Alan Friedman

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Faculty Council passed two agenda items criticizing recent actions by the UT System, as well as four other proposals and resolutions at its final meeting of the year Monday.

The council also voted to approve the creation of a new interdisciplinary degree for students in the College of Natural Sciences and elected executive members for the 2013-2014 school year.

One of the council’s measures was a resolution harshly criticizing a new UT System policy that enacts a series of disclosure requirements on all University employees, including, in certain cases, graduate students. The policy, known as UTS 180, was subject to several hours of debate at the council's meeting in April, and the criticism was submitted on behalf of the Faculty Council Executive Committee.

“The proposed policy, as it is currently written, represents a serious invasion of privacy and an intrusion into constitutionally protected rights,” said Alan Friedman, English professor,  author of the resolution and a former council chairman.

Friedman also criticized Dan Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System, who recently said many faculty members “don’t have an objection to [UTS 180].” Friedman asked if anyone at the Faculty Council meeting wanted to defend or express support for the policy and received no response.

“I kind of thought he didn’t have any examples in mind,” Friedman said. “To my knowledge, all faculty who have weighed into this issue are opposed to it ... a number of current UT faculty have cited UTS 180 as the reason they are leaving or contemplated leaving.”

The policy, which was meant to go into effect on May 1, has been delayed until September for further revision and examination, Sharphorn said in an interview last week.

The Faculty Council also passed a resolution responding to the UT System Task Force Report on the Evaluation of Faculty Teaching, proposing four amendments and expressing a series of reservations about the task force’s recommendations.

“No study is cited to demonstrate that using social media to "continuously evaluate" the professor during the course will not devolve into an anonymous ‘slam table,’” the response stated. “

Psychology professor James Pennebaker warned of potential repercussions the evaluations might have if they are enacted in the way the task force recommended.

“The full evaluation system that is being proposed will undermine faculty morale, be a huge drain on faculty time and research productivity, and likely will not lead to any substantial improvement in teaching,” Pennebaker said in an online comment about the policy.

The council also voted to approve several resolutions aimed at personalizing and simplifying the degree-obtaining process. One resolution approved the creation of a new degree, a Bachelor of Science and Arts, to allow College of Natural Sciences students to take a more interdisciplinary approach to their education. Sacha Kopp, associate dean for curriculum and programs at the college and a physics professor, said he felt a more interdisciplinary approach would allow for scientific achievement to be viewed in different contexts.

“The old joke is the 'is/ought' problem,” Kopp said. “[Right now], we teach you what something is, but not necessarily what you ought to do about it.”

Other approved changes to the General Information Catalog included a proposal that students be required to discuss the implications of adding a major, which associate sociology professor Mary Rose said would help forward a culture of four-year-graduation goals. Another proposal would standardize and implement the process of recognizing minors on students’ transcripts.

The council also voted to remove a policy requiring an additional 24 hours of credit in order to obtain a dual degree. Rose said there was no logical reason the rule existed and that its only impact was to further slow down degree progress for students who wish to seek multiple degrees.

“We can’t find any reason why we have this rule,” Rose said.

The three-hour long meeting also included remarks from UT President William Powers Jr., who fielded questions on campus security and tobacco policies and expressed tentative optimism about the ongoing budget process at the Texas Legislature. When one faculty member asked about campus safety in light of the recent Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent shoot-out on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Powers said he was confident in the abilities of the UT and Austin police departments.

“For major incidents, shooters, bombs and bomb threats, there is a very robust team in place, a great deal of preparatory work done in terms of policing,” Powers said. “We have an extremely good relationship with the intelligence communities in the state and in Washington, D.C.”

Faculty Council also voted for a chair-elect and three members of its executive committee. Mathematics professor William Beckner will serve as chairman-elect, while Brian Evans, electrical and computer engineering professor, Elizabeth Gershoff, human development and family science associate professor and law professor Susan Klein will also serve on the executive committee.

Evans criticized UTS-180 in a statement about why he was running for the position.

