Faculty council

UT faculty and students don't want campus carry

On Monday, the Faculty Council (unanimously, I might add) reaffirmed its ban of firearms on campus following UT System Chancellor William McRaven's statement against the open carry bill currently making its way through the Legislature. Student Government came out with its decision to oppose the bill as well on Tuesday night. Senate Bill 17, the campus carry bill, and Senate Bill 17, the open carry bill, passed out of committee 7-2 last week despite objections from faculty and students. The fact that UT faculty and students' continuing opposition to Campus Carry is not being reflected in the decisions of our public officials is worrisome. 

Beyond the threatening and unsafe atmosphere SB 11 would bring to campus, the bills would symbolize law being made without support from or consideration of the opinions of those being directly affected. It is in situations like these that the voices of Student Government and the Faculty Council should not be ignored. They are the representatives of our campus community and should have an integral say in the matter. 

Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre who was shot four times, spoke at a Feb. 12 hearing concerning the bills before the committee voted, as did several UT students. Goddard said, “We survivors do not think that it is a good idea to have guns on campus. There is no evidence that a bill like SB 11 would do anything to stop a mass shooting, but SB 11 would make the average day on campus more dangerous in an environment where students are dealing with failing grades, alcohol abuse [and] relationship problems.” He's totally right. SB 11 would have no positive effects on campus life. 

Unsurprisingly, Texas A&M's chancellor recently came out in support of Campus Carry and some of his students have followed suit. Fine. Let them do what they want on their campus. If they support it, let them decide that for themselves. But UT does not want campus carry, and that should matter. Let us keep our campus gun-free and listen to and respect the voices of our students and faculty.

Bounds is an associate editor.

Mechanical engineering professor Raymond Orbach states his argument against the extension of the Thanksgiving holiday at a Faculty Council meeting Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Thanksgiving break took a step closer to being one day longer.

The Faculty Council voted to extend Thanksgiving break at a specially called meeting Monday. The new schedule is expected to be implemented in 2016, once approved by President William Powers Jr. and Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, according to University spokesman Gary Susswein.

The Faculty Council previously approved extending the break in May, moving the proposal to a general faculty vote. Because too few general faculty members were in attendance at Monday’s meeting for a quorum to be present, the Faculty Council took the vote instead.

To make up for the missed Wednesday, the Faculty Council approved extending classes to the Monday after the break — a day that would normally be a dead day. The vote follows the council's decision in May to add an extra day to the end of the semester, pushing back dead days to Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We talked about it, whether we should start earlier,” said Hans Hofmann, integrative biology associate professor and chair of the Universities Calendar Committee. “There was a lot of concern about that because of the summer session. There are a few days that would be available for professors to recover before the fall semester starts.”

Astronomy professor Harriet Dinerstein said she was concerned that shortening the period before finals would negatively impact students because they would have less time to review course content.

“Adding that extra day at the end not only increases the disparity between Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes and Tuesday-Thursday classes but basically removes half of the study time that the students have between the end of classes and the beginning of finals because we now have two days for the weekend and two more dead days,” Dinerstein said.

Other professors, such as mechanical engineering professor Raymond Orbach, said they were concerned students would start skipping the Monday before Thanksgiving break instead of Wednesday.

“The change would mean that Wednesday would no longer be taught, and I think, frankly, that the students that normally don’t come on Wednesday would probably not come on Monday,” Orbach said. “And what we would see is an attrition of the class.”

Student Government President Kori Rady spoke at the meeting as a student representative. Rady said having the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off would allow out-of-state students easier and safer travel.

“The out-of-state students are not being put into consideration,” Rady said. “There are a lot of UT students who are not from Texas — roughly 10 percent of our student body.”

According to SG Vice President Taylor Strickland, since many professors cancel class anyway, the change will allow students to be in class more.

“Every year I’ve been here, my teachers have always canceled class,” Strickland said. “We pay for every class we go to, and the loss of value to us for canceling a class is far greater than getting a day off.”

After faculty members and the student representatives voiced their opinions, the proposition was approved 27 to 19.

Andrew Clark, former Senate of College Councils president and author of the original proposal, said he thinks the extension of Thanksgiving will provide safer travels for students and give them a needed break before finals.

“Since we’re so close to finals at that time, it gives a short mental break for people to relax with their families,” Clark said. 

President William Powers Jr. embraces Martha Hilley, former Faculty Council chair, after the announcement that he will stay in his position until June 2, 2015 on Wednesday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

In an unexpected decision, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced President William Powers Jr. will remain in his position until June 2, 2015 in a statement on Wednesday.

