The Recession Catches Up with Texas

Governor Perry sent a letter to all state agencies today requesting that we submit a plan to cut spending of state general revenue and general revenue-dedicated appropriations by 5%.  These plans are due by February 15.  The request was prompted by a forecast of lower state revenue as a result of the recession.  In light of a possible revenue shortfall, such a request is reasonable.

The governor does not call for cuts at this time, only that we prepare a plan that prioritizes reductions.  More details will emerge in the days ahead, and we won’t know the impact of these actions until later in the year.

Having said that, the University Budget Council will meet as soon as possible to discuss our response to this request.  The University of Texas System will submit a comprehensive plan for all component institutions.

I’ll keep the campus posted on new developments in Tower Talk. 

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Dinner at Bill's

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Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

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  1. Jeffrey Walker says:

    Two quick points:

    1. I don’t think this kind of announcement belongs in Tower Talk — which is only read by those who actively call it up. A general email — that shows up in everyone’s mailbox — seems to me the more appropriate medium. The information is too important.

    2. I’m not specially worried about Mack Brown’s salary, but I note that Perry’s letter specifies that “direct services” should not be cut, and that savings should be found by reducing administrative overhead. In the recent round of soft-money cuts in my college (COLA), we have been forced to make reductions in “direct services,” i.e. the educational mission, by eliminating sections, eliminating lecturers, reducing grad student support, and contemplating watering down the foreign language requirement. So I hope that, if Perry’s 5% cut becomes reality, we will not further compromise the educational mission but will find the savings elsewhere, or, as the Governor suggests, in administrative overhead.

    • Mr. Walker,

      “Reducing administrative overhead” (as you paraphrased Governor Perry’s message). . . .

      Is that a coded phrase for depriving classified staff of jobs?

      If so, no surprise there; if in fact that is not the plain-English translation of those words, I’d like to know what it actually means.

      Because UT’s classified staff has always gotten hit first.

      Meanwhile, the football program seems categorically off-limits to paying anywhere near the 52% overhead to UT that other self-funding units have to meet (President Powers says he is working on an explanation of how much football money actually exists, where it goes and who decides all of this, which will surely make for interesting reading); there’s always plenty of money to hire new VPs and set up (and spotlight) offices that are mostly window dressing (such as Institutional Compliance, which one might think would be in a prime position to deter or catch malfeasance of the Larry Burt ilk, but seems instead to be a mechanism to keep the lid on things within UT by showing whistleblowers that they’d better have another career lined up before making any noise); exorbitant perks such as executives flying around in UT-owned aircraft when commercial services to the same destinations are plentiful go unremarked (just UT AIG-style business as usual); academics (primarily Liberal Arts, quite rarely Business or Engineering) may have to absorb some cuts, but not without considerable notice.

      And the classified staff? Selectively downsized any time there is a pinch, like ranchers (who today are not generally independent family owners, mind you, but wing-tip managers working for some huge conglomerate which derives most of its profit from insurance) culling a herd.

      People who get treated like cattle will respond accordingly. They are too intelligent to feel loyal to an employer who sees them as numbers to be cut for the sake of leaving the bosses’ salaries alone. Just ask the postal workers (the ones you actually see, the ones who deliver your mail and who stand at the counters to serve you as the queues of customers awaiting help get longer and longer because front-line staff have been cut) whose middle and upper managers receive 20%-40% bonuses for efficiency even as the postal service racks up more record-setting red ink.

      When cuts occur, they should be equitable, at all levels. That means top to bottom.

      Governor Perry’s letter does not say anything to the effect of “Find a bunch of people without the resources to battle UT in court, like maybe people you didn’t much like having around anyhow, and let them go.”

      What it does say quite specifically is that “We [Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Joe Straus] are asking each state agency to thoroughly review all planned expenditures for the remainder of the biennium. . . . We owe it to the taxpayers to be especially prudent with their hard-earned dollars during these difficult times.”

      By all rights that review must for once include UT executives accustomed to lavish perks.

