Editor’s note: President William Powers Jr. delivered his fifth annual State of the University address Wednesday afternoon, identifying UT’s budget priorities and its role as an institution of higher learning in Texas. The editors weigh in on the speech below:
The humanities are sometimes dismissed as inconsequential, especially when compared to hard sciences and other disciplines where a researcher can point to tangible results, such as a new pill or computer chip.
Accordingly, the humanities are often hit hardest in times of financial strain because external funding is harder to come by, and, on the surface, it’s easy to dismiss the work of a researcher studying Virginia Woolf or American political rhetoric as unnecessary.
At his State of the University speech Wednesday, President Powers emphasized the importance of the humanities and said that even during a time of budget cuts, “we need to make sure they flourish.” Powers articulated his belief that the arts and humanities are vital to our culture and influence everything from our understanding of democracy to our preparedness to interact with a global economy.
As UT moves forward and looks for ways to trim excess and restructure existing programs, it’s reassuring to know that the University recognizes that humanities are a vital discipline and a top priority.
As the University reallocates money to its most lucrative and productive areas, decision-makers must first consider the quality of education UT is providing its students.
In his State of the University address, President Powers emphasized the importance of increasing productivity. But, as Powers noted, productivity is not just achieved by acquiring research funding; it can also be measured by its impact on society.
While investing in students can help them graduate within four years and, as a result, save the University money and resources, the benefits of investing in students extend far beyond savings.
As President Powers said in his speech, “Democracy is not possible without broadly educated citizens and well-educated leaders.” Universities, he said, preserve our democracy.
It is clear that democracy cannot be successful without education in ethics, history, culture, communication, business and many other disciplines. We need citizens and leaders to understand the world around us.
By investing in its students, UT has the opportunity to help shape our democracy.
In his address, President Powers noted that 41 percent of the state’s savings from this past year’s 5-percent budget reduction came from higher education, even though higher education comprises only 11 percent of the state’s overall budget. Additionally, the percentage of UT’s funding that comes from the state has decreased from 47 percent in 1984 to 14 percent today.
Since 1990, state support for UT has grown annually by only 1.9 percent, a rate that cannot even keep up with inflation. UT’s funding per student has long lagged behind the rates of peer institutions, such as UCLA and UNC-Chapel Hill. The University has not been properly funded for years and now the Legislature wants to cut that paltry funding even more.
When it comes to state funding, UT is beholden to the Legislature, yet, the Legislature is accountable to Texas voters. If students truly care about the University, we must make funding for higher education an issue in this November’s elections. Contact your current state representative and any candidates running for that position. Ask them their views on higher education and how they plan to approach next year’s legislative session. Force their campaign to address an issue that affects the quality of life for all Texans as well as the economic security of our state. Students, faculty, staff and administrators must have an active role in the upcoming elections if UT is to continue to thrive.
It was refreshing to hear President Powers reinforce UT’s commitment to quality undergraduate education. A major theme of Powers’ speech was the need to balance the University’s educational priorities despite pressure to allocate the majority of resources toward more revenue-generating areas such as research and investments.
Powers’ comments about the role of new technology were promising. He emphasized that new communications technology should enhance, but not replace, the classroom experience. In other words: online classes are not the future of UT.
However, I disagree with his dismissal of increasing the faculty teaching workload as “the single most destructive thing ... for our productivity.” Powers claimed that increasing their teaching workload would “[take] away from other important tasks.”
I understand that a top-tier faculty conducts revenue-generating research and gives the University prestige. However, using a distinguished faculty for teaching purposes should still be part of the discussion. (Additionally, tuition-paying students might resent the idea that their education distracts faculty from more important work.)
Overall, Powers’ remarks on undergraduate instruction were encouraging. I just hope students remain the University’s top priority.
In his State of the University address, President Powers spoke about the American Dream — fulfilling it, fostering it and pursuing it. He mentioned that dream a total of eight times in an hour-long address.
But the American Dream is a very lofty thing to throw around, considering nearly every American’s dream most likely differs from everyone else’s. All those different dreams put together — they amount to a pretty amorphous lot.
So what did President Powers mean by championing something he never quite explained? And why does he want UT students and staff to keep it in focus?
If you’ll notice — and the text of President Powers’ speech is available online — Powers discussed the American Dream in regard to specific examples of changes we should expect: budget cuts, growth, diversity and, most dramatically, communications technology.
Powers’ message: Don’t underestimate the long-term effects these changes promise to deliver, but realize that if we keep what’s important in focus — problem-solving, efficiency and each other — the American Dream will survive.