Cigarroa previously requested on July 2 that Powers resign by October to coincide with the end of Powers’ $3 billion fundraising campaign and his chairmanship of the Association of American Universities. Instead, Powers requested that he be allowed to stay on until the end of the 2015 legislative session in a July 4 letter. In his statement on Wednesday, Cigarroa said keeping Powers until 2015 would allow for a smoother transition.

"President Powers, who has led great advancements for the University, has expressed a desire to remain in his position long enough to complete several important initiatives, lead the University through the upcoming legislative session, and allow for a smooth transition to new leadership," Cigarroa said. "I honor his commitment to UT Austin and agree that this is the best course forward."

Before his statement on Wednesday, Cigarroa had said he would discuss Powers' employment with the Board of Regents at a meeting on Thursday. 

According to Cigarroa, the System will begin a national search in August to replace Powers. Clairifying his statement on Monday, Cigarroa said his decision to ask for Powers' resignation was because an overall difficult relationship with Powers and not related to one particular issue.

"It is, however, time for an orderly change in leadership. While ultimately productive, the past years have not been without struggle and, at times, conflict and controversy," Cigarroa said. "There was no single incident that prompted my decision to ask President Powers for his resignation last week, but a long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate."

Cigarroa's decision was first announced by Gregory Fenves, Univeristy executive vice president and provost, at an emergency Faculty Council meeting on Wednesday. 

“I want to thank the chancellor and Chairman Paul Foster for their leadership of the University of Texas System, working with President Powers, and of course, recognizing the contributions he has made to our great University,” Fenves said.

Before ending the meeting, Faculty Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of Powers. After the meeting, Powers said he was pleased with Cigarroa's decision.

"We have a great faculty and a great group of students. I'm humbled and gratified by all the work we've done together and your support," Powers said. "This is a career path that makes sense for our family."

In an email sent to students after the meeting, Powers said he would return to teaching at the School of Law after his term ends.

Prior to Fenves' announcement, Faculty Council members began taking turns voicing their support for Powers. During the meeting, English professor Alan Friedman said the faculty could boycott a new president if Powers were removed by the regents.

“I cannot imagine anyone else having done better or even as well,” Friedman said of Powers. “Certainly not someone imposed by those responsible for creating the crisis that has wracked the campus for the last several years.”

After the meeting, Student Government President Kori Rady said he believes the decision to continue Powers' presidency was influenced by the support shown by students, faculty, alumni and staff over the past few days.

“He received massive support from every entity,” Rady said. “I really think that made the difference, and of course I think it’s very difficult to fire someone based on communication differences if that person has that amount of support.”

A petition in support of Powers has reached more than 14,000 signatures as of Wednesday. Rady said Thursday's planned student march from Republic Square to the regents meeting will be canceled.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

 

 

President Powers speaks at a faculty council meeting on Monday afternoon. During the meeting, the Faculty Council approved to extend the Thanksgiving break by one day. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Faculty Council approved a proposal to extend Thanksgiving break by one day at its meeting Monday. The proposal will now be sent for approval by all faculty members.

According to the proposal, Thanksgiving break would start Wednesday, as opposed to Thursday, giving students three days off. To make up for the lost day of classes, there would be one more day added to the end of the semester and dead days would be pushed back to the Tuesday and Wednesday of that week.

Since the proposal is considered a piece of “major legislation” it is subject to review by the general faculty. Faculty members have 10 days to submit written objections to the proposal. If 25 faculty members submit objections, the proposal will be discussed by the general faculty when it meets at the beginning of the fall semester, said William Beckner, math professor and chair-elect of the council.

“But, it’s incredibly difficult to get a quorum there,” Beckner said. “If there’s not a quorum, the proposal will come back to Faculty Council for discussion.” 

Beckner said if the general faculty votes to approve the proposal, it will be sent to President William Powers Jr., who has the final approval. If they vote against the proposal, it will come back to Faculty Council who will reopen discussion and take another vote. At the council’s March meeting, Powers said he would support whatever the council’s calendar commmittee decides.

Both the Senate of College Councils and Student Government passed resolutions in support of this schedule. Nursing freshman Ashley Levey said she would be in support of the proposal.

“As long as we have the same amount of time to prepare for finals at the end of the semester, I think it would be beneficial to have a longer break,” Levey said.