“We’re under a lot of external pressure, both from within the System and outside of it,” Evans said. “If elected, I would like to join President Powers and Provost [Steven] Leslie, or whoever the new Provost is, and fight back against egregious system policies.”

Despite a national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, the University of Texas is hiring.

In the last two years, several administrators have stepped down or left for various reasons, including deans of law, natural sciences, social work, undergraduate studies and graduate schools.

Last week, Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, announced she will be leaving the University for a deanship at Cornell University, while Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost, announced he will be returning to teaching and research in the College of Pharmacy in February. 

At a Faculty Council meeting last month, UT President William Powers Jr. said filling at least one of those seats, the provost position, will be more complicated than usual, largely as a result of tensions between the University and the UT System Board of Regents

“We’re in a tricky situation,” Powers said.

Jeremi Suri, history and public affairs professor, said these departures and recruitment complications reflect a larger trend, as tensions surrounding the regents could make other options for faculty members and administrators more attractive. 

Suri, who joined the UT faculty in 2011, said he left his previous position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in part because of political controversy. He said the situation here is playing out in a similar, if not identical, fashion, and might have serious implications for the University’s recruitment efforts in the future.

“One difference — and it is a big difference — is that UT is far better run and has much more of an emphasis on maintaining excellence,” Suri said. “There is also stronger support from alumni across the state. But there are people who see the University as a sitting duck, as something they can attack to earn political points because they look tough ... and that makes it harder to retain people and harder to bring in the best minds.” 

Alan Friedman, English professor and a former Faculty Council chairman who has worked at the University since 1964, said he also feels the board’s actions have an impact on faculty and administrative decision-making.

“There is a good deal of talk about what is happening on campus as a result of the regents’ actions, and some if it does factor into faculty members who are not staying or who are not coming,” Friedman said. “I think a lot of faculty members feel the campus is under siege from the very people who are appointed to protect and support the quality of the educational experience on this campus.” 

Friedman cited the regents’ recent decision to tighten conflict of interest policies as an example of a point of tension.

“A lot of time is being wasted on these new requirements,” Friedman said. “Absolutely no justification was offered with regard to why the policies are being imposed on us, and there have been no studies done suggesting this will improve the situation on campus. We’re wasting time.”

Though some think the rate of administrative departure is a trend, others attribute it to natural turnover. Leslie, who will step down Aug. 31, said turnover in faculty and administrative roles is something he dealt with every year as provost and is not unnatural.

“I’ll admit these are difficult times right now, but we’ve recruited some of the top talent in the nation as leaders and deans and in other important posts,” Leslie said. “Under any circumstances, people who love higher education and want to lead will come here.” 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On May 31, the First Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that bars same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits unconstitutional, stirring hope among LGBTQ activists and others nationwide.

Some LGBTQ advocates at UT reacted to the ruling with hope that the decision will lead to greater equality on campus, while others doubted that the court’s opinion will change Texas law or UT policy any time soon. Currently, UT only offers benefits to faculty and staff whose union adheres to Texas law.

Texas bans same-sex marriage and defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The court’s decision to strike down a key portion of the 1996 federal law comes at a time when the contest between opponents and advocates of same-sex marriage equality has intensified. For instance, on May 8, North Carolina became the 30th state to legally ban same-sex marriage. On May 9, President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage, saying in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Alan Friedman, an English professor and outgoing chair of the UT Faculty Council, said it is unclear what lawsuit or legislation will establish marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals or allow UT to change its policy regarding domestic partner benefits.

“It is common knowledge among faculty that we have failed to recruit and retain excellent faculty because of our lack of domestic partner benefits,” he said. “I don’t know if even a Supreme Court ruling against DOMA would [change UT’s policy].”

Governor Rick Perry signed a Texas Defense of Marriage Act, which mirrors the federal statute, into law in 2003, and Texas voters passed an amendment to the Texas Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman in 2005.

Friedman said he believes the University’s administration is willing to provide its faculty and staff members who are in a same-sex relationship benefits, but has been unable to.

