Academic Affairs Committee

At the Board of Regents meeting Wednesday morning, UT President William Powers Jr. addressed issues and goals for the University, such as lowering the student-faculty ratio and the progress UT has made toward creating a more interactive learning environment.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Almost nine years after the Commission of 125 issued a list of recommendations for UT to better serve Texas and society in general, the University has seen mixed results.

President William Powers Jr. spoke about the progress the University has made toward the goals established by the Commission of 125, a 2004 report that recommended initiatives to create a “disciplined culture of excellence” at UT over the course of 25 years, to the Board of Regents’ Academic Affairs Committee on Tuesday. 

One major goal of the commission was to lower the University’s student-faculty ratio to 16:1 by 2014. 

“The quality of education the Commission seeks for UT students can be achieved only if there is direct and meaningful engagement between students and professors,” the report read. “The student-faculty ratio is an important and traditional measure of a quality undergraduate education.”

UT has seen slight but inconsistent results on this front in the past several years. From 2008 to 2011, the faculty-student ratio averaged 18.54:1 but rose to 19.15:1 in the 2011-2012 school year. The faculty-student ratio for the current school year is 19.09:1. 

Regent Wallace Hall Jr. questioned why the University has made little progress on the goals of the commission.

“As I look through the student-faculty ratio, I see virtually no movement, both at the department level and the college level,” Hall said. “Graduation rates, course loads, retention rates — how do we accomplish these goals?”

Powers acknowledged his concerns but emphasized that gains in technology mean the significance of the ratio has changed. 

“I do think there are ways of looking at whether the student-faculty ratio set under conditions in 2004 as a benchmark are appropriate today,” Powers said. “It turns out, there are ways of using course transformation technology to make large classes more interactive.”

Powers said technological developments can make large lecture classes more effective.

“I don’t know what the student-faculty ratio ought to be 10 years from now,” Powers said. “I would be surprised if technology doesn’t alter that answer.”

At the same time, Powers said he agreed that lowering the faculty-student ratio is an important part of being competitive. He attributed the lack of progress in part to decreased funding. 

The board’s Academic Affairs Committee also approved implementing a four-year guaranteed tuition plan at all nine academic institutions in the fall of 2014. A statement issued by the System said the board is likely to approve the change Thursday morning. 

Powers also said the search is set to begin for a dean for Austin’s new medical school, which will be called Dell School of Medicine, and addressed questions from the regents about insufficient funding for graduate student stipends.

“Having very robust graduate students is absolutely critical, and we are way behind our competitors,” Powers said. “If we’re really going to be at the top, we need to be able to compete in terms of graduate stipends.”

The board will discuss and approve contracts, tenure appointments and past minutes at their meeting Thursday.

Printed on Thursday, February 14, 2013 as: University's goals in question 

Student Government’s internal structure could receive some major changes with a recommendation from the SG Reform Task Force.

The task force voted to approve an outline of its recommendations Tuesday night. Major changes include a condensation of the agency structure, reduction of the number of SG agencies from and the addition of several positions to the legislative body, including a parliamentarian to oversee meeting order, a clerk to take meeting minutes and run logistics and a chair, who would replace the vice president in the role of running the meetings.

“We’re making more opportunities for students to get involved in agencies,” said task force chairwoman Cecilia Lopez. “It will change the structure and create more avenues for students to be involved, because we are recommending that agencies have members and not just directors.”

The recommendations also include suggestions about how to most effectively interact with Senate of College Councils, Graduate Student Assembly, Faculty and Staff councils, registered student organizations and the student body at large.

“Not all student organizations aspire to have a relationship with SG, but we should get interested parties into the same room to talk about what resources SG has and how these organizations can collaborate with SG,” said task force member Mykel Estes.

In a task force meeting last week, Senate members asked the group to consider removing the Academic Affairs Committee from SG because Senate is the student governance organization charged with legislating on academics. However, Lopez said because academics is a part of student life, it would be inappropriate to remove the committee.

“We feel [the Academic Affairs Committee] does fulfill a very useful purpose,” said James Lloyd, a law student and the chairman of the Internal Affairs Subcommittee. “The issues that Academic Affairs will address will not conflict with Senate because they will be issues that are academic but affiliated with student life.”

There is still much that the task force must consider, including defining the judicial branch, determining how the chair of the assembly would function in relation to the executive board, discussing whether to add a freshman representative in the assembly and identifying how to restructure the SG website, which is more than six months out of date.

“We have to approve our main goals and ideas before we can move forward with details,” Lopez said.

The task force must still flesh out its recommendations and write the language that will become part of the SG constitution, bylaws and best practices, pending assembly approval. The group will present the final recommended documents to the assembly before Thanksgiving.