Dean Neikirk

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
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“Quality is built in thimblefuls, and it can be spent in buckets,” Powers said.
 

UT administrators will continue to explore ways to incorporate technology into academics without compromising University values in the face of dwindling state funds, President William Powers Jr. wrote in an email Tuesday.

The efforts, including reworking undergraduate curriculum, pursuing energy efficiency measures and embracing alternative profit streams, began before the Board of Regents’ brief appointment of special adviser Rick O’Donnell opened debates among alumni, lawmakers, donors and administrators about how to move forward.

One alternative profit stream, the University’s “Longhorn Network” deal with ESPN, has already been assigned to fund new endowed faculty chairs in physics and philosophy, Powers wrote.
“We must cultivate innovation, exploring new, more effective pathways for how our students and faculty learn and create new knowledge,” Powers wrote.

Faculty Council chair Dean Neikirk said everyone involved in the debate wants to make things better, but an honest disagreement exists between some outside reformers and some faculty and administration within the educational system.

“I think faculty are very invested in continually improving. It’s something we do all the time,” Neikirk said. “Suggesting that we aren’t interested in change is incorrect and offensive, and I think some of these claims come from people who haven’t really bothered to understand what goes on in higher education.”

He said most faculty have firsthand knowledge of the efforts the president outlined in his letter, but seeing the efforts under way at UT summarized and contextualized helped quell some concerns over the direction proposed reforms could carry the University.

Vice provost for undergraduate education Gretchen Ritter said faculty began lowering some early hurdles for first-year students by re-structuring large entry-level courses through the Course Transformation Program that began last fall. She said despite the costs associated with developing interactive classroom and educational technology, the University benefits by increasing the number of students who complete courses.

“I think there is a deep appreciation of the importance of the in-classroom experience for student learning, and the way students benefit from being with peers and top faculty and engaging in inquiry experiences,” Ritter said. “We wouldn’t want to do things that would replace that experience.”

Student regent Kyle Kalkwarf said the Regents’ Task Force on Blended and Online Learning, of which he is a member, has heard presentations from two research groups collaborating with UT on the Course Transformation Program and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The foundation supports the Open Learning Initiative, which offers free online courses in an effort to develop new education methods. UT and about eight other Texas schools are participating in the initiative. 

The Faculty Council unanimously passed its second resolution in two years affirming the current ban on concealed firearm carry on campus at a Monday meeting.

According to the resolution, the carrying of firearms on the University campus by anyone other than law enforcement officers is detrimental to the safety of students, faculty and staff.
Faculty Council chair Dean Neikirk presented the resolution on behalf of the council’s eight-member executive committee. He said when a similar bill appeared during the last legislative session two years ago, the council wrote and passed a resolution with the same text. The 2009 bill did not pass into law.

“Given that there are two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, concerning firearms on campuses, the executive committee felt it was appropriate for the Faculty Council to discuss this,” Neikirk said.

Because the council cannot lobby the Legislature, Neikirk said the council’s resolution remains broad and focuses only on the faculty’s opinion on the issue. The resolution does not directly reference the bill.

During the discussion, associate English professor and council member Phillip Barrish said his experiences in the Perry-Castañeda Library last year, when Colton Tooley fired an assault rifle several times on campus and took his own life, provides tangible context to support the council’s resolution. He said armed bystanders would have caused confusion for the first officer on the scene.

“Again I thought to myself what would have happened if Colton Tooley had already started going up the stairs when the officer entered the lobby, and there was somebody else there with a gun,” Barrish said. “I know officers receive training for that sort of situation, but I think it would have been a very difficult moment for that officer.”

Barrish also provides faculty support to the campus organization Students for Gun Free Schools, which opposes the bills.

Jeff Shi, a computer sciences senior and president of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said concealed carry license programs teach license holders to assess the situation before acting, which would prevent them from firing on other innocent people holding a gun. He said they are also taught to consider self-defense first and lethal force as a last resort.

Only five of the University’s 18 schools and colleges created and posted plans to address gender inequality in the faculty that a special task force reported in 2008.

The University’s provost created a Gender Equity Task Force in 2007. The task force based their report on examination of existing statistics and faculty surveys.

The report recommended the University create a plan with specific goals for each college or school dean to reduce faculty gender inequalities, including underrepresentation of women in administrative roles and unequal pay. It also recommended that each college or school create and post a plan specific to its own gender inequalities.
More than 60 percent of UT faculty are male, according to the 2009-2010 Statistical Handbook.

