Anthony de Bruyn

Although plans for UT medical schools in Austin and South Texas are being carried out simultaneously, each comes with its own set of questions.

The UT System Board of Regents announced plans for a new medical school in South Texas Aug. 17. These plans come three months after the board announced support for a UT-Austin medical school. Although they are being created simultaneously, the Austin program and the South Texas program are not identical, differing in areas such as their funding, infrastructure and expected completion date.

UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the two medical schools differ in their funding and scope.

“These are two independent programs. The school in Austin is directly linked to UT-Austin, a tier-one research university,” de Bruyn said. “The other is very regional in its scope. Both incorporate very different approaches.”

Long-term funding for both institutions has not been set in stone. While there is some uncertainty regarding how both programs will be fully funded long term, De Bruyn said a large portion of revenue for each school will come from their surrounding economies. The UT System has pledged to fund $30 million annually to cover operating costs for a UT-Austin medical school. In South Texas, the system is relying on existing UT and state resources.

“Along with the UT System and the state of Texas, a large percentage of the funding for the medical programs will come from both commercial and private sources in their respective areas,” he said.

The Seton Healthcare Family, a Central Texas health care provider, has pledged $250 million for a new teaching hospital in Austin to replace University Medical Center Brackenridge, a public teaching hospital. The health care provider already has a relationship with UT and currently funds 200 UT-Southwestern Medical Center residents along with hundreds of UT medical faculty members.

At a conference earlier this month, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the infrastructure for the South Texas medical school will come from existing UT facilities and other state resources. UT-Austin is currently scouting for a spot for its medical school close to University Medical Center Brackenridge.

“The year 2018 will be a very special year for all of us,” Cigarroa said. “It will be the year that we graduate our first class of medical school students in South Texas.”

Unlike the South Texas program, there is no projected date for the first medical students to graduate from UT-Austin. However, de Bruyn said, each school is on course to be completed.

“Both programs are on track from when the plan of action was first proposed,” he said.

Shortly after the regent’s announcement, state Senator Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, released a statement stressing the need for an independent medical program in the Rio Grande Valley.

“South Texas is home to fast-growing communities with unjust healthcare disparities,” Lucio said. “We are undoubtedly the part of Texas most in need of a medical school.”

Lucio applauded the progress made by the UT System in its effort to implement a medical program in this region.

“By committing to graduating students by 2018, UT has given everyone in South Texas reason to celebrate,” he said in the statement.

Pre-med and biology senior Allan Lara said having a medical program in the Rio Grande Valley will allow students and doctors from that area to give back to their communities.

“Being from South Texas, I know it will be important having a medical school nearby to keep students like myself linked to their families and close to home,” he said. “Coming from a Hispanic background, family is a tradition I was raised with. This will help maintain the connection with my loved ones back home.”

Lara said the medical schools, especially the program in South Texas, will generate a better learning atmosphere and give students positive role models.

“This will bring about leaders from surrounding communities and create role models who can push many students to pursue a higher education,” Lara said.

The UT System Board of Regents will not set tuition rates for the next two academic years at Thursday’s special called meeting, contrary to the expectations of University administrators.

If the Regents decide on tuition after April, it will be the latest they have set the tuition rates since 2004. The delay will affect registration, University initiatives and preparation of the University budget. UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the main reason tuition will not be discussed at the special meeting is “just because it wasn’t posted on the April agenda” by the Regents.

Mary Knight, associate vice president and budget director for the University, said the UT System had previously notified University administrators that tuition would be discussed at today’s meeting, but were told otherwise at a budget meeting on Monday.

In 2003, tuition deregulation shifted tuition setting power from the state legislature to the board of regents for each state institution. On Dec. 15, President William Powers Jr. recommended the largest tuition increase the UT System will allow.

The UT System gave directives that any recommendation to increase tuition must be tied to improving four-year graduation rates. Knight said some of the initiatives might be delayed if the budget must take increased funds into account. The main initiatives include hiring more faculty to provide additional course sections, expanding career services and improving academic advising.

Knight said another problem with the delay is that registration for the summer and the fall semesters begins on Monday.

“We need to be able to tell the students something by Monday,” Knight said. “We’re trying to work through that now.”

Former UT System spokesman Matt Flores spoke with the The Daily Texan March 2. Flores said the UT System Regents Office was assessing the tuition recommendations, but said, “We’re certain it has to come soon. Clearly it has to be done with enough time to get course schedules published so they’ll know how much they can expect to pay.”

The University budget proposal is due to the UT System in May, Knight said. She said the University is currently preparing the budget without the recommended tuition increase, which would generate $30.6 million worth of academic funds from 2012-2014. Knight said it generally takes the entire summer for the University and the UT System to finish preparations for the Regents’ August meeting.