      Don’t tell me no fat exists among the $50K + (and especially the $100K+) cohort at UT; the place is as top-heavy with executives (such as a raft of Directors, Executive Directors, Associate Directors and Assistant Directors numbering one to every eight employees at one prominent UT unit) as any of the megacorporations beginning with Enron that have failed in the last decade. You see the same people in expensive clothing flashing around campus (mostly near the Tower) every day. They don’t have far to walk to their cars, because by design empty “O” parking spaces for their convenience but barred to mere mortals “At All Times” are plentiful. Those people might have a Blackberry (official insulation from having to talk with you) or a cup of coffee in hand, but how often do they carry as much as a laptop (or even more rarely, a briefcase, which might contain real paper) or anything to indicate that they are working? Are all those high-ranking administrators really so much brighter than everybody else that they can store all the details of every single thing they need to know in their heads? I doubt it. By comparison, just look at all the faculty members moving about campus lugging troves of papers, books and computers.

      One reason why so many dysfunctional departments with deeply entrenched multi-layered bureaucracies exist at UT is that many department heads and directors and their lackeys effectively cut themselves off from the workforce. That is deliberate. They don’t want to be bothered; they aren’t required to associate with working people, they have hatchet men and HR to deal with anyone whom they don’t like, and that way it’s easier for them. Shoot, they can keep the golf channel going on one of their monitors.

      But if one group is consistently singled out to make sacrifices (or, more properly, to be sacrificed) so everybody else can be protected, it has a devastating impact on morale.

      Yes, the draconian method to motivate a work force is to make people fear for their jobs; however, that looming-disaster-of-lost-income-as-cudgel paradigm hardly fosters loyalty or brings out the best in anyone. Instead, it reinforces the I’ve-got-my-rear-end-covered mentality among those who remain, it makes people feel as if they are completely on their own, it represses the instinct for people to help one another to perform well for everyone’s benefit, it spawns petty politics and mind games. . .and the result? Often rather than the best and most productive performers, those who survive are the most cunning, the most power-hungry and the most politically adept.

      People are not stupid. UT will never achieve its stated goal of becoming the finest public university in America unless everyone is on board. That includes the folks who represent the largest proportion of UT’s work force and keep UT running: the classified staff.

      • Jeffrey Walker says:

        Argus, your post is too long and rambling for me to address everything, but note: “administrative overhead” includes, in plain English, provosts, assistant provosts, deans, assistant deans.

  2. President Powers,

    Another reader (Argus, January 11, 2010 at 6:13 pm) recently made a very alarming accusation, and I was hopeful you could address the matter directly. Has the University of Texas ever financed private jet travel for its regents or administrators (or agents/employees otherwise)? Was there any private jet travel expenses related to the BCS football game?

    If the university has funded private jet travel, could you give us a run down of the (1) who gets to us it (2) for what purpose (3) how frequently is it used and how much does UT spend on it?

    It would be shocking (and very disrespectful) to find ANY member of UT spending university funds on such extravagances during a time of budget cuts.

    @Argus, Do you have any evidence to support your statements?


    • Wade,

      Since you requested it, this is a reply to you about UT executive travel. (I promised to lay off flailing President Powers on the issues of how much football money there is & where it all goes, as well as the Staff Ombudsperson issue, at least for the meanwhile. President Powers says he’ll get back with us on both of those and I look forward to his official responses.)

      You raise good questions which likewise deserve solid answers. I lack the time and resources to find all the hidden fat in UT’s budget (gosh—doesn’t it seem as though auditors might be able to do so?), but I have a strong hunch that most of that fat is toward the top. That UT’s median salary is so far below its average salary is merely one indication of this inequity. Obviously more storm clouds are gathering; we see ominous new posts with such titles as “The Recession Catches Up with Texas” (not exactly late-breaking news to people who actually work for a living), so you can bet that more cuts are coming.

      My suggestion is that we open all the books top-to-bottom, wall-to-wall. I further suggest that as the Budget Council looks for areas to trim expenses, that search ought to include belt-tightening in areas other than just cutting classified staff. Historically, UT has retained VPs at well over $100,000 (even if nobody can figure out what their jobs are) while jettisoning a bunch of housekeepers or administrative assistants in the $25,000 range.

      Now, on travel to the BCS Championship: I did not drive the Regents or any other rich people accustomed to living large off UT out to the airport in limousines. . .so I cannot say that with my own eyes, I saw a single one of them board a private aircraft to California or check into a luxury suite at state expense.