Before the regular Faculty Council meeting Monday, Sue Heinzelman, English associate professor and director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, asked in writing whether each college and school had created and posted its recommended plans on their websites.

Executive Vice President and Provost Judith Langlois addressed the question, saying each college and school is in different stages of completing and posting their plans.

There is no deadline to complete the process, but Faculty Council Chair Dean Neikirk said the plans should be completed soon.

“The question was these were supposed to be made available, and everybody’s supposed have one. Has that been done yet? And the answer was, well it’s partially done and hopefully it will all be done very shortly,” said Neikirk, a computer and electrical engineering professor.

Only the Colleges of Education, Fine Arts, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences and the School of Architecture have posted plans and fulfilled the recommendations in the gender equity report.

Neikirk said to promote gender equity during the state budget crunch, academic units will have to apply funds strategically as new hires and raises will be difficult.

“There’s a real attempt to try to be strategic about where to look for savings, not look across the board,” Neikirk said. “Similarly, if we’re to enhance something, that should be strategic, not across the board. Gender equity has a direct impact on the quality of faculty. We don’t want to lose our best faculty, certainly not because they think they aren’t being treated equitably.”

After the gender equity discussion, the discussion was shifted to a new survey that will be conducted this year to asses the undergraduate experience.

The University will send each of its more than 35,000 undergraduates a survey developed and conducted by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley. UT conducted a pilot version of the survey last year but only received about a 20 percent response rate.

Gale Stuart, director of assessment for the Office of the Dean of Students, said current undergraduate surveys only sample enough students for colleges up to around 8,000 students. By surveying the whole undergraduate population, the Berkeley study captures statistically viable data with enough responses.

Executive Vice President and Provost Gretchen Ritter said the survey will give administrators, down to the department level, a picture of how effectively professors are connecting with students.

“It’s an important survey in that it’s helping us get a better handle on how well prepared students are when they come in and their own sense of the academic challenges they face here, so that we can do a better job in supporting their academic success on campus,” Ritter said.

UT’s Faculty Council created a new committee at its Monday meeting to determine the best way to conduct annual evaluations, hoping to ensure the faculty has a say in how professors and staff are reviewed.

Faculty Council Chairman Dean Neikirk, an electrical and computer engineering professor, proposed the committee reach a consensus about the way the faculty would like to be evaluated. Under current evaluation procedure, students review non-tenured teachers every semester. These teachers also submit annual reports to administrators, who review any research or papers they have published.

Although the new committee is not seeking to change the way evaluations are conducted, Neikirk said the committee would open discussion to new proposals about evaluations from outside sources.

“Some people in the state and nationally are not sure that their faculty is working at their maximum,” said Janet Staiger, a radio-television-film professor and former council chairwoman. “We think almost all faculty is doing a great job. We need to explain what we do, that we are not overpaid and that, many times, we are overworked.”

Neikirk cited a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommendation that would have evaluated teachers based on how many of their students graduate as opposed to the number of students enrolled. He said the proposal might have increased teaching loads by putting unrealistic demands on teachers.

“There is the issue that if there are designations of teaching workloads, that there will be a different category of faculty,” Neikirk said. “Teaching intensive and research intensive. Who would choose this? Will it be done on a university level or on a department level? We need to have a part in creating discussion.”

Earlier this year, Texas A&M University set up a controversial system of accountability for their professors by evaluating how much each professor is worth based primarily on their salaries, how much research money they bring to the college and the portion of their salaries that comes from teaching.

The council did not establish how many faculty members will serve on the committee or when they will begin meeting, and Neikirk said he was not sure what the structure would lead to.

“We need a more holistic view of this issue,” Neikirk said. “As well as a discussion of whether it should be faculty or departmental.”

Associate anthropology professor Pauline Strong voiced her concern as to whether the new committee will cause outsiders to believe that faculty are not already subjected to assessments by the UT administration.

“The creation of this committee makes it sound like we don’t already have accountability or assessments in place,” Strong said. “The way we are framing this makes us sound unaccountable. As faculty, we all feel a deep sense of responsibility. We need to frame this somehow as something we are currently doing.”

Other members saw the creation of the new committee as a necessity if the faculty wanted to have a say in the way it functioned.

“To not go through with creating this committee would be absolutely tone-deaf politically,” said Philip Doty, associate professor in the School of Information.

Records show pay gradient, disparity amongst University employees

Photo Credit: Veronica Rosalez | Daily Texan Staff

 

The University faces countless hardships in the current economy — from budget cuts to hiring freezes and limiting pay increases — but intractable equity issues still linger in UT’s top-heavy salary payout.

