UT-Austin trades academics for bread and circuses [Opinion]

Consider: Since the sub-prime collapse in 2008-’09, the talented and hard-working staff employees who keep UT-Austin running have not seen a decent raise or any increases even approaching the escalating cost of living in Austin. In several years, they have received nothing. This year in the College of Liberal Arts they will get a one-time bonus that disappears from their salary the following year.

The faculty are getting a 1.4 percent raise, including some who were meritorious enough to be nominated for much, much larger raises being redirected by the central administration to at most one third of the faculty.

We need academic buildings. The UT-Austin administration has reported that postponed repairs to decaying building infrastructure on campus now amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no money for it. Recently the Fine Arts dean inspired mass protests. How? He wanted space for a new high-tech design studio, probably smaller than the aggregate space of head coaches’ offices on campus. He chose to do severe damage to a library collection to get space for The Foundry.

Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost for UT Libraries, explained to the Faculty Council on April 9 that the libraries at UT-Austin, including world-class special collections like the Harry Ransom Center, the Benson Latin American Collection and the Fine Arts, Classics and Geology libraries, have been losing ground as library funding has plateaued in the last decade. UT has the tenth largest collection of books and related materials in the country. But we have diminishing support to maintain it.

Graduate student stipends at UT-Austin are so low now in actual dollars, in relationship to the cost of living in Austin and to the offers of peer institutions, that it is miraculous they are still attracted to the university.

The College of Liberal Arts as a college has eliminated 60 faculty lines in the last eight years simply to fund minimal annual salary increases. We have lost more than 10 percent of our tenured and tenure-track teaching and research faculty.

A few thoughts about this.

  1. We’ve seen academics at UH give similar opinions in regards to the University of Houston.

  2. While it may seem chic in the academic world to cry foul in regards to the money that athletics spends, the money for the renovations or the coaches’ salaries that they are pinpointing often come from outside of the University. Instead of pointing the finger at those on-campus, the authors should be pointing their finger at the boosters and donors. Of course, if they did that, they probably wouldn’t be employed any longer or probably wouldn’t find any more luck getting funding that way. Sort of like politicians pointing the fingers at the people in Washington instead of the people that put the politicians there.

  3. I’m trying to figure out why this was posted to the “Houston” Chronicle instead of the Statesman.

As an academic at another college, here are a few thoughts:

  1. You’ll find many, if not most, academicians across the country agree with these concerns and sentiments. In this same time period (9 yrs) the largest raise outside of promotion that I’ve received was 1.5% which is below a fair cost of living adjustment - which essentially equates to a salary reduction every single year.

  2. There is nothing “chic” about these concerns - rather, it’s quite pragmatic and unselfish. If you didn’t get the parallels to the Roman Empire - it fell and one of the primary reasons was the excessive income inequality and cultural focus on distractions, like sports.

The raison d’etre of a college is to formally and informally educate people - not to provide amateur sports for fans and alumni. If sports disappeared tomorrow - universities would persist as they have for almost 1000 years. If faculty disappeared tomorrow, schools would close. Granted, over the last 20+ years the number of FT faculty in the US has declined by over 50% while the number of FT staff has more than doubled. This is another means of straining faculty and ultimately compromising the educational experience and platforms for the students (and faculty). “Pointing fingers” at alumni or boosters would only potentially impact untenured faculty and not in any way threaten the occupations of tenured faculty - nor should they. That’s one of the primary reasons for tenure - to protect free and dissenting speech. You are correct that boosters often determine where donations are directed and these authors’ rhetoric should also be directed at these individuals. Their ire should also be directed at politicians who have increasingly taken away state funds for state schools forcing them to become more reliant on donations and increased the debt of students significantly as tuition has quadrupled over 20 years. Secondly, faculty only rarely receive funds from alumni as a salary or research - possibly as an endowed chair or creating an institute but those are rare and the faculty in these circumstances usually have stipulations protecting them from outside influence. Legitimate colleges and universities are non-profit agencies (all were non-profit until very recently) created to educate people and produce research and scholarship that improves societies.