“I believe that the UT administration totally supports granting domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff, but that their hands are tied by state law, and repeal seems extremely unlikely given the current political climate,” Friedman said.

It is unclear what lawsuit or legislation will establish marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals or allow UT to change its policy regarding domestic partner benefits. It is well-known, however, that Texas’ opposition to equal rights for LGBTQ persons has harmed the University’s competitiveness, Friedman said.

Those state-level laws bar UT employees from receiving domestic partner benefits, said Patrick White, an outgoing student member of UT President William Powers Jr.’s LGBTQ presidential task force. The task force is charged with reviewing equal rights policies at UT and making recommendations on such policies to Powers.

“We [the University] are a charter of the state of Texas and are bound to its constitution, which denies benefits to same-sex couples,” White said.

Despite political and legal opposition to gay marriage in Texas, Queer Student Alliance director and biology senior Kent Kasischke said the federal appeals court decision on DOMA signaled a shift in the tone of the debate surrounding equality for LGBTQ persons.

“For UT students, alumni and faculty, I feel like [the DOMA ruling] is a positive chord we have all been waiting to hear, as it is a sign for future progress and equality,” Kasischke said. “It is unlikely that we will see full marriage equality for queer individuals in Texas for awhile, but I do think we will start to see increased domestic partner benefits for LGBTQ individuals.”

Torsten Knabe, former Queer Student’s Alliance vice director and music senior, said the federal ruling on DOMA may change the debate, but it will not change the University’s policy or state law.

“UT will not adopt domestic partnership benefits based on this ruling because [UT’s policy and DOMA] are not related at all,” Knabe said. “Partnership benefits are not based on marriage rights, and in no way imply a marriage or union.”

The lawsuit heard by the federal appeals court only pertains to a limited number of states, Knabe said.

“The lawsuit only involves states where same-gender marriage is already legal,” Knabe said. “Texas is not one of those states.”

The UT System Board of Regents is expected to decide tuition rates for the next two academic years at its meeting Thursday.

This is the latest that the regents have set tuition rates for the 15 UT System institutions since 2004 after tuition deregulation shifted tuition setting power from the state Legislature to the regents. The delay is halting the calculation and distribution of financial aid packages and planning for the University budget.

President William Powers Jr. asked the regents on Dec. 15 for the largest tuition increase allowed during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years. The UT System gave directives that any recommendation to increase tuition must be tied to improving four-year graduation rates.

University officials support the tuition increase in an effort to maintain the University’s Tier One status. In spite of the $92 million cut in state funding in the last legislative session, University officials worry that the regents will not raise tuition in an effort to improve affordability and four-year graduation rates. Both the University’s Faculty Council and the UT System Student Advisory Council sent a letter raising concerns about the regents priorities to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

If the recommendations are followed, in-state undergraduates would face a 2.6 percent tuition increase each year for the next two academic years. Out-of-state students and graduate students would face a 3.6 percent tuition increase each year for the next two academic years.

The proposed increase would provide $30.6 million worth of academic funds from 2012-2014, but the University would still lack $30.5 million of academics funds, according to tuition recommendation documents.

The tuition-setting process began with input from the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committees, in which student members worked with their college deans to get student feedback about tuition rates and college priorities. The Liberal Arts CTBAC is the only committee, out of a total of 16 CTBACs, that opposed tuition increases.

From this feedback received at forums, the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee drafted recommendations to increase tuition. Powers adopted the recommendations from the nine-member committee, which includes a student representative of undergraduates who receive financial aid, three student leaders and five faculty members and administrators.

Samantha Dallefeld, chair of the UT System Student Advisory Council and UT Medical Branch at Galveston student, wrote a letter of recommendations to the UT System chancellor on behalf of the council on March 23. The letter outlined the concern that “several avenues for student input regarding tuition and fee setting are not being adequately heard” and that the focus on improving four-year graduation rates hindered discussion regarding other institutional goals. The goals mentioned include “seeking Tier One status, transportation needs, the quality of student life, or becoming the nation’s best public research institution.”