      However, I base the assumption that they went to the game in high dudgeon on UT’s history of entertaining the Regents and others quite lavishly. If I am wrong about this, I’d actually be quite glad for somebody to prove it. Let’s see the itineraries, receipts and boarding passes (normally required to finance official travel).

      Are you aware that UT owns at least two private aircraft (a Beechcraft King Air 350 and a King Air 200) for “official State business?” Have a look at this site:

      Here are some photos of a typical King Air 350:

      Could you stand riding in that thing?

      The aircraft are physically headquartered at 10335 Golf Course Road. (Golf Course Road? That’s almost too rich to pass up.) Technically, these planes are turboprops (not jets), because their turbines do spin propellers; ergo, UT Admin could truthfully claim not to fly around in private jets. That much I must concede.

      You might be surprised what has been deemed “official State business” [this quotation and most others in this post stem directly from the site above] in the past. As The Daily Texan reported, some years back UT flew a private aircraft up to Georgetown (Texas, not in the District of Columbia) and back to pick up one passenger: a teen-ager who was slated to attend an official funeral. Were Interstate 35 and all the other roads mere mortals use shut down that day? This shows how flexible the definition of whether “the number traveling is cost efficient” (and the matter of cost efficiency in general) governing the use of such UT-owned aircraft can be.

      In such lean times as these, the questions raised by the UT aircraft site are many (and they parallel quite a number currently in play regarding the football millions). For instance, who determines eligibility to fly in UT’s aircraft, instead of on commercial flights? That is supposed to happen if and only if:

      “The time required to use commercial carriers interferes with other obligations {travelers should maintain documentation, such as a calendar, in support of this statement}.

      There are only 3 categories of eligible passengers who may use the System aircraft: (1) passengers who are officers or employees of the State of Texas; (2) passengers who are spouses or other non-employees whose presence benefits the State or is in furtherance of State business; and (3) passengers who are in the care or custody of an officer or employee traveling on official State business.”

      If you click the link for UT System Aircraft Flights with Space Available (sorted by Date) on the site above, you’ll see that common destinations currently listed between January 20 and May 21 include Houston, Dallas Love [Field], El Paso, Brownsville, Laredo and Tyler.

      Funny thing: Southwest Airlines serves most of those places, so do other commercial carriers, and if you look around a bit online you’ll see that partners of other major airlines will get you to the others. Just maybe not in King Air 350 style.

      Another funny thing: In a number of cases on the current Space Available link, you’ll see that as many as 8 seats are still open. Now, if the total number of passenger seats on that King Air 350 executive turboprop is 9, who might the single passenger currently booked on the aircraft be, and why are they so important as to merit solo passage on a private aircraft? Sounds like Heywood Floyd cruising up to TMA-1 on the moon in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

      How much does it cost to keep one of UT’s aircraft on standby, and how much does it cost to keep one in the air?

      Space Available is one of the few specifics listed on the aircraft site; obviously that is set up for the convenience of a select few with the clout to call up and tag along.

      Man, I’ll bet it’s fun to fly in one of those UT planes! Here is a comment from the official aircraft site:

      “To quote a frequent flyer, ‘It’s the best airline in the business… delays…no lost luggage….great crew!!’”

      I’m sure all of that is true. You probably don’t have to go through security or take your shoes off the way ordinary fliers do, either. I’ll bet that if you’re running late, the crew will kindly hold the departure for you, too.

      Personally, I’d be interested to know exactly where the UT aircraft were on the days immediately before and after January 7, who was using those planes, and whether any other planes were chartered at state expense.

  3. I hope the foreign language program does not suffer from this. It is already struggling and my teacher was having concerns of being let go. (That would decrease the number of profs for the subject from 2 to 1 just for this particular language). It is saddening to see so many cuts being made to one area.

  4. Joseph Fox says:

    President Powers,

    Thank you for your candid post. It is wonderful you are making this information available to the UT community and allowing discussion of it, too.

  5. Let me guess the 5% mandate will be met by firing 5% of the hard working people at UT but not one penny of the cuts will come from Mack Browns salary.

  6. Drew Carls says:

    President Powers: I appreciate the quick response (same day in fact) that Governor Perry issued his request. I look forward to following the UT System’s, the University’s, and the University Budget Council’s comments and recommendations.