Burnt orange letter

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Earlier this month, the Faculty Council sent a letter to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to convey its “strong support” of the tuition increases proposed by the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) and President William Powers Jr. The letter was distributed to members at the council’s meeting on Monday.

The proposal is to increase tuition for all resident undergraduates by 2.6 percent and all other students by 3.6 percent for the next two academic years. The UT System Board of Regents, which sets the tuition, originally planned to make its decision at its April 12 meeting, but postponed for an undetermined reason.

The letter, dated April 11, is signed by Alan Friedman, English professor and Faculty Council chairman, and Hillary Hart, civil architecture and environmental engineering lecturer, chairwoman of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets and member of TPAC.

The letter is unique in a few ways. For starters, there was no letter sent on behalf of the faculty to Cigarroa during the last tuition-setting year in 2010. The letter embodies the gnawing anxiety felt by University faculty and administrators regarding the impending tuition decision. The possibility of the regents not raising tuition at all in the face of state budget reductions has many at the University scrambling for cover.

Second, the letter itself takes a different tone. The letter supports tuition increases not to create a university of the first class, but enhancing the “quality” of a students’ degrees in the context of enhancing the “efficiency of … students’ progress toward their degrees.”

The letter continues with a student-centric tone: “As faculty, we daily confront the needs and exigencies of our students. We know that most of them work very hard at their academic studies and that many have a difficult time paying for their education.”

The hidden reality in all discussions surrounding tuition is that there is a large void in student voice. Administrators are fully aware that any increase in tuition will need full student support — or at least the perception of it — and now faculty members are channeling that too.

The unhidden reality is that students don’t seem to have a clue about their own power.