Larry Faulkner

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

One reason why Harvard University constantly excels as a top university is its low student-faculty ratio. Remarkably, for each professor at Harvard, there are only about seven students. Those students therefore benefit from close learning interactions and mentorship from expert educators and researchers. Seventy-five percent of classes at Harvard have fewer than 20 students. 

The student-faculty ratio at Princeton University is 6:1. The ratio at the University of Pennsylvania is about the same. The ratio at Caltech is 3:1. At the University of Virginia, it is 16:1. At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, it is 15:1.

How does UT Austin compare? Back in 2001, the ratio of students to faculty at UT Austin was 21:1. This proportion left much to be desired, so UT’s president, Larry Faulkner, announced a plan to add 300 tenured and tenure-track faculty to our University. Faulkner’s goal was to enhance education at UT by lowering our student-faculty ratio to 16:1. 

In 2006, UT’s new president, William Powers Jr., in his inaugural address, emphasized the importance of fulfilling Faulkner’s initiative. Moreover, Powers set a higher goal: to eventually reach 445 new faculty positions.  

So where are we now? 

At the start of the academic year 2014-2015, UT Austin had 2,462 full-time equivalent teaching faculty, that is, 435 more than when Faulkner began his initiative 14 years ago. So it almost sounds as if we reached our presidents’ goals. But unfortunately, that’s not the case, because our student population has also grown.   

To calculate student-faculty ratios, we divide “student full-time equivalents” by “faculty full -time teaching equivalents.” (It’s not enough to just divide student headcounts by faculty because some students are only enrolled part- time, and some faculty do not teach full-time.)

As of September 2014, UT Austin has 45,720 student full-time equivalents. Therefore, our student-faculty ratio is now 18.6:1. We have almost reached midway from the goal that we had hoped to reach by 2010.

That goal was reified in 2002 by the Commission of 125, a wisely convened group of 218 distinguished members, who earnestly sought to fulfill the mandate of the Texas Constitution of 1876 and establish “a university of the first class.” The Commission labored for two years to systematically evaluate UT Austin’s entire curriculum. Finally, their No. 1 recommendation was to “reduce the undergraduate student-faculty ratio to 16:1.” 

They rightly concluded: “The quality of education the Commission seeks for UT students can be achieved only if there is a direct and meaningful engagement between students and professors. Such engagement is essential if we are to prepare students for an increasingly complex world. The student-faculty ratio is an important and traditional measure of a quality undergraduate education.” 

Naturally, it was not sufficient to simply hire more instructors, because if enrollments also grew, then our student-faculty ratio might not be improved. Therefore, the Commission added another goal: “Decreasing the student-faculty ratio will require reducing enrollment while also expanding the faculty. But the latter objective must not undermine the University’s commitment to recruit and hire new tenure-track professors of the highest quality.” 

This issue has now been raised in Faculty Council. Our likely next president, Gregory Fenves, will face this challenge: How can we fulfill the important goals set by the Commission of 125 and by our past two presidents? 

My recommendation will be that instead of hiring a few new faculty members at ever-higher salaries, UT should hire more quality faculty at moderate salaries. 

Martínez is an associate professor in the Department of History.

Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

UT president William Powers Jr. addressed concerns regarding UT’s unchanged student-faculty ratio at the faculty council meeting Monday.

Powers said using University funds to attract a higher quality faculty should come before putting significant resources toward a rapid expansion of faculty.

“I think it is not [a] good strategy to go and expand when we’re not competitive and not get the faculty we want,” Powers said. “Getting our student-to-faculty ratio better is still a priority, but it would put the cart before the horse to go out and try to do that before we first try to correct the problem of being more competitive.”

The student-faculty ratio during the 2014-2015 academic year was 1:18.62, according to the UT Office of Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems.

According to a report from UT, beginning in 2001, UT president Larry Faulkner wanted to hire nearly 300 new faculty members to reduce the student-faculty ratio over the course of ten years.

Powers said the initiative was strong for the first few years and explained why it had not met its goals of decreasing the ratio of students to faculty.

“We introduced a program over a decade adding 300 net new tenure, tenuretrack faculty members, and each year for the three or four years at that rate, we added 30 new faculty members,” Powers said.

In his 2006 address to the University, Powers went beyond Faulkner’s plan. He said the initiative should be taken even further, calling for an additional 145 faculty members to establish a student-faculty ratio of 1:16. A commission made of UT community members made the recommendation to Powers.

“We are already committed to hiring 125 more to complete our 300 faculty expansion,” Powers said in his speech. “Beyond that, we need an additional 145 new faculty to attain the Commission’s goal.”

