Invest In Texas

82nd Legislature

President William Powers Jr. testified before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to explain how the budget cuts will hurt UT while students both inside and outside the committee room made their voices heard. The Senate budget bill would cut UT’s budget by $65 million in the 2012-13 biennium. That would force UT to eliminate 90 faculty and 200 staff positions, among other major cuts, Powers said. “We at the University of Texas understand it is a very tough recession,” Powers said. “We’re all tightening our belts and I’m here to say the University of Texas needs to do its part and we’re ready to do that.” Students from advocacy organization The Students Speak testified against the proposed cuts. Members of legislative lobbying group Invest In Texas also attended to hear Powers’ testimony. Student Government President Scott Parks, a member of Invest In Texas, said he fears tuition will increase if UT loses formula funding. The lobbying group includes members of SG, Senate of College Councils, Graduate Student Assembly and other student leaders. “We’re asking the Legislature not to disproportionately cut higher education again in this round of cuts like they did last time,” Parks said. “We took 41 percent of the last cuts. We don’t think that’s fair for us or for the state.” Invest in Texas members testified last month when Powers originally planned to speak, before he was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. “We’re really worried about the budget cuts that are proposed,” Parks said. “We know they would have pretty drastic effects on the quality of education at UT, the affordability and diversity. It’s serious, and we want [legislators] to know we’re following the decisions they’re making.” Other students included representatives from the Anthropology Graduate Students Association, the International Socialist Organization and The Students Speak, who wore red shirts that read “No Budget Cuts” and marched from UT to Capitol grounds. Anthropology graduate student Ricardo Ward said the Legislature should use all of the Rainy Day Fund — an emergency fund that currently holds $9.4 billion that lawmakers can use to balance the budget — to avoid cutting any of the public education budget. “We feel like the state Legislature, primarily followed by the administration at UT, is not thinking seriously how these cuts will affect students, staff [and] professors on the University campus,” Ward said. “There needs to be a drastic change in policy.” Powers told the committee his major concern is how the cuts will affect faculty and students. “It will erode our ability to compete nationally to get faculty and make student success improvements,” he said. “We’ll protect them as best we can. That is my biggest concern.” The proposed budget also recommends reducing the number of TEXAS Grants for incoming freshman. Powers said he is concerned about the effects cuts will have in their future. “We’re focusing on these first-year students coming in,” he said. “We don’t want to have a fall-off in the opportunities available for these students.” Powers said UT will play its part in helping balance the budget, but has a similar need to Texas A&M for additional selective funding. “[We need,] if it is possible, in a very selective way, to get some money for some very selective [Tuition Revenue Bond] projects,” he said. “On our campus it would be engineering, on the A&M campus I know it is veterinary medicine. These are things that would position those two campuses two and five years from now.” Powers said Texas was looked up to for its higher education two years ago, but that the same may not be true anymore. “I think [because of] this the budget shortfall across the country and in the state, a lot are questioning the value of higher education,” he said. “It was just the opposite two years ago.” Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said the cuts make him worried about how Texas universities will be able to compete with other campuses around the nation. “I for one am really concerned about some of the proposed cuts in [the Senate budget bill],” he said. “It seems like we’re going backwards, and I feel we had made a lot of progress in higher education last session.”