Tadeusz Patzek

Two weeks ago at the University of Michigan, Tadeusz Patzek, chair of UT’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, debated John Hofmeister, former Shell Oil CEO, about how to deal with the diminishing availability of cheap oil.

Hofmeister brashly declared that enough sources of carbon-based energy exist to sustain our current manner of living, if only there is enough political will to exploit it. The more soft-spoken Patzek explained that such actions would have environmental costs that could outweigh the benefits of the energy produced.

Both speakers placed blame on governments for failing to enact long-term energy policies. They did, however, disagree on the ways in which these failures would affect ordinary citizens. Patzek implored members of the audience to think ahead and start making small changes in the way they live that could help them adapt to a future with less abundant, more expensive energy. Hofmeister rejected the idea that Americans should have to make any lifestyle changes, but should instead tell their government to permit more aggressive domestic oil and coal extraction.

While the debate was billed as a discussion about energy policy, its proceedings demonstrated as much about the participants’ attitudes toward compromise as it did their opinions on the future of energy. Hofmeister’s position offered a narrow set of solutions that precluded a more holistic examination of energy use. He accepted the status quo as unchangeable. Meanwhile, Patzek’s stance called for an examination of current energy use as one of several solutions to the energy problem.

Unfortunately, Hofmeister’s approach seems more common in practice. Western societies’ preference for simplicity and quick action instead of careful examination makes it difficult to explore a topic from multiple perspectives before implementing a solution. This tendency was demonstrated by UT students during the West Campus parking meter issue last fall, and is apparent again in discussions surrounding tuition and graduation rates.

Affordability was the rallying cry used against parking meters in West Campus after the city proposed adding several hundred parking meters in the neighborhood last year. The discussion portrayed residents of West Campus who owned cars as victims of a greedy city intent on taxing students. Students expressed concern that paying for parking would be a difficult financial burden. However, nowhere in the dialogue stemming from the parking meter issue was it acknowledged that many students living in West Campus cannot afford to own a car at all, regardless of whether parking is free.

While the parking meter issue could have been an opportunity to discuss the mobility challenges facing cash-strapped university students, it instead focused on preserving a status quo that favors those students who can afford car ownership. Parking in West Campus may be difficult, but getting around Austin for those who cannot afford to drive is, in some cases, impossible. By focusing so narrowly on parking, the discussion failed to address the larger, and arguably more pressing, concerns of overall student mobility.

Moving forward, students should not so easily pass up opportunities to examine the deeper challenges behind attention-grabbing issues. After the publication of the report by the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates, students around campus could be heard grumbling about how the report’s recommendations would inconvenience them. And while some of the language used in the report calls into question the Task Force’s understanding of students’ perception of the issue, this should not be used as justification to reject the report outright.

The graduation rates issue is a complicated one that is closely linked to college affordability. Instead of rejecting changes to the status quo as hostile personal attacks, students should consider the issue from a perspective that goes beyond their personal convenience and individual needs. By rushing to form an opinion, students run the risk of making a decision before they have had the opportunity to fully understand the issue.

Although students’ lives are busy, and sometimes just getting homework finished before class can feel like a major accomplishment, it is in all of our best interests to make some time to open our minds and examine important issues from a perspective other than our own or other than the one which was first presented to us. Just because a way of life or academic policy has become familiar doesn’t mean that it is the only solution.

Although politics in Washington favors extreme positions and no room for compromise, this system seems to produce little more than gridlock and further polarization. As students, we would be wise to avoid this strategy when dealing with campus issues.

Finke is an architecture and urban studies senior

Pressure has mounted on faculty in the semesters following the last Texas legislative session, but endowments can ease the increasing financial burdens that may otherwise push faculty away from the University.

Endowments are donations that are invested by the University. How the returns of these investments are used is chosen by the donor. Tadeusz Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, administers a $1 million endowment within his department. Patzek said he believes this is the type of funding that every department strives to receive in order to get faculty to remain at the University.

“Suddenly you don't need to seek outside employment,” Patzek said. “You can have more time to think and be creative. It's sort of an engine that powers creativity within the faculty.”

During the last Texas legislative session in 2011, $92 million of state funding to the University was cut. Since last year, the UT System Board of Regents, among other groups, has scrutinized the importance of research in higher education.

