The UT System chancellor James Milliken spoke at a Texas Tribune event Thursday about tuition increases, recent layoffs and his first semester as chancellor.
“What some people might refer to as swagger, I prefer to say (Texas) has a sense of confidence and a sense of ambition that I don’t see anywhere else in the country … a sense of optimism about the future that, if we do the right things, we make the right choices, we make the right investments, this place is going to be successful,” Milliken said.
This semester, Milliken will negotiate with the 86th Texas Legislature over funding decisions. One of his goals is to improve higher education accessibility for students of all backgrounds. Part of that would mean lowering tuition costs, but that requires more funding to come from the state.
Tuition is deregulated in Texas, meaning universities can set their own tuition rates without oversight from the legislature. When asked about whether he would advocate for increased tuition rates in the face of reduced state funding, Milliken said it’s too early for him to say.
“It’s important to have frank conversations with political leadership about the implications of budget decisions,” Milliken said. “(We need) to be perfectly honest about what happens if the state funds us at this level or that level and what choices we have to make … to meet the obligations that I think Texans share about the quality, capacity and growth of public higher education.”
Milliken also spoke about the System Administration Task Force Organizational Assessment, a report released by four UT regents on improvements for the UT System administration. The assessment was conducted during the previous chancellor’s administration, and Milliken said he has been working to implement the recommendations.
Among other things, the report called for the possible dismissal of 70 to 110 System employees. Earlier this month, The Daily Texan reported the System let go of 65 employees in accordance with the recommendation.
Milliken said cutting down was necessary for budgeting, but those administrative roles are still important for the System to function as intended.
“We have an obligation to be as cost effective as we can,” Milliken said. “(But university systems) were created for the people of the state, so there was a place that was responsible to the people for oversight, for management, for coordination … and that’s what the University of Texas System does.”
During audience questions, biochemistry senior Saurabh Sharma, chairman of UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter, asked Milliken about potential changes to the UT System’s free speech policy. Milliken said he was considering adopting a policy like the Chicago statement, a set of principles that condemn restrictions of all speech on college campuses.