Alan Friedman, Faculty Council chair and English professor and Hillary Hart, Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets chair and architecture and engineering senior lecturer, drafted the Faculty Council letter on April 11 to express “strong support for the modest tuition increase recommended by President Powers.” It went on to describe the faculty’s perspective on the needs and demands of students, including academic and financial strains, but ultimately reiterated the importance of maintaining the excellence of the University.

“All the students with whom we have spoken and most who spoke out at TPAC forum last fall recognize that, while they do not like the tuition increase, the University must keep pace with the cost of living if it is to be able to keep offering the quality education they seek,” the letter reads.

Some students, including those involved with Occupy UT, spoke out against tuition increases at the three Tuition Policy Advisory Committee forums.

Friedman said he recognizes that a tuition increase may negatively affect individual students.

“I’m very sorry about that,” Friedman said. “I reluctantly support the tuition increase.”

He said due to the drastic cuts in state funding, it is imperative that the regents increase tuition in order to maintain the excellency of the University.

“This is an extraordinary resource and it’s fragile,” Friedman said. “It’s very easy to destroy excellence and it’s very hard to rebuild it.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Meeting expected to decide two-year tuition rate

The topic of the productivity of University professors is often a contentious one in the higher education community. Recently, the UT System Board of Regents approved a proposal to tighten evaluations of tenured professors, effective immediately, to provide an incentive for continued productivity. The details of the new rules include adding the categories of “exceeds expectations” and “meets expectations” to the rating nomenclature that currently only includes “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.” Additionally, the board’s move calls for strengthened annual reviews, increasingly thorough six-year reviews and a “remediation” process for professors judged to be unsatisfactory. Although the details of the reformed review system, including what “remediation” would involve, have yet to be specified, it may provide a holistic alternative to past aggregated data, which cannot stand alone in representing the range of professor value.

In the past six months, different advisers to the University have collected data with the purpose of accurately illustrating professor productivity. At the request of the UT Board of Regents last November, Marc Musick, associate dean for student affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, compiled salary figures, teaching loads and research grants into a 39-page analysis that concluded: “The 1,988 tenured and tenure track professors at UT work very hard for their students and provide an incredible return on investment for the state.” This conclusion ran counter to earlier claims from an analysis by former UT system adviser Rick O’Donnell. He wrote that the majority of UT and A&M faculty members are “dodgers” and “coasters,” meaning that they carry relatively low teaching loads and bring in little external research funding.

According to an Austin American-Statesman article comparing the two reports, “the widely divergent conclusions are due primarily to the different methods the researchers used to cut and count the raw numbers.” Since different investigators may value the data differently or even present the figures to show desirable but not fully representative results, the intensified individual evaluation proposed by the regents may prove to be a revealing and valuable alternative. For example, the concept of aggregating numbers in reports causes “freeloading” professors to be ultimately lost in the averages, whereas individual evaluation would specifically locate and attempt to reform those professors.

The proposal seems like a progressive idea, especially since professors generally work without close supervision and bear little public scrutiny. Although the freedom and independence of professors should be respected, it is reasonable to demand transparency within the system. The new review should highlight and reward the individual efforts of professors that are already pulling their own loads and mean that underachievers could no longer slip through the cracks.

However, the proposal troubles Alan Friedman, professor of English and chair of the Faculty Council. “Annual reviews will have to be taken far more seriously” because two successive unsatisfactory ratings can lead to possible termination, Friedman told the Austin American-Statesman earlier this month. “That’s a radical change,” he added.

However, Friedman’s anxiety may be misplaced. The fundamental objective of the tightened review is to reward high performance and target low performance. Based on the new rules, a reputable, well-established professor that is consistently productive would not have to be concerned about receiving deficient ratings in the first place.

However, the ease with which the regents have used their power and influence to make independent decisions in the past is troubling and undemocratic. That the primary voice of dissent is the chair of the Faculty Council, a representative of the body of professors that this change would affect, stresses the necessity of further discussion between the Faculty Council and the regents before any permanent changes are made.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations freshman. 