“We don’t usually have an opportunity to change it,” Knight said.

De Bruyn gave no specifics on the reason for the delay, but said the Regents could call another special meeting to set tuition or wait for a regularly scheduled meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for May 2 and 3.

“All I know is that the UT System administrators have been diligently reviewing the campus proposals and that review continues,” de Bruyn said. “I would say they will most likely be discussed in May.”

De Bruyn said he did not know how the universities should handle communicating tuition costs as registration begins, distributing financial aid packages and preparing institutional budgets.

“You would have to ask the universities,” de Bruyn said. “We’re clearly mindful of deadlines.”

Printed on Thursday, April 12, 2012 as: UT Regents delay setting tuition rates despite plans

Editor's note: Corrected on December 7, 2011 at 2:42 a.m.

After growing concerns over the state’s ability to pay for health care services for its inmates, the University’s Board of Regents has taken a solid stance on providing health care for the state’s correctional facilities — pay the bills or find another provider.

The UT Board of Regents approved a new agreement Monday between the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice guaranteeing UTMB will be paid the remaining $45 million for the services it provides to inmates. If left unpaid, the agreement laid out measures to transition UTMB’s services out of the facilities or terminate them completely. UTMB’s total cost of services for the 2012 fiscal year is $430.5 million, including the $6.3 million left unpaid from the previous two year period, according to UTMB spokesman Raul Reyes. The state currently still owes UTMB $45 million, he said.

The agreement demands the Texas Department of Criminal Justice request $45 million from its 2013 fiscal budget for health care from the Legislative Budget Board to cover the money it still owes UTMB. Under the new agreement, UTMB will continue to provide health care services to the state for the remainder of the 2012 fiscal year, which ends in August, and will continue negotiations as to whether UTMB will provide care in 2013.

UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said this was not the first time concerns about TDCJ’s ability to pay have been raised to the Board of Regents.

“The Board approved an extension of the contract last month and prior to that concerns have been raised,” de Bruyn said.

He said the Board was satisfied with the agreement both parties have come up with.

Reyes said that out of UTMB’s 11,000 employees, approximately 3,000 of them work in the state’s prison facilities. Both entities have been working together to provide health care to inmates since 1994.

“For years, we would get supplemental appropriations after we had provided care, and they were not always enough to cover the bill,” he said.

Reyes said UTMB always believed the new agreement with TDCJ would be approved.

“Throughout all this, everyone needs to know that patient care was never interrupted,” Reyes said. “We continued to provide care at one of the lowest costs throughout the nation, and we’re thankful that a solution has been worked out to make sure that the health care is continued.”

TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said UTMB is the primary health care provider for 87 state facilities consisting of 120,000 inmates. Texas Tech University Health Science Center also provides health care for the state. He said biennial agreements are renegotiated based on legislative appropriations and renegotiated after each legislative session.

Clark said the request to the Legislative Budget Board for $45 million from state health care service’s budget for the fiscal year of 2013 has not been approved by the Legislative Budget Board.

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: Regents negotiate state inmate health care debts

Data on UT System faculty spending, earning, research production and course enrollment could mislead the public about the so-called productivity of professors and researchers in the system, a UT faculty chair said.

The UT System Board of Regents created the task force on excellence and productivity in February. Upon their request, the UT System created the 820-page document containing faculty names, their tenure status and course enrollment numbers and released it to the task force on May 5.

The UT System had numerous open-record requests, and in the interest of keeping the administrative processes transparent, the system released the data before they could verify the information, which they received from the Texas Higher Education Board, said system spokesman Anthony de Bruyn.

“The analysis is not intended to gauge performance on an individual basis, but rather to review university departments by institution so that the presidents of the nine UT System academic institutions can assess the strengths of institutional departments by campus and recommend adjustments as necessary,” de Bruyn said in an email.

Dean Neikirk, an engineering professor and the chair of the Faculty Council, said the data is premature because it does not take into account individual efforts of the faculty members. For example, the draft does not include intensive research efforts that some faculty at the Cockrell School of Engineering or College of Natural Sciences are conducting.

“The picture [this data] paints is a snapshot of a course of at most three semesters which does not accurately reflect what any faculty member does over years,” Neikirk said.

The Texas A&M System created a similar spreadsheet last year that some special interest groups said indicated professors’ efforts were not on par with their salaries, according to The Texas Tribune. Neikirk said he doesn’t think the UT System data will have a positive impact for the faculty members, especially when some of the expenditure data is inaccurate in the draft.

Neikirk said when he gets the expenditure reports from UT, they rarely match up with his own tracking.