However, Powers said once the recession struck in 2008, and the budget was restricted, the initiative’s progress came to a halt.

“In 2008-2009, we had a budget crunch, and, at that point, I think it was well understood, certainly well stated, that we certainly did not have the financial wherewithal to continue adding 30 faculty members net, year after year,” Powers said.

Power said the University began to focus on increasing salaries for faculty and graduate students during the same time frame to attract higher quality applicants for both positions.

Associate history professor Alberto Martínez questioned the initiative at the faculty council meeting in March. He said there is still work to be done in comparison to other universities.

“I worry that the overall, average faculty salaries can be raised just by hiring a few new professors at very high pay scales,” Martin said. “Instead, I know that we can hire similarly excellent faculty at more moderate salaries, thus being able to hire more faculty in order to improve our ratios as well.”

Larry Faulkner, former university president, listens as current President Bill Powers applauds him at the dedication ceremony for the Larry R. Faulkner Nanoscience and Technology Building on Thursday evening.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Former UT President Larry Faulkner said he hopes to spend the rest of his life as a member of UT faculty at the dedication ceremony Thursday for the Larry R. Faulkner Nanoscience and Technology Building, which was named in his honor in August 2010.

Faulkner served as University president from 1998 until 2005. He was instrumental in advocating for the construction of the building, which was completed in 2006, natural sciences interim Dean David Laude said.

“The University of Texas has had a remarkable, practically mystical presence in my life,” Faulkner said. “Three times I have come to it from elsewhere, and three times I have gone out into the larger world. I’m about to return for a fourth time, and I expect it to be for the rest of my life.”

Faulkner will return next semester to work in the College of Natural Sciences, and he will bring profound wisdom to the University, President William Powers Jr. said.

“Larry, your fingerprints are all over this university,” Powers said, addressing Faulkner during the ceremony. “With this building, your legacy won’t only be woven into the cultural and programmatic fabric of this university, but also in the physical and concrete fabric of this University.”

Biochemistry professor Allen Bard said he was not surprised Faulkner played an important role in the construction of the building because he remained rooted in science although he rose through the administrative ranks at the University of Illinois before becoming UT president.

“He was good at multitasking, and he still liked science even when he was president of the University,” Bard said.

Faulkner wrote a book with Bard, “Electrochemical Methods: Fundamentals and Applications, Second Edition,” during Faulkner’s tenure as UT president, Bard said.

“He was a very good student,” Bard said. “He set the record for the shortest time to get a Ph.D with me.”

The Nanoscience and Technology Building was completed in 2006, after late professor Paul Barbara paved the way for the formation of a nanoscience department in 2000. The facility houses more than $20 million in equipment and is used by more than 300 faculty and staff each year, Powers said.

“This amazing facility shows the power of smallness,” he said. “It holds enormous potential for science and for humanity as we begin to unlock the secrets of how to manipulate and manufacture and do things in that enormously small state.”

Faulkner said the fact that science takes place in the building that bears his name is a special honor close to his heart.

“It’s probably mostly accidental the chancellor, the president and the Regents picked this particular building to bear my name, but it is a source of great pride that this facility is so close to my scientific interests.”

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: Nanoscience building honors Faulkner

Budget cuts have forced UT to eliminate its Public Affairs office and let Don Hale go — the vice president of the office for the past 10 years.

All public affairs employees in 14 colleges and schools will keep their job, except for Hale, who will stay with the University until the fall before moving on.

“When former President Larry Faulkner brought me to the University about 10 years ago he wanted me to build the first comprehensive public affairs operation in the University’s history, and he wanted the operation to be recognized among the very best in higher education. We have achieved Dr. Faulkner’s vision,” Hale said in a statement.

Faulkner said his experience with Hale has been extremely valuable over the years. He said public affairs is an important job because the University has to continuously communicate with wide range of constituents.

“Having the capability to do that well is very important to the institution and its ability to carry out its job,” Faulkner said.

Gary Susswein, former spokesman for College of Liberal Arts, has assumed responsibilities as the director of media relations under the new Office of University Communications.

“We will no longer have an Office of Public Affairs,” Susswein said. “Much of the office has gone into Development and the rest will be part of the new University Communications office.”

Susswein said the Office of Public Affairs oversaw event planning, media relations and production of flyers and pamphlets. Some public affairs employees worked in those capacities under the Development Office and will continue to work there, he said.

“Office of University Communications will handle brand strategies, media relations and oversee content of our websites and media portals,” Susswein said.