The UT System Board of Regents voted to alter the post-tenure review process for faculty members, despite strong opposition from some faculty.

The Regents approved the provisions at their Thursday meeting, and the UT System administration pressured faculty who disagreed to accept the changes. The change applies to the post-tenure review process at all 15 UT institutions.

Tenured faculty will now be categorized into four groups: “exceeds expectations”, “meets expectations,” “does not meet expectations” and “unsatisfactory.” If a faculty member receives two unsatisfactory annual reviews they could face possible termination. The new process includes reinforcement regarding the importance of remediation to improve the teaching approaches of professors “when it is clear that a faculty member would benefit from such support.” It states that faculty members who fail remediation could face termination.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the changes were prompted by his concern that the post-tenure review process lacked clarity. He said the provisions will allow faculty members to get more assistance throughout their tenure.

“We need to provide support and guidance,” Cigarroa said. “It’s our responsibility.”

Alan Friedman, Faculty Council chair and English professor, said the new provision to the rule is a radical change and an assault on tenure.

“This administration has fired people with tenure on occasion, but carefully and with proper safeguards,” Friedman said.

Friedman serves on the UT System Faculty Advisory Council and created an alternate version of the provisions with less extreme changes, which committee members approved in an electronic vote.

However, the chancellor’s office told the committee that they had to retract the alternative version and instead approve the original document, Friedman said.

“We were told that not doing that would embarrass the chancellor and would undermine tenure greatly in the eyes of the public,” he said. “So the group did indeed do what they were told. Despite my protest, that’s what happened.”

Regent Alex Cranberg said he spoke with faculty who appreciate the provisions and thanked them for embracing the initiative.

Radio-television-film professor Janet Staiger said the change is very unnecessary and is an insulting move by the Regents.

“Becoming so rigid in formalizing annual and post-tenure reviews is suggesting that the faculty is incompetent in their current review process,” Staiger said.

Staiger, who previously served as the Faculty Council chair, said faculty are not against being helped to improve their teaching, but the changes could cause friction in departments as faculty members worry about how their performance will be categorized.

“We don’t want people publishing inadequate work in order to meet the expectations,” Staiger said.

Staiger said the UT System Board of Regents and administration do not understand that tenured faculty are passionate about connecting to students and conducting significant research.

“They think faculty aren’t working, aren’t doing their job,” Staiger said.

The UT System Board of Regents and administration are approaching these issues as if the University was a corporation that should meet annual reviews, but that is not the environment necessary for successful academic research to be done, Staiger said.

“The more these kinds of unnecessary and thoughtless policies are put into place,” she said, “the more unfriendly the University will seem.”  

Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Board of Regents alters tenure review

Whenever a controversial issue “hits the fan,” it can seem like UT administrators form a task force to confront the issue head on. But faculty members sometimes wonder if these groups improve the conversation, or if they simply sidestep faculty committees.

Standing committees of the general faculty are created by the Faculty Council to revise University policy. Task forces are groups in which members are appointed by administrators to deal with specific issues. Both groups contain faculty and students. Several faculty members mentioned their grievances at the Faculty Council meeting on Jan. 23. A specific concern of some faculty is the forthcoming report from the Graduation Rates Task Force.

Alan Friedman, Faculty Council chair and English professor, said he is concerned about the control that administrators have over the task forces. The committees fall under three main categories — faculty affairs, student services and activities and institutional policy or governance. There is no centralized list of task forces, which creates confusion among faculty. Recent task forces have met for a semester and up to a full year.

“They bypass the governing structure,” Friedman said. “I objected to them on a number of occasions and they do keep coming.”

Friedman said he often hears task force supporters argue that task forces can have appointed members with thorough knowledge of the given issue and can respond quickly to the University needs about the issue.   

“The only part of that which makes sense to me is if administrators want a group that will report only to them,” Friedman said. “Because there’s no reason the committees can’t report back.”

