Friday Firing Lines for week of March 24: Tuition hikes and Shared Services

Dear editor,

I am being laid off. On Valentine’s Day, I was informed that, as of May 31, my job as course scheduler for a good-sized area studies department will no longer exist. Everything I do will be centralized, consolidated at the college level and given to colleagues whose plates are already full. This does not bode well for the department and for the faculty who rely on my specialized expertise, and it adds an unnecessary burden to those whose workload will significantly increase when I am gone.

The work of a course scheduler rests at the very heart of what makes UT an educational institution — the actual classes that instructors teach and that students register for each semester. As a course scheduler, I thought my job was secure because I served a purpose necessary to the department and, by extension, necessary to mission of the University. I was wrong. My job was not secure.

It doesn’t matter what you call it: Shared Services.  Consolidation.  Centralization. Those words are just semantics. Support staff are the bone and muscle and sinew which keep the University operating. But bone and muscle and sinew are being sliced away.  This is a grave disservice to those who remain and to the departments and faculty who rely on the expertise of skilled and dedicated staff members. Not everything can be mechanized and centralized, and the value of the human component should not be so callously dismissed.

When they came for the custodial staff some years ago, I felt powerless to make a difference. Since then, they have come for the advisers and the accountants. From where I stand, it looks like no job is safe, no job is secure.

Shared Services.  Consolidation.  Centralization. It doesn’t matter what it’s called — the emperor has no clothes.

— Victoria Vlach, course scheduler


David Davis urges an informed discussion in his recent column in defense of tuition hikes but is himself misinformed on the facts. He incorrectly states that there has been a “constant decline” in state funding. In the short term, state appropriations have gone up in 2014 relative to the past year. In the long term, there has been fluctuation — not a “constant decline” — and a decrease that is not statistically significant. He also repeats an oft-stated but misleading claim about state appropriations declining as a percentage of the University’s funding. This ignores that University revenue has greatly increased, so even flat state funding would cause a decrease in the percentage. More importantly, Davis creates a false dichotomy between tuition and state appropriations that ignores two critical factors: 1) Tuition revenue has increased a rate 27.4 times faster than state appropriations have decreased. 2) Another major source of funding is the UT regents’ Permanent University Fund (PUF). The regents allocate money from the PUF to the Available University Fund (AUF), where UT-Austin can then use it. Davis incorrectly states that only 4.25 to 5 percent of PUF funds can be allocated to AUF — that is the historical range, but there is no rule that it cannot increase further.

In fact, in May 2012 the regents allocated more money from the PUF to the AUF in order to offset tuition increases. The PUF has since increased by over $3 billion, but despite these available funds the regents are now pushing UT-Austin to increase tuition. UT-Austin CFO Kevin Hegarty has stated that the tuition increases would generate about $10 million in recurring funds for the University. To generate this revenue, the regents could increase the allocation to the AUF by just .06 percent of the $15.8 billion PUF. Instead, they have decreased the allocation in 2014 relative to the past year.

For both the December 2013 and March 2014 tuition increase proposals, the regents requested tuition increases with very little time for discussion, rather than allowing time for the longer TPAC process. The fixed tuition plan that Davis posits as a solution actually uses tuition rates even higher than the current increase proposal. Rather than blasting the “egocentrism” of students, Davis should realize that the regents are imposing unnecessary tuition increases and disallowing the student voice in the process.

— Mukund Rathi, computer science senior, submitted via email