UT’s core budget devotes half of its $758 million in salary money to the top 25 percent of its employees, whose pay ranges from $75,000 to $510,000. The top 300 employees, including chief administrators and faculty, earned a combined $67 million this year — the same amount earned by the 2,500 employees at the lowest end of the pay scale.

UT staff members said many are taking on more work as budget cuts eliminate positions across campus and that private companies offer tempting, similar jobs with higher pay for skilled workers. In the next legislative session, lawmakers will consider state leadership’s call for all state agencies, including UT — the largest employer in Austin — to reduce their budgets by 10 percent in the 2012-13 biennium.

Anwar Sounny-Slitine, a geography graduate student and a senior desktop support specialist, said even though his salary is well below his market value, he believes in the mission of the University and loves his job. Sounny-Slitine said he has seen the University from multiple angles after working several technology maintenance jobs and has learned that UT operates like a three-legged stool. Faculty, students and staff serve essential purposes, he said.

“We need all three legs in order for [the University] to stand, but the leg for staff is something that has been neglected,” Sounny-Slitine said.

He said staff members tend to settle for less compensation because they like working for UT, but after some time they build experience and skills, which can lead to better-paying jobs in the state and in the private market. According to Pay Scale, an organization that gathers salary information across the country, information technology specialists’ salaries range from $46,000 to $76,000 at technology service companies. At universities, the salary for the same positions range from $39,000 to $64,000.

“In the current economy, people are hanging onto their jobs, but in the past, it’s been a problem for some [University] positions because people have said, ‘I can’t deny making 20 or 30 percent more, I have to move on,’” he said.


UT chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty said the University would like to increase salaries and benefits, but the budget is currently too tight. He said the administration continues to evaluate its position in the market and that the current economic conditions indicate that other institutions are not increasing their competitive energy toward compensation.

“We don’t think we’re necessarily low or high on the market,” Hegarty said.

Like any institution with thousands of employees, salary sizes vary across departments and professions. Most salaries are paid for through the core academic budget, but head football coach Mack Brown’s $5.1 million guaranteed salary comes from the intercollegiate athletic department budget.

In the case of faculty, rank affects pay because universities distribute salaries competitively to retain their top faculty, said Faculty Council chairman Dean Neikirk, an electrical engineering professor.

“We have to be competitive in our salary offers with other highly ranked institutions,” Neikirk said. “If you aren’t competitive in what you can offer people, they won’t come here.”

At UT, full professors earn an average of $131,000, while assistant and associate professors earn an average of $85,000. In Neikirk’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the average pay for faculty is $96,000. In the Department of Classics, the average pay for faculty is $78,000.

Jennifer Ebbeler, an associate classics professor, said there are huge disparities between academic departments. Those in the sciences get paid more because of the option of working in the private sector, she said.

“I don’t think administrators are overpaid, but I think what it reflects is a corporate mentality that is reflected in any large university,” she said.

Ebbeler said given that the cost of living continues to rise, people are thinking about salaries more and more. She said she isn’t worried about putting food on the table or paying the mortgage, but in situations where she must put a new roof on her house or planning for retirement.

“I pretty regularly pick up extra teaching or do other things to get extra money, which then cuts into research time,” she said.

For other staff members at the University, budget cuts can mean larger workloads for the same amount of pay.

Daniel Berra, a library assistant, said the possibility of higher pay at other institutions draws talent away from UT. The upper administrators assume lower-level positions are easy to replace, but the costs of training new staff are higher than they think, Berra said.

“You’ll find more and more people who would be otherwise happy at their positions start looking around,” he said. “When UT loses staff, they have to pay to retrain people, and that costs the University a lot of money; it’s an expensive process. There’s definitely a need to keep people.”

Hegarty said the University tries to keep retraining costs down by giving preference to employees who may get laid off. Currently, however, there are no retraining costs as a result of budget cuts because those cuts are permanent, he said.

Hiring freezes and layoffs generally mean larger workloads because employees have to pick up the slack without extra pay, said Staff Council chairman Ben Bond.

“There’s a lot of staff members who are having to take on more work,” he said. “They’re filling one and a half or two jobs.”

Bond said money is also being taken out of employees’ paychecks as the price of insurance rises, especially if a staff member has a spouse or other dependents. He said the one-time merit pay increases, which will be effective in December, will ease some of the pain, but concerns linger.

“The one-time merit payment helps make up for some of that, but still, people’s monthly checks will go down somewhat,” he said. “It’s frustrating for a lot of people, including the administration of the University.”

— Additional reporting by Andrew Kreighbaum