In March 2013, the general faculty voted against a proposal that was originally passed by the council that would create a two-day fall break in October, citing it would force professors who have lab classes to have their labs start the first week of class.

Faculty Council also approved a proposal to eliminate a University rule stipulating students are required to complete 24 of their final 30 hours in residence at their meeting Monday. According to Mary Rose, associate sociology professor and chair of the educational policy committee, this rule contrasts with procedures in some departments and colleges, which have different rules regarding in-house hours. 

The council also approved proposed changes to course evaluation forms. The UT System mandated a set of five questions be added to the evaluation forms at all System institutions in order to generate consistency. 

Faculty Council also voted for next year’s chair-elect and members of the faculty council executive committee. Andrea Gore, a toxicology and psychology professor, will be chair-elect of the Faculty Council starting in the fall Fall. Jody Jensen, kinesiology and psychology professor, Christine Julien, associate electrical and computer engineering professor and anthropology associate professor Mariah Wade were elected to serve on the council’s executive committee next year.

Five years ago, many staff and lecturers lost their jobs at UT-Austin. In the Austin American-Statesman, philosophy professor Robert Koons asked that each unit’s budget be posted online. With public oversight it would become possible to make judicious decisions about cuts. Koons complained, “The University’s budget is nearly as difficult to access as the black-ops budget of the CIA.”

It’s not quite that bad. A copy of the budget is available at the PCL and shorter reports are available online. But Koons was right that some information is not easily accessible.

When I joined Faculty Council in 2012, I asked to become a member of the Advisory Committee on Budgets. I hoped to study UT’s budget. But, in our first meeting, the chair told us that “we don’t actually look at numbers.” We did not get the budget, or a summary or any numbers whatsoever. We were just “an advisory committee.” But how could faculty advise on UT’s budget if we did not see it? 

I was stunned. I wondered about the members of Faculty Council who wrongly assumed that the budget committee actually looked at the budget. 

Months later, President William Powers Jr. kindly met with us. I suggested that we should either study the actual budget or rename our group. He readily agreed that we should analyze the budget; he said that a past chair had shifted the committee away from that.  

Subsequently, we had several helpful meetings with UT’s financial officers, Kevin Hegarty, Mary Knight, Dan Slesnick and Steven Leslie. I understood some of their concerns. For example, inflation accounts for about $36 million per year that has to come from somewhere. I worry that the Shared Services plan to eliminate 500 staff jobs is related to this.

However, I see the budget differently. A senior colleague used to say, “It’s not really a lack of funds — it’s a problem of distribution.”  

We often hear that the Legislature funds a decreasing percentage of UT's operating costs. Such concerns stem partly from looking at state appropriations as a percentage of general revenue. Since other sources of revenue increase, then it seems as if the percentage of state support declines. In 2000-2001, state appropriations to UT were $256.7 million. For 2013-14, appropriations are $315.5 million, a growth of 23 percent. If we take inflation into account, $256.7 million in 2001 is equivalent to $342.5 million in 2014 dollars. Thus, state appropriations have increased but have not kept up with inflation. I think that UT’s budgetary condition is not caused mainly by decreasing state appropriations. Instead, it’s caused by UT’s growth rate. 

In 2000-2001, the budget for faculty salaries was $185.5 million. That’s about $247.5 million in 2014 dollars. Yet the budget for faculty salaries is now higher — $278.3 million — because the number of full-time equivalent faculty appointments has grown by almost 21 percent, from 2,027 to 2,446. If the faculty had not grown at all, the expense for faculty salaries would be at about $222.6 million. Hence, most faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation. 

Meanwhile, departmental budgets have shrunk. In 2000-2001, UT budgeted $50.3 million for departmental operating expenses, which in 2014 dollars would be $67.1 million. Yet today those expenses are much lower, $48.2 million.  

At the same time, the annual budget for UT’s Instructional Administration (and I don’t know what that encompasses) has grown by 307 percent: from $14 million in 2000-2001 to $57 million in 2013-2014. It stands out as one of the greatest growth rates. In contrast, in these 13 years, staff benefits have grown by 129 percent, and UT’s net assets have similarly grown by 113.5 percent, from $3.4 billion to $7.2 billion. 

Meanwhile, income from tuition and fees has grown by almost 129 percent, from $260 million to $594 million. As is well known, this far exceeds the rate of inflation. Why? I don’t know. That’s the mystery. And the answer will not be found in this year’s budget alone but in its history. 