  1. I’m glad they published this in the HC - it gives the message a much bigger audience and it’s good to see the HC provide a critical voice of UT-Austin as that has also been very rare.
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There is a common denominator here. Public entities including many Universities can’t/ or are unable to financially manage themselves. Since nobody is accountable (can’t let go a public employee) there is this vicious circle of limitless spending. Raises? How many private companies went under since 2006? How common was it for private companies to not give raises for 10/12 years? That was and is still the norm in many cases. Public entities have to manage themselves like a private entity. This has nothing to do with college sports. This article illustrates how disconnected these entities are from the “real world” uta benefits from PUF and they can’t manage themselves? You are not happy about what you make? Try to find a better opportunity. Still not content? Try the private sector. Still not happy? Maybe it is time for a career change. These articles remind me of the dangerous lunatics that are responsible for what Greece has become. When you think that it is the birthplace of our civilization it makes you think twice.


Of course when just looking at UT. They have been poor stewards of public funds. Instead of reinvesting in their buildings and such, let’s see…

  1. UT Houston expansion
  2. Institute for Transformational Learning
  3. Recently Shuttered Oil & Gas Institute

Not sure how much of this is relevant to the article, but too many to count. Using the private sector as a beacon of perfection is misguided at best. Private entities fail at extraordinarily high rates. Not only that, when you look at the average incomes for anyone in the lowest 90% of the country over the last 40 years, they’ve stagnated or gone down - a vastly different fate for those in the top 10%. Private entities can work great for a very small segment of the population many of who have created personal rationalizations for this as good for everyone.

It’s clear you don’t quite grasp the academic landscape - that real world works in a very different way. One cannot just go out and get another job midway through their career like one in the private sector - well, they can. But they’re starting all over from scratch at 50.

The lunacy in Greece can’t be any more absurd than the lunacy in our country today and to no surprise, it’s birthplace was a “success” story in the private sector.

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museum, it is summed up in one word “Balance” or “Manage” if you prefer. For this writer to complain about a stadium expenditures is ludicrous. Is it a coincidence that public entities can’t manage themselves? Don’t quite grasp the academic landscape? Don’t make assumptions. It is gratuitous at best. I have nothing against the public sector. I have a brother that is a Professor of Mathematics and Physics and other family members in the public sector. Most of them . acknowledge that there is a huge issue when it comes to manage funds effectively.
What has made the U.S.A. the world economic leader is its ability to create an enterprise without the tax burdens that you have in other “developed” countries.
Greece? Officially the unemployment is at 20.9% and how many have stopped looking or are working without paying taxes?
U.S.A. latest unemployment numbers 3.9%. These are best numbers in decades.
It is crystal clear that in the last 16 months our economy is in a rebound. The middle class that was being crushed is finally seeing light again. This economic renaissance reminds me of the Reagan years. Yes, the middle class is seeing light again.
There are no reasons why public entities can’t manage themselves. Some do and some don’t. They can’t? They need to change their procedures and make adjustments. Increasing tuition is not the answer.

The last 16 months are just the carry over from the previous 7+ years. This economy has been in a linear rebound since 2010. Unemployment peaked in 2009 and have largely declined ever since:

The DOW Jones has quadrupled also since 2009 - well until its volatility in the last few months.

So, the last 16 months have just been a continuance of the previous 7 years. But this is a red herring…I mean a digression, no? With that all being said, the middle class is nowhere near its robustness today than 40 years ago.

Back to the article, you decontextualized the argument - the writer criticized - not complained - the management and order of the economic priorities for a public school system. Arguing - not complaining (complaining has no logical rationale or lucidity - and the rhetoric is all pathos with no logos) - that the balance that you suggest is needed. So, you agree with the authors - a balanced management is necessary. If tremendous amounts of money are going to be invested into extraneous side projects, like athletics, then they need to reinvest in the actual infrastructure and intellectual capital of the school. Because after all - it is a school. Right? Or do you think we should just rid our schools of the educational and pedagogical component and just keep the sports?

Your disdain for Greece was prefaced - rightly so- with the recognition that former GRK city-states brought us the academy, but they also brought us the gymnasium. Two seemingly different aspects of culture - both worthy, undoubtedly. But the gymnasium wasn’t just for sports. They held lectures, symposia and other intellectual pursuits in these locales, too. They didn’t, on the other hand, hold athletic events in the academy. Because one’s importance and necessity supersedes the other’s.