UT Budget should Allocate Less Money for Unaffordable Expenses

Alberto Martinez

Five years ago, many staff and lecturers lost their jobs at UT-Austin. In the Austin American-Statesman, philosophy professor Robert Koons asked that each unit’s budget be posted online. With public oversight it would become possible to make judicious decisions about cuts. Koons complained, “The University’s budget is nearly as difficult to access as the black-ops budget of the CIA.”

It’s not quite that bad. A copy of the budget is available at the PCL and shorter reports are available online. But Koons was right that some information is not easily accessible.

When I joined Faculty Council in 2012, I asked to become a member of the Advisory Committee on Budgets. I hoped to study UT’s budget. But, in our first meeting, the chair told us that “we don’t actually look at numbers.” We did not get the budget, or a summary or any numbers whatsoever. We were just “an advisory committee.” But how could faculty advise on UT’s budget if we did not see it? 

I was stunned. I wondered about the members of Faculty Council who wrongly assumed that the budget committee actually looked at the budget. 

Months later, President William Powers Jr. kindly met with us. I suggested that we should either study the actual budget or rename our group. He readily agreed that we should analyze the budget; he said that a past chair had shifted the committee away from that.  

Subsequently, we had several helpful meetings with UT’s financial officers, Kevin Hegarty, Mary Knight, Dan Slesnick and Steven Leslie. I understood some of their concerns. For example, inflation accounts for about $36 million per year that has to come from somewhere. I worry that the Shared Services plan to eliminate 500 staff jobs is related to this.

However, I see the budget differently. A senior colleague used to say, “It’s not really a lack of funds — it’s a problem of distribution.”  

We often hear that the Legislature funds a decreasing percentage of UT's operating costs. Such concerns stem partly from looking at state appropriations as a percentage of general revenue. Since other sources of revenue increase, then it seems as if the percentage of state support declines. In 2000-2001, state appropriations to UT were $256.7 million. For 2013-14, appropriations are $315.5 million, a growth of 23 percent. If we take inflation into account, $256.7 million in 2001 is equivalent to $342.5 million in 2014 dollars. Thus, state appropriations have increased but have not kept up with inflation. I think that UT’s budgetary condition is not caused mainly by decreasing state appropriations. Instead, it’s caused by UT’s growth rate. 

In 2000-2001, the budget for faculty salaries was $185.5 million. That’s about $247.5 million in 2014 dollars. Yet the budget for faculty salaries is now higher — $278.3 million — because the number of full-time equivalent faculty appointments has grown by almost 21 percent, from 2,027 to 2,446. If the faculty had not grown at all, the expense for faculty salaries would be at about $222.6 million. Hence, most faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation. 

Meanwhile, departmental budgets have shrunk. In 2000-2001, UT budgeted $50.3 million for departmental operating expenses, which in 2014 dollars would be $67.1 million. Yet today those expenses are much lower, $48.2 million.  

At the same time, the annual budget for UT’s Instructional Administration (and I don’t know what that encompasses) has grown by 307 percent: from $14 million in 2000-2001 to $57 million in 2013-2014. It stands out as one of the greatest growth rates. In contrast, in these 13 years, staff benefits have grown by 129 percent, and UT’s net assets have similarly grown by 113.5 percent, from $3.4 billion to $7.2 billion. 

Meanwhile, income from tuition and fees has grown by almost 129 percent, from $260 million to $594 million. As is well known, this far exceeds the rate of inflation. Why? I don’t know. That’s the mystery. And the answer will not be found in this year’s budget alone but in its history. 

We should compare a past, balanced budget with today’s budget. I encourage readers to carry out this analysis. Last year, students complained that Accenture was paid $1 million to figure out what to cut. I was stunned when it turned out to be more than $4 million. That’s equivalent to paying lecturers to teach roughly 600 to 700 courses. These are real needs. In 2010, the College of Liberal Arts cut its budget for lecturers by $4.7 million.

Some imagine that scores of employees should be cut “to improve efficiency.” Instead, I know staff to be efficient, hardworking and underpaid. Last September, President Powers rightly said, “We are falling behind in our ability to attract and retain our staff as well. So we need to focus our resources to rectify that as well. Let me put it bluntly: We need raises, even if we have to stop doing some other important things to get them.”

Martínez is an associate professor in the department of history and a member of UT’s Faculty Council.

Editor's Note: Because of an editing error, the title of this column originally read "UT budget needs to allocate more money for employee salaries." It has been changed to better reflect the intention of the author. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column misstated the figures for the growth in faculty appointments, income from tuition and fees and UT's net assets. They have been corrected above.