We should compare a past, balanced budget with today’s budget. I encourage readers to carry out this analysis. Last year, students complained that Accenture was paid $1 million to figure out what to cut. I was stunned when it turned out to be more than $4 million. That’s equivalent to paying lecturers to teach roughly 600 to 700 courses. These are real needs. In 2010, the College of Liberal Arts cut its budget for lecturers by $4.7 million.

Some imagine that scores of employees should be cut “to improve efficiency.” Instead, I know staff to be efficient, hardworking and underpaid. Last September, President Powers rightly said, “We are falling behind in our ability to attract and retain our staff as well. So we need to focus our resources to rectify that as well. Let me put it bluntly: We need raises, even if we have to stop doing some other important things to get them.”

Martínez is an associate professor in the department of history and a member of UT’s Faculty Council.

Editor's Note: Because of an editing error, the title of this column originally read "UT budget needs to allocate more money for employee salaries." It has been changed to better reflect the intention of the author. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column misstated the figures for the growth in faculty appointments, income from tuition and fees and UT's net assets. They have been corrected above.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Faculty Council voted Monday to create an oversight committee intended to allow faculty members to have a clearer stake and a better understanding in the use of technology in academia.

Faculty members voted unanimously to form the C-14 Technology-Enhanced Education Oversight Committee, which is a standing committee aimed at evaluating and formulating policy regarding technology in higher education and ensuring that its use will help further the goals of the University.

There will be 13 voting members and five non-voting members on the committee, which will review its function, scope and mission after its first and second active years and propose changes as deemed necessary. Michael White, religious studies professor and the chair of the committee that proposed the C-14 committee, said that, while there are already strategic and infrastructure committees dedicated to the use of technology at the University, the C-14 committee will focus more on its specific academic applications.

“I think it might play the role of watchdog for a need to arise in which that would be justified,” White said. “The ad hoc committee thought it was desirable to create as much dialogue between the various oversight groups that would be involved, one of those being the academic oversight.”

Mathematics professor William Beckner said the academic diversity of the new committee will allow faculty to have a more comprehensive understanding.

“Having this type of committee will engage general faculty in involvement [with] new technologies that are being used in the classroom,” Beckner said. “It serves as central oversight, but it will engage the faculty in their ownership of what is going to happen, and lots is going to happen.” Faculty members discussed proposed additions to the course evaluation format and debated the order of checked boxes on the evaluation sheet

The council also addressed the possibility of an extended Thanksgiving break. Hans Hoffman, integrative biology associate professor and chair of the University Academic Calendar Committee, offered a proposal that would eliminate classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The missed class day would be made up by adding an extra class day on the Monday of finals week. 

Hoffman said it was important to the committee that the number of class days would not be affected by the schedule change, although some said it would only create new problems.

“It is difficult for me to vote in favor of this,” history professor Al Martinez said. “The issue that arises by having class on the Monday as a last day of class is that, suddenly, we create the same kind of day that’s very vulnerable for absences.”

We will be watching the Faculty Council at its April 14 meeting and how it answers the challenge President Powers presented to the council last September in his State of the University Address: to advise how the UT curriculum should change to take advantage of the ways new information technology permits teaching in interactive ways “pedagogically better” than “large passive lectures.” And how UT students can gain from using e-learning materials offered by others.

Powers is right in raising the use of information technology as a major issue in higher education. For the first time since Gutenberg, when movable type began to produce books more efficiently than did dictation and hand-copying, higher education has a chance to apply capital to reduce labor. E-learning materials can improve learning and reduce costs.

Using the new technology will greatly change universities. Many subjects taught by the traditional classroom-course-lecture method will be mastered by students who practice in simulated environments until proficiency is gained. Displaced lecturers may engage in more research or render hands-on assistance to students engaged in e-learning.

Before reaching its recommendations, the Faculty Council will want a clearer idea of exactly what is happening today with information technology. We might expect each department will be asked to designate a member of its faculty who will be granted the necessary time to gather facts to aid the council. This would include ascertaining: What technology-enhanced learning materials, no matter where developed, are now available for mastering a subject? Which of them are of a quality which meets UT standards? How are students led to these materials? How might success in learning by these means be acknowledged and accredited? What new forms of faculty assistance to online students and joint study by students using technology are evolving? How can a professor who wants to produce technology-enhanced learning materials do so, with what consequences on duties and intellectual property rights? What help should such a professor expect, from his/her department or from a centralized university technology office? How might UT’s future use of technology relate to what other universities are doing? President Powers, last September, expressed pleasure that the Faculty Council was establishing a committee to focus on these issues. But at the up-coming April meeting, seven months later, according to the Faculty Council secretary, we can only expect a report of an “ad hoc committee that was organized to propose the charge for the new committee and the principles for determining its membership.”     

