• Powers touts potential costs savings and efficiencies in endorsement of report

    In a speech Tuesday, President William Powers Jr. endorsed a report that claims it would yield the University $490 million over 10 years.

    The report is the collection of findings by the Committee on Business Productivity, a group of 13 business leaders commissioned by Powers in April 2012 to find efficiencies in the University’s non-academic services.

    The report, titled “Smarter Systems for a Better UT,” proposes a series of reorganizations, rate increases and prioritizations to achieve its end goal.

    In his speech, Powers said that while universities are not “simply businesses,” they do exercise some business functions, such as supporting information technology, reimbursing travel and buying resources from outside vendors.

    “In these areas, they ought to be following the best business practices,” Powers said. “As a recipient of both tax dollars and tuition dollars, to do otherwise is to betray the public trust. For any public institution, efficiency is a moral imperative. But it also is the smart thing to do because it can free up much-needed resources we can redirect to our core missions of teaching and research.”

    Three primary areas are identified by the report: asset utilization, technology commercialization and administrative service transformation.

    The report outlines several proposals, such as raising dorm, food and parking rates; selling excess power produced by the University’s power plants in the open market; increasing the licensing volume of the Office of Technology Commercialization; and reorganizing the information technology, finance and human resources operations of the University.

    The authors of the report also argued the need for an “operations czar” or “project manager” that would oversee the implementation of the recommendations. In his speech, Powers appointed Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, to do so.

    In 2002, then-president Larry Faulkner commissioned a similar though much larger group of business leaders and citizens — mostly UT alumni — to produce a report that would outline an academic vision for the University. Known as the Commission of 125, the group’s 2004 report created a 25-year timeframe.

    Powers ended his speech with a story about the Pope’s decision in 1586 to create a 344-ton obelisk. Powers said the implementation of the proposal, like the obelisk, will need to be done “one logical step at a time.”

    “Because they were successful at this, many more obelisks were moved around Rome in the following years, one of which weighed 510 tons,” Powers said. “If we get this right, there’s no telling what else we’ll be able to accomplish, and there are other areas of our operations that will need our attention too.”

  • UT one step closer to getting a fall break

    UT students might be able to sleep in a couple of extra days during the fall semester after the Faculty Council voted Monday to approve a two-day fall break.

    The break would take place on Monday and Tuesday of the ninth week of the fall semester, pushing the start of school two days earlier. The proposed calendar change will need to be approved by the general faculty to be implemented.

    Diane Bailey, chairwoman of the council’s University Academic Calendar Committee, said after approving the motion, the committee will continue to look at potential problems the change may cause. Faculty members from the College of Natural Sciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering opposed a fall break, claiming it disrupts lab schedules. 

    Currently, the University has 12 full weeks of school for labs in the fall. If the fall break is implemented, the University would still have the same number of full weeks for labs, but one of those weeks would be the first week of school when many professors do not feel ready to start hosting labs.

    Michael Domjan, psychology professor and faculty council member, opposed the proposal for a fall break.

    “The committee feels that this issue with labs can easily be taken care of, but that doesn’t mean that the faculty of Natural Sciences or the faculty of Engineering share that view,” Domajn said.

    Bailey said the two-day break would provide a much-needed mental rest for students, especially freshmen who are still adapting to college-level coursework. 

    Andrew Clark, international relations and global studies senior and vice president for Senate of College Councils, said visits to University Health Services’ Mental Health Center to request crisis service increased from 496 in the 2007-2008 academic year to 786 in the 2011-2012 academic year.

    Bailey said the break would not solve the problem of low attendance the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or balance the fall and spring semesters to have the same number of class days. The fall will continue to have 70 days, and the spring 74.

    “It would provide an opportunity for students, graduate students [and] faculty to have a break in the middle of the semester to recoup some of our energy so that we might progress in the second part of the semester with full strength,” Bailey said. “It is, in particular, something that is expected to be a benefit for freshmen who are adjusting to new workloads and new a pace and a new life.”

    Domjan, however, said if students want to face less stress, they could limit their activities outside the classroom.

    “I would like to suggest that the students would be less stressed if they didn’t attend ACL and they didn’t go to OU weekend and didn’t do all these other things.” Domjan said. “Then they wouldn’t have their work pile up.”

    Rebekah Thayer, business honors and finance senior and Student Government representative, helped write the Student Government legislation in the spring of 2012 and said she appreciates the council taking students’ concerns with the fall semester into account.

    “We feel that the faculty council understands where the students are coming from and they’re supporting something that many students truly need and is going to help the University going forward with retention rates for freshman and overall morale of the student body, as well as productivity,” Thayer said.