs of the University.”

Powers said to continue to attract top faculty, the University will need to look for other revenue streams outside of tuition, such as philanthropy.

“We always ought to be adjusting our philanthropic efforts to adjust to the needs of the University, but it's not totally up to us,” Powers said. “It's up to the donors.”

David Onion, senior associate vice president of development, said philanthropy can help ease some budget needs, but it cannot make up for the cuts in state funding. Onion said donors typically support faculty by making an endowment to support a specific field of study or a specific faculty member.

“There's a perception out there where people think you've received all this money, but we have restrictions,” Onion said. “Donors are not interested in just writing a check and it going into a large account.”

Onion said donors feel like their endowment is a personal investment in the success of the University — a connection he said gets lost when donating to overall operating costs like electricity bills.

Lois Folger, president of Folger Energy, and her husband Richard Folger, president and CEO of Warren Equipment Company, met and graduated from the University's petroleum engineering program in 1984. In 2009, the Folgers made the $1 million endowment to the petroleum program that Patzek administers.

Folger said the value of his diploma hanging on the wall greatly depends on the ranking that the University holds.

“Our objective is to do whatever we can do to increase its value,” Richard Folger said. “As an alum, making a donation tends to be one of the quickest ways that you can give back to the University.”

Folger said the motivation to donate is to help the University remain at the top of the rankings and to aid the University as it continues to grow.

“How you do that without research and without top faculty, I don't understand,” he said.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Endowments alleviate UT's financial burdens