Information technology and its relationship to higher education are moving at a faster pace. It will take recognition of that fact and the devotion of substantial resources to the work of the committee-to-be-formed, and to those in the departments designated to help, if UT is not to leave these issues to be addressed only by others.

Francis D. Fisher, senior research fellow, LBJ School of Public Affairs, submitted via email

 

It’s not an issue of comparing race to sexual orientation, but it’s about providing a safe space for the Longhorn community to express themselves and pursue their education while not facing discrimination.

— Online commenter Kent Kasischke in response to the Life & Arts article “Gay Liberation Front from 1970s paved way for UT gay rights groups”

 

People post crass, rude things to get a reaction. If nobody is reading the posts, nobody will react to them and the bullying will stop. Delete the app, y’all.

— Online commenter Madeline in response to the column “Yik Yak app encourages racism, sexism at UT” by Alexandra Triolo

Faculty Council is continuing discussion on a mandate from a UT System task force to add five questions to course evaluation forms and may approve the changes at its next meeting in April.

The System Office of Academic Affairs established the Task Force on the Evaluation of Faculty Teaching in the spring of 2012 to assess the student and peer faculty evaluation process. The task force developed a list of five questions all institutions within the System must add to their evaluation forms.

Pedro Reyes, education professor and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, serves on the task force. Reyes said the members of the task force wanted to develop consistent questions for all institutions to use in their evaluations. 

“Teaching is really important to the whole System,” Reyes said. “When we accessed that data [from evaluation forms], there was a lot of diversity throughout the campuses … What we decided to do is ask some really great faculty members from across the System, and students as well, to come together and develop a way we could systematically approach this and gain more meaningful information about how students regard their teachers.” 

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said while these questions are mandated, institutions are allowed and encouraged to include other questions. 

In order to accommodate the new questions, Faculty Council’s Educational Policy Committee looked at the existing evaluation forms for questions that could be deleted. Mary Rose, associate sociology professor and chair of the committee, presented a report to Faculty Council at its meeting Monday and will present a revised report based on feedback from the assembly at its next meeting.

Rose said some of the System’s new questions were similar to existing questions in UT’s evaluation form, which the committee has proposed to remove. 

“I think one of their questions was worded exactly the same as one we had and others were different in wording, but you could argue they were similar in spirit to other questions we had,” Rose said. 

According to Rose, the content of the form is not altered frequently, despite requests from the UT community. 

“We got [requests] early [last] year, and we took it very seriously and spent a meeting discussing it and also just tried to figure it out,” Rose said. “When we priced that out, it was insanely expensive to do it, so having the System provide us with these mandating changes kind of gave us a nice opportunity to reevaluate the entire form.”

Although the mandated questions provided Rose with this opportunity, she said it was frustrating to have the System order changes to the form. 

“No one likes to be told what you have to do,” Rose said. “There is so much variability in what teaching looks like and what students want to say and reflect on and maybe the needs at UT Austin are different than at other campuses.”

 

System mandated additions to the course evaluation form:

All items will be judged based on a scale ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”

1. The instructor clearly defined and explained the course objectives and expectations. 

2. The instructor was prepared for each instructional activity. 

3. The instructor communicated information effectively. 

4. The instructor encouraged me to take an active role in my own learning.

5. The instructor was available to students either electronically or in person.

Faculty Council began discussion Monday to extend Thanksgiving holiday. The Calendar Committee proposed four options to give students an extra holiday while still complying with calendar principles. 

According to Faculty Council Chairwoman Hillary Hart, one option involves changing the calendar principles’ current mandate of 42 Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes to 41, avoiding further changes to the beginning or end of the semester. The other options involve starting fall classes Monday or Tuesday instead of Wednesday, or extending class at the end of the fall semester, eliminating one dead day before finals.

“Unlike the fall break proposal from last year, cancelling classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will have far less impact on instruction,” Hart said.

President William Powers Jr. said he would support whatever the committee decides, although he is opposed to beginning fall classes on a Monday.

“I will approve anything [the council] decides, but Monday would be tough. … Starting classes on Monday morning would require attention to orientation. … Starting on Tuesday is logistically doable from our point of view,” Powers said. “We can mange doing orientation on Monday and Gone to Texas on Monday night.”

