Longhorn Memories

Many of you will be heading for Pasadena this week, and Kim and I look forward to joining you.  The rest of the Longhorn Nation will be watching the BCS Championship Game on television this Thursday.  I know there weren’t enough tickets to go around, and I’m sorry for that.  We’re working with the BCS and the Big 12 to improve that situation in the future.


I remember the first time I saw the Texas Longhorns play football.  Of course, I’d seen them play football on television.  I remember growing up in California and seeing them on Thanksgiving, first on a little 10-inch console, black and white TV.  That’s what you did on Thanksgiving.  You watched the Texas Longhorns play football.  That’s how America helped celebrate Thanksgiving.

The first time I saw the Longhorns play in person was when I was teaching at the University of Washington in the mid 1970s. The Longhorns were on the schedule, and I remember two things distinctly about the game.  One was that Roosevelt Leaks just ran up and down the field.  The only thing that made him change direction was the quarter.  And the only thing that slowed him down was the goal line.  The other thing I remember about the game: it was a big day for the Huskies because the Texas Longhorns had come to town.  The fans recognized that they were seeing something special.

UT HelmetThink of the Longhorn logo on our helmets, and how recognizable it is.  I love going to road games and seeing those simple white uniforms.  Texas written across the front, and that logo on the helmet.  It’s simple and instantly recognizable.  You don’t have to think, what does it mean?   Our logo is like the silhouette of the Coca-Cola bottle.  When you see it, you know it.

But icons like that don’t convey a powerful message just because of their shape.  It’s what they represent.  Our logo represents winning, it represents academics, and it represents integrity.  There are many programs in the country that have one or two of those, but there are very few that have all three.  We’re in a small pantheon of universities. Our logo is unique and stands for excellence, and I’m proud of it.

Hook ’em Horns!


Tough Decisions, Part II

In my previous post, I discussed our economic situation, priorities, and strategy.  Today I want to talk about implementing the strategy.

 Reallocation—No colleges or schools have experienced a budget cut for this academic year.  They have been asked to reallocate resources to fund half of the faculty raise pool for 2009-10, as well as their internal strategic initiatives.  Deans, department chairs, and vice presidents know their programs better than anyone.  Instead of managing by presidential edict, I have asked the individuals with direct responsibility for our programs to make these decisions.  This is very difficult and painful work.  I applaud our faculty, department chairs, and deans for the progress they’ve made.  Some areas, such as Information Technology Services (ITS), have already seen reorganizations and reductions in force.  The changes at ITS alone will save more than $5 million per year. 

Nevertheless, we face serious financial challenges through 2012, and we will need to continue working hard to address them.

The future—Unlike many of our national peer universities, UT Austin has not experienced severe budget cuts imposed by external forces.  We are not facing a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, which the University of California System is confronting.  We will come out of this recession as a stronger and more efficient institution. 

The recession has created uncertainty, which is hard on our students, faculty, and staff.  We have tried to include representative voices from the campus community in all our planning and communications.  Sometimes leaders must make tough decisions.  I understand that these decisions have human costs and affect real people.  But doing nothing also comes at a cost—a cost to the future of our programs, a cost to our aspirations, and a cost to the value of a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. 

I believe we must strive for excellence, in good times and bad.  I also believe that if we make strategic and disciplined decisions, we can emerge from the recession closer to our goal of becoming the nation’s best public university.  


Making Tough Decisions

The challenges our University faces this academic year are complex.  Consequently, our response to these challenges is not a simple story.  In the interest of clarity and transparency, I want to share our strategy.  Because of its length, I’m presenting this post in two installments.

The situation—Declines in investment income from all endowments, including the Available University Fund, have largely offset increases in state general revenue and tuition income for the 2009-10 budget.  Increases in employee health benefits, mandated financial aid increases, and other obligations have absorbed the majority of the new funds.  As a result, our budget is essentially flat.  Because of the way our endowment yields are calculated, we anticipate that this will continue through 2012-13.  Consequently, the Board of Regents has allocated additional funds from the AUF to help alleviate the situation for a three-year period. 

The strategy—In response to this situation, we could merely place our strategic initiatives on hold and cautiously balance the budget.  However, we aspire to be the best public university in America.  We have decided to continue to pursue our strategic goals.  This requires that we combine our limited new revenues with resources made available through reallocations and greater efficiencies.  In short, this means taking money from low priority programs to fund high priority programs.  This kind of change occurs every day in the private sector. 

Our priorities—In 2009-10, our highest priorities are to create more competitive faculty and graduate student compensation, continue faculty expansion, and increase student scholarships.  Faculty raises for this fiscal year will not be effective until January 2010.  They will be targeted to address inequities in our pay structures.  This will not cover normal pay raises for most of our faculty.  And we have been unable to give raises to our staff.  We will need to reallocate our resources so that we can provide faculty and staff raises next year.                                   

The process—In shaping this plan I consulted with students, faculty, deans, and staff.  I made a presentation and fielded questions at the Faculty Council and Staff Council meetings.  I will discuss the situation further and answer questions at a university-wide town hall meeting from 4:00-6:00 p.m. on February 2 at the Avaya Auditorium in the ACES Building.

