Tuition discussions stay closed to committee members despite requests to open them

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The UT System Board of Regents are not set to discuss making Tuition Policy Advisory Committee meetings open to the public as requested by the Young Conservatives of Texas.

TPAC is a nine-member committee that includes one undergraduate student who receives financial aid, three student leaders and five faculty members and administrators. TPAC hosted three student forums and held closed meetings most Tuesdays and Thursdays from Oct. 25 to the end of November.

YCT called for the UT System Board of Regents to restart the current tuition-setting process at the University and to approve a rule ensuring open TPAC meetings in future tuition-setting years in a press release issued Jan. 24. During the last state legislative session, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Minola, drafted legislation to require university fee advisory committees to hold open meetings. TPAC primarily recommends tuition rates, but also deals with fees that accompany tuition costs.

UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn spoke to The Daily Texan on Jan. 24 and said the System administration is aware of YCT’s correspondence and is currently reviewing applicable law. However, the issue is not listed on the agenda, which was released on Friday, for the Board of Regents meeting Feb. 8 and 9. For the issue to appear on the agenda, one of the regents would have to request the addition.

President William Powers Jr. took the recommendation of TPAC to increase tuition by the largest tuition increase the UT System will allow for the next two academic years. The UT System Board of Regents can accept or decline Powers’ recommendation when they set tuition at an undetermined date later this semester.

Tony McDonald, YCT senior vice chairman and law student, said the group is against the proposed tuition increases because it promoted excessive spending. McDonald spoke to The Daily Texan Jan. 24 and said YCT plans to put pressure on the regents to make the requested changes to the tuition recommendation process.

“It’s really sad that they don’t see how important it is that these meetings be open,” McDonald said.

McDonald said University officials and student leaders should be held to the same standards of openness as representatives in state government.

“Universities have to be accountable to the people,” McDonald said. “You can’t be held accountable when behind closed doors.”

Committee co-chair Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost of the University, spoke with The Daily Texan in November and said he wants the tuition-setting process to be transparent, but the TPAC meetings are closed because members discuss confidential budget information.

TPAC co-chair Kevin Hegarty, chief financial officer and vice president for the University, said the meetings are closed for the sake of the committee members.

“It has to do with making people feel open to expressing their opinions,” Hegarty said.

Government senior Rosa Gutierrez served as TPAC’s student representative at large. Powers appointed Gutierrez to provide representation for students on financial aid.

Gutierrez said she can understand administrators’ desire to keep the meetings closed, but said she personally would not have had a problem with the meetings being open.

“If the students wanted to come get informed and listened to the discussion, I wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable,” Gutierrez said.

Printed on Monday, February 6, 2012 as: Tuition talks stay closed from public