Patzek said the endowment serves as a funding safety blanket to help with general departmental functions, such as sending a student to a conference or purchasing new equipment.

“These are very important things for running a big and complex department,” Patzek said. “We are one of the most overworked departments. In that stressed-out environment, having a little peace of mind is important.”

President William Powers Jr. spoke with The Daily Texan in December about his recommendation to increase tuition and the UT System's directives that any increase must be tied to improving four-year graduation rates.

“None of this will go to increasing our ability to attract faculty through salary,” Powers said. “We're not meeting what I would call the real needs of the University.”

Powers said to continue to attract top faculty, the University will need to look for other revenue streams outside of tuition, such as philanthropy.

“We always ought to be adjusting our philanthropic efforts to adjust to the needs of the University, but it's not totally up to us,” Powers said. “It's up to the donors.”

David Onion, senior associate vice president of development, said philanthropy can help ease some budget needs, but it cannot make up for the cuts in state funding. Onion said donors typically support faculty by making an endowment to support a specific field of study or a specific faculty member.

“There's a perception out there where people think you've received all this money, but we have restrictions,” Onion said. “Donors are not interested in just writing a check and it going into a large account.”

Onion said donors feel like their endowment is a personal investment in the success of the University — a connection he said gets lost when donating to overall operating costs like electricity bills.

Lois Folger, president of Folger Energy, and her husband Richard Folger, president and CEO of Warren Equipment Company, met and graduated from the University's petroleum engineering program in 1984. In 2009, the Folgers made the $1 million endowment to the petroleum program that Patzek administers.

Folger said the value of his diploma hanging on the wall greatly depends on the ranking that the University holds.

“Our objective is to do whatever we can do to increase its value,” Richard Folger said. “As an alum, making a donation tends to be one of the quickest ways that you can give back to the University.”

Folger said the motivation to donate is to help the University remain at the top of the rankings and to aid the University as it continues to grow.

“How you do that without research and without top faculty, I don't understand,” he said.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Endowments alleviate UT's financial burdens


The Daily Texan spoke with professor Tadeusz Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, about the new book he co-authored with Utah State University professor Joseph A. Tainter, “Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma.” In the book, they describe the last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and current energy problems as results of society’s need for an ever-increasing among of energy, causing many unforeseen risks. The Daily Texan spoke with him about how these risks impacted geosciences at UT.

DT: What does the crisis in energy described in your book mean for the way we train UT students in
the geosciences?

Tadeusz Patzek: We have to be a lot more careful as an industry, and that will start by training engineers how we operate in these harsh environments such as Arctic or ultra-deep Gulf of Mexico. Also, we need standardized procedures with different drilling organizations and to develop and train students how to use equipment that’s more reliable.

DT: What about for faculty and the education systems?
Patzek: As teachers we can contribute training and education in traditional ways, and we do, but you have to remember that not everybody working in the industry has a college degree. Plenty is done by people who come to work with only high school degrees with some on-site training. What has to be done is that education and training has to be extended to everybody who is working off-shore, and creating a better design in our projects that’s not subject to so many agendas.

DT: Would you say that debacles caused by increasing demand are the biggest challenge facing energy companies today?
Patzek: Well, I have to be careful what I say. [Laughs]. In order for us to persist as the American society that you and I live in, we need a vast, vast amount of energy flowing through the system every day. That’s an incredible lot of power to produce, and that’s ultimately the demand that energy companies are trying to meet. Having that much demand for energy to support current lifestyles is going to create problems that are hard to avoid. Furthermore, there are a lot of discrepancies between public opinion and the realities of the energy demands in renewable energy. To the extent that we can power down by using energy smarter, we should do so, but many people think you can get a lot of power from renewable when you
really can’t.

DT: Could I ask you a little bit about the research you did for this book?
Patzek: Well, to be honest I’ve been interested in ecology and sustainability for the past 10 years, and if you look into newspapers, you’ll find everything there. There’s nothing new in that book. The accident just put everything I was saying in starker relief, and I used it as a prop to say many of the things I’ve been writing for the past year.

DT: Is there anything you’d like anyone else to know about the book, for people just picking up the paper?
Patzek: A warning: there are no simple solutions to energy. All solutions start with us and to the extent that we can adjust our behavior somewhat, that’s good. We can blame the energy industry for these problems, but the demand we create is at the center. Before we can judge others we have to look at ourselves.