Donors worried over impact of higher-education debate on UT research

Huma Munir

Editor’s note: One in a continuing series about the controversy concerning research at UT.

The debate on higher education and research could impact faculty hiring, retention and fundraising efforts, University officials said.

President William Powers Jr. said deans and department chairs have raised concerns about questions from potential hires. Faculty and potential staff are concerned about how budget cuts could affect the role of research at the University and how it will impact their ability to conduct research within their respective fields, he said. Deans and department chairs did not return requests for comment.

“More people we are trying to retain are interested in this,” Powers said.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and Gov. Rick Perry have openly shown support for controversial ideas that call for the elimination of “excessive” research and increasing class sizes in order to cut tuition in half. Richard Vedder, an economist and professor at Ohio University, said in an interview with The Daily Texan last month if 80 percent of the faculty at UT taught more students, the University could reduce its faculty and save money.

UT currently employs about 20,000 faculty members, but with looming budget cuts, the University will cut about 600 employees, Powers said. Specific faculty cuts are yet to be identified, but deans and department chairs are trying to cut from the administration before adjuncts or assistant professors, Powers said.

About 138 out of 1,900 tenure-track professors in the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Communication and Fine Arts were offered early retirement last year, said Human Resource Services Director John Moore. Of these professors, 31 accepted the package, he said. Their positions will be filled with non-tenured, less expensive faculty.

The debate on higher education also attacks specific research being done in the arts and humanities departments. Powers said there are currently no plans to cut the research, but the budget is highly dependent on grants and outside funding. If the controversy causes skepticism among donors and organizations that support research, it could limit future projects.

“If those budgets go down, it will have an impact on research,” Powers said.

David Onion, senior associate vice president of the University Development Office, said donors and alumni are concerned that the research debate could cause significant changes, but the impact on University fundraising is unclear.

“It is crucial that we have an environment where the economy is good as well as donors who are confident that there aren’t going to be radical changes at the University,” Onion said.

He said while the debate on higher education may cast the University in a negative light among advocates of faculty research, donors are unifying to support research regardless of their political affiliations. 

Printed on 07/11/2011 as: Donors fear budget debate will influence UT research