Sociology professor and associate liberal arts dean Marc Musick currently serves on a task force and previously served on the Faculty Council. Although Musick did not serve on the Graduation Rates Task Force, he wrote a report analyzing the time it takes UT students to graduate.

Musick said task forces give the faculty and students appointed to them an opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge on the topic.

“By simply starting the conversations we can facilitate change on campus,” Musick said.

Musick said task forces are meant to create ideas and it is up to faculty to implement those they think are appropriate or to forego them.

“Much of the business I’ve seen is to vet the ideas coming forward,” Musick said. “The faculty have a voice in that way.”
Senate president Carisa Nietsche met with the Graduation Rates Task Force and serves on the faculty’s Education Policy Committee. Nietsche said the task forces bring together the main stakeholders in the issue.

“I typically think of task forces as being more in tune with administrator priorities,” Nietsche said.

Nietsche said task forces can focus on sole issues in a way that faculty committees cannot, due to time constraints and the nature of committees to deal with broader policy matters. She said for the most part, the task forces and committees complement each other in an effort to improve the University.

“I don’t see it as a conflict,” Nietsche said. “I think the committees can have a role in task forces.”

The Faculty Council will focus on protecting the financial rights and earned benefits of faculty members from budget cuts and attacks on higher education during the upcoming year, said council chairman Alan Friedman.

Last week, Friedman distributed a letter to his colleagues listing the efforts the Faculty Council and its Executive Committee made last school year to protect faculty rights and highlighting the council’s plans for 2011-12.

The council will have its first meeting this Friday. He said they will be concerned with ensuring the campus receives high-quality representation and working to bring the campus back to what higher education is all about.

“We want to make [our campus] as effective and efficient and outstanding as it can be, and we are working with the administration to do that,” Friedman said. “A good part of it is cooperating with all sorts of projects within college and school committees and making them more effective and transparent.”

Friedman said the council currently has three major projects that focus on protecting the faculty members’ job security. He said the council is working to examine the Provost’s Course Transformation Program, which begins this semester and aims to increase success rates in large lower division classes.

“The program has to do with increasing productivity and efficiency through the use of technology,” Friedman said. “We plan to be supportive of the program to the extent that technology is used to enhance learning and not used as a substitute for a faculty member.”

Friedman said the council is also working on revisions to the post-tenure review process that were suggested by the Board of Regents.

“Campus tenured faculty members are not only reviewed annually for possible merit increases but are also reviewed more comprehensively every six years to ensure quality performance,” Friedman said. “People now want to make the process even more intrusive, while I believe there are already many safeguards to prevent incompetence.”

Council member and radio-television-film professor Janet Staiger is leading the third of the current council efforts. Staiger said the effort aims to revise the appeals process for cases when a faculty member or group of faculty members needs to be terminated because of financial problems or if the University decides to eliminate a program.

“Faculty can appeal on whether or not they were terminated unduly,” Staiger said. “It is also a safeguard and a way to clear the policy of what will happen if we ever have to terminate someone.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Council aspirations aim to protect jobs, raise success rates.

News Briefly

Certain faculty members currently weigh in twice on University personnel decisions, said a faculty council member.

The council unanimously passed a resolution Monday to eliminate the practice,
English professor and council chair-elect Alan Friedman presented the resolution during the council’s meeting Monday on behalf of the eight-member executive committee.

Friedman said certain faculty and administrators currently participate twice in personnel decisions. They get to vote on hiring, promotion, or tenure decisions on their department or college level because they are voting members of the faculty. Then those who also sit on budget or tenure review boards weigh in on those decisions a second time.

Friedman said different schools and departments make personnel decisions differently, but the resolution will remedy this common problem between the academic units.

“Circumstances differ around campus but the idea is that you should participate on one level or the other but not both,” Friedman said. “You don’t want people to review their own decisions.”

Friedman said the resolution applies only to personnel matters. He said department or school level voting rights on curriculum decisions will remain unchanged.

According to the text of the resolution, “In matters such as curriculum review, participation at both the departmental/school and review levels is appropriate."