Tomorrow, in part two of this post, I’ll talk about implementing our strategy and the future.


In Tower Talk I’ll try to answer questions that are raised in reader comments.  While I am unable to respond to every question, I’ll look for issues of high interest or questions raised by multiple readers.

A number of comments asked, who is responsible for deciding how much money flows from Intercollegiate Athletics to the academic enterprise at UT?  Also, why doesn’t athletics contribute more money to academics?

Ultimately, I make the decision, although I do it in consultation with the directors of men’s and women’s athletics. The goal is to make the contribution as large as possible.  But it must be done in a way that ensures that athletics continues as a self-sufficient business model.  As I said in a previous post, it was not that many years ago that academics subsidized athletics.

Some athletics revenues are predictable while other revenue streams are cyclical. Expenses can vary from year to year and from sport to sport.  Recent reports concerning football revenue may lead some to believe that Intercollegiate Athletics enjoys large profits.  Don’t forget that athletics must pay for many men’s and women’s programs besides football, and the majority do not pay for themselves.  The profit of Intercollegiate Athletics is far less than the profit of the football program.

The good news is that our highest revenue-producing programs are experiencing great success, and Intercollegiate Athletics should again be in a position to contribute financially to the academic mission of UT.


Celebrating Exceptional Students, Faculty, and Staff

Most of you have heard me extol our talented, accomplished, and dedicated students, faculty, and staff.  The video linked below will make every member of the UT family proud.

We prepared the video to honor some of the scores of members of the campus community who received awards and distinctions during the past year.  As you watch the video, I suspect you, too, will be impressed by the scope of these achievements. 

You’ll enjoy the video more if you select full-screen mode by clicking on the “full-screen” full-screen buttonbutton at the lower right corner of the video. 

2009 Award Winners Video Tribute

Watching this video reminds me of what an honor it is to serve as president of such a remarkable university. 

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday.


A Self-Sustaining Athletics Program

A number of you have commented on Coach Mack Brown’s salary, especially in these difficult economic times. Feedback like this is one of the reasons for Tower Talk, so I hope you will continue.

First, what did we do on his salary?  In 2007, when many organizations were interested in our coach, I worked with the Board of Regents on a plan to bring his guaranteed compensation in line with other top coaches. To do this, we increased his compensation from $3 million in 2007 to $4 million in 2008 and to $5 million in 2009.  The most recent action was an agreement to continue the 2009 guaranteed salary into the future, along with already existing $100,000 annual raises.  All of this comes from athletics revenues.  None of it comes from state funding or tuition.

Why now? The 2007 agreement was coming to an end.  If we did nothing, Coach Brown’s compensation would revert back to the 2007 level and would no longer be competitive in the marketplace.  And while Mack and Sally are happy here and not going anywhere, major institutions and organizations continue heavily to court them. Mack is the best coach in the country, not just because of winning–more victories in his 12 years than any program in the country–but also because he represents UT with integrity, class, and compliance. 

But the main reason to take action now was a business decision. When Mack came to UT, our program was in disarray.  It had not yet recovered from an uneven transition from Coach Royal to a new era.  The stadium was not full. Athletics could not be sustained by athletics revenue alone, so it had to receive a subsidy from the academic budget.  In Mack’s 12 years, he has changed all of that, going from $21 million to $87.5 million in football revenue, more than a four-fold increase, and building by far the most successful program in the country. This allows athletics—men’s and women’s sports—to be totally self-funding and self-sufficient.  In an era of budget cuts in higher education across the country, I am one of very few presidents who does not also have to bail out athletics with subsidies and loans.

Athletics also contributes more than $12 million to the UT economy in the form of service payments, such as for parking, administrative services, and interest on fund balances.  In the last three years they have made direct payments of $6.6 million to support academic programs such as undergraduate curriculum reform.  With our success this year, more payments are on the way.  And athletics is a key way we connect donors to the University and our academic programs.  (Less than 10% of total gifts go to athletics today).

Coach Brown is a critical component in this business model, which has been very successful.  It is important from a purely business perspective that we protect this asset and ensure a smooth transition into the Muschamp era, whenever that takes place.  We simply cannot afford another experience like our break in continuity between Coach Royal and Coach Brown.  All of this is to protect our academic budget in these difficult economic times, not at its expense.  Just ask any other major university president if he or she would trade places with me or our athletics business model.

Again, thank you for your input.  Dialogue is what this blog is all about.

Happy Holidays from the 40 Acres

billandkim_250Kim and I wish to extend our season’s greetings to everyone in The University of Texas family.

At UT, we strive to be the best, and we could not succeed without the contributions of our dedicated students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends.

The UT community is large and extends to almost every corner of the world. Tower Talk is another way for us to stay in touch. I’ll be sharing news, as well as important information about our budget situation; our remarkable students, faculty, and staff; tuition; the admissions process and the Longhorns trip to the BCS Bowl Championship. I look forward to your feedback.

You can subscribe to Tower Talk via email or RSS. It will also be included in our new UT iPhone application, available soon.

Happy Holidays!