The council ultimately decided to send the proposal back to the Calendar Committee for further discussion and will vote on it later this year.

William Beckner, chair-elect of the Faculty Council, presents his annual report at a Faculty Council meeting at the tower on Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Shelby Fry | Daily Texan Staff

As the Senate of College Councilshttp://utsenate.org/ president, I’ve written for the Texan on a number of University-related issues, the majority of which the organization I represent had taken a stance on. 

Today, however, I am writing about an issue, Shared Services, which Senate has not yet spoken on, and, consequently, these thoughts are only my own and not those of Senate.

Shared Services came about as a part of the Report on Business Productivity, in which business leaders examined the operations of UT to determine areas where the campus could optimize efficiency. Although there has been a robust dialogue on this project so far, it feels at times like only the side of the detractors is being told. 

There are a few recent examples of this one-sidedness. First, a January Faculty Council meeting where some faculty members inserted politically charged language into an otherwise well-intentioned resolution questioning Shared Services. Second, a Feb. 7 protest orchestrated by the Texas State Employees Union and the UT Save Our Community Coalition condemning the University. Finally, there was even a recent tongue-in-cheek denunciation of McCombs School of Business Dean Tom Gilligan’s position on Shared Services published in this newspaper. These dramatic reactions create a dialogue that is harmful to the whole process and prohibit a reasoned debate.

One major call from detractors of the proposed plan is that they want to see the data which has led the University to consider Shared Services. Some of these detractors even imply that the University’s inability to produce data immediately means that it has something to hide. This is simply not the truth. 

When UT contracted the consulting firm Accenture to work on the Task Force on Business Productivity, the firm was charged with examining UT operations to locate inefficiencies. Using professional expertise and information on UT, they made the determination that the University could save up to $30 million annually by centralizing operations like human resources, payroll, IT and procurement. Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty then assembled multiple committees made up of UT staff and faculty to examine the claim and verify its validity. It was determined that the figures were accurate, and so Hegarty spent the better part of the fall semester attending meetings and hosting town hall forums to engage as many people as possible on the project and solicit feedback from the campus. The data people seek is forthcoming, but it will not be here until units such as the College of Liberal Arts and the McCombs School of Business, both of which are part of a pilot Shared Services program designed to see how much the model could actually save, have completed their trial runs of the program. The claim that the campus is jumping into something without adequate information is false. The process has been reasoned, public and cautious.

Admittedly, the involvement of Accenture in Shared Services is a complicated subject, which certainly could have been more transparent. Much has been said about Accenture’s spotty history with the State of Texas, during which several contracts between the state and the company were canceled for their failure to provide the services requested. 

The sentiment among detractors of the Shared Services project seems to be that, because Accenture’s services were once inadequate, their efforts at UT are destined to fail. The logic of this argument seems to line up with the old saying about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just because some of Accenture’s employees may have made mistakes in the past does not mean the entire company is full of people who cannot be trusted to deliver on their contract. With as much as Accenture recruits new hires on our campus, I would guess that many upperclassmen are like me and have friends employed by Accenture. Certainly in my case, their character didn’t change by being attached to the name Accenture.

Shared services is not an uncommon practice; it has been implemented by several other large universities and systems, such as the University of California institutions, Michigan, UNC, Wisconsin, Purdue, NYU and Yale to varying degrees. It has long been a practice in the private sector, too. Why? Because it increases efficiency and thus lowers overall costs. In today’s fiscal climate, every dollar matters. Any improvement that can be made benefits the University and all of its students, faculty and staff. It is absolutely true that losing 500 jobs, as the report calls for, would be a major change to the status quo. However, this reform will be done largely through attrition; the alternative to implementing Shared Services, by keeping the current course, would result in layoffs. And, as Faculty Council Chairwoman Hillary Hart reported at the January meeting, UT is already averaging 250 layoffs annually. In this situation, not only does the University sacrifice efficiency, but people who want to work here are losing their jobs.

What we really need is the return of an informed dialogue on Shared Services, rather than charged rhetoric on data and Accenture. Moreover, this process needs to be driven by those potentially affected by this project: the University’s hardworking staff members. It is disappointing to say the least when a faculty member who disagrees with the idea of Shared Services calls the president of the Staff Council a “lackey” for being open to a pilot program. This is not an environment that encourages reasoned debate on the merits of the University’s plan or lack thereof. Let’s be open to the idea of a pilot program, so that this can be studied further. This is an opportunity today to help shape UT for the future and we should not allow it to be squandered.