“It essentially has to do with [how] some of the bookkeeping is done [at UT],” Neikirk said.

Kristi Fisher, associate vice provost of Information Management and Analysis, said the department submits faculty and student information to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board each semester, which is where the task force acquired the data.

“I believe what we submitted was accurate according to the specific definitions by the [board],” Fisher said.
But some of the research expenditure data does not reflect all the research done by all faculty members because they are funded differently, she said. For example, some organizations choose to donate directly to the faculty members, which means the management office cannot get the information without surveying the entire faculty population.

She also said the draft lacks context because it may seem to the public that some faculty members, including professors — some of whom work nine months a year — receive lower salaries than some administrators who work the entire calendar year.

The UT System administration said the information is being verified currently, but de Bruyn said he doesn’t know how long it will take to create a final, more accurate spreadsheet.

The UT System released 821 pages of information about each faculty member in the system’s nine academic institutions Thursday, including their salaries, number of semester hours taught and research expenditures.

Former special adviser to the UT System Board of Regents, Rick O’Donnell, wrote to Regent Wallace Hall on April 18, the day before his time with the system ended. In the letter, he addressed his request for this information on behalf of the board. O’Donnell said he wanted to examine how UT universities spend tuition and tax dollars.

“The release of such data was resisted at the highest levels of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas System,” O’Donnell wrote.

The System has since received multiple public-information requests for the information it released Thursday. The system distributed the data along with a statement.

“The attached data spreadsheet in its current draft form is incomplete and has not yet been fully verified or cross-referenced,” said System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn. “In its present raw form, it cannot yield accurate analysis, interpretations or conclusions.”

Faculty Council chairman Dean Neikirk distributed an email Thursday warning faculty the System would be releasing the information, after he discovered the plan at a Faculty Advisory Committee meeting last week.

“Most, if not all, of this information was already available, but the ‘convenience’ of the release will no doubt invite a variety of interpretations,” Neikirk wrote. “The only concern is that it’s very easy to do one dimensional analysis of any data,” he later said.

He said surface-level analysis of the data would give an inaccurate picture of his or her overall performance.

UT President William Powers Jr. and Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell have both reassured faculty in the past months that UT will not produce a “red and black list” similar to the one Texas A&M University created last year. A&M’s list compared faculty’s total compensation and expenditures with total revenue generated, placing names in red whose compensation and expenditures exceeded revenue generated.

The statement sent with Thursday’s release supported these promises.

“The collection and analysis of the data will not be used to produce what many in the news media and general public refer to as a ‘red and black report,’” de Bruyn said.

Association of American Universities President Robert Berdahl sent a letter advising A&M not to pursue these types of measures to analyze faculty performance.

At a higher education conference last week, Powers said the association criticized A&M’s list because it failed to count the work faculty do that doesn’t directly create revenue, including much of research.

He said creating this list threatens UT’s ability to attract the type of faculty who produce top quality, intellectually and culturally stimulating research and research-based teaching
.
“Quality is built in thimblefuls, and it can be spent in buckets,” Powers said.
 

 

<i>“It’s basically impossible to get elected in Austin unless you are a Democrat.”</i>

— Andy Brown, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, on the upcoming City Council election, according to KUT.

<i>“They’re listening, and this is the result.”</i>

— UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, responding to the System’s decision to redefine the role of newly hired special adviser Rick O’Donnell in light of criticisms from lawmakers regarding O’Donnell’s views on university research, according to the Texas Tribune. O’Donnell will keep his $200,000 salary.

<strong> College for inmates:</strong>

<i>“We don’t provide free college tuition for anyone else like this, so with the budget crisis we’re facing, why should we for convicted felons?”</i>

— House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, on his support to cut a program that funds college tuition for inmates, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

<i>“The statistics show more inmates who participate have a lower recidivism rate. There is an advantage from a program like this.”</i>

— Windham School District Superintendent Debbie Roberts, who argues that the program allows inmates to prepare for life outside prison, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

<strong>Voter ID:</strong>

<i>“I think it’s about disenfranchising groups of people who do not historically vote for the Republican Party.”</i>

— Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said about the controversial bill recently passed by the Texas House of Representatives which requires voters to present photo identification at the polls, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

<i>“This bill is colorblind.”</i>

— Rep. Larry Gonzalez, R-Round Rock, expressed his support of the newly passed voter ID bill, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

<i>“[Voting] should have at least the same integrity as renting a movie, boarding a plane or cashing a check.”</i>

— Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, voicing support for the voter ID bill, according to the Dallas Morning News.

<i>“We have studied this for almost eight years and have not been able to find any widespread voter impersonation in Texas.”</i>

— Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, regarding the voter ID bill, according to the Dallas Morning News.