Speak now or forever pay your fee

By Forrest Wilder and David Peterson, Columnists
Daily Texan
January 31, 2002

You may not have heard about it, but your second and last chance to "be heard" before the administration barrels through their revised infrastructure fee is Thursday 4 p.m. at Batts 7. Since the first public hearing two weeks ago, administrators have done everything in their power to win support for a losing idea. They have used the classic tactic of divide-and-conquer, sleight-of-hand budget manipulation and veiled threats.

Deceptions and Lies

The new, revised proposal for the infrastructure fee, a concession according to the administration, is a sham. It contains the exact same increases, just delayed by a year. In the interim, the University will actually make more money by charging $180 dollars per semester for one year in addition to tacking on a $115 fee for summer school attendees. In an attempt to buy off current students by giving them a small break on the fee (of course those who go to summer school will end up paying more anyway), the administration shows a blatant disregard for honesty. It's a creative way to get more money from students dressed up as a cost-saver, but it boils down to a sad attempt to fool enough people for enough time to get the fee increase passed without opposition.

Monday, Kevin Hegarty, vice president of affairs and chief financial officer, told the faculty council, "All of us, even President Faulkner, were surprised by the magnitude of the numbers." Is this a lie on the part of the administration or a sign of negligence? After the 2001-02 legislative budget was approved, President Faulkner complained to The Daily Texan of a $15 million dollar gap in the budget. Then, in September, he alluded to financial concerns in his State of the University address but gave no indication of the "magnitude of the numbers." It turns out that the core budget lacks somewhere in the ballpark of $500 million over the next five years. One would think that a man who gets paid $432,000 a year to run the nation's largest university might foresee a five-year, $500 million dollar budget shortfall.

"The easiest thing to do would have been to ignore the problems but the faculty, staff and student body are not going to pretend that everything is OK," Hegarty told the Faculty Council. But that's precisely what the University administration has been doing for decades. It's all on the books, so to speak. Thus any surprise on Faulkner's part is gross negligence.

Betrayal

On Monday, the Faculty Council voted unanimously to support the student's fee increase, partly because Hegarty's presentation threatened salary and hiring freezes. For some of the country's most intelligent people, the members of the council sure voted like a bunch of scared sheep. A close examination of the five-year budget reveals that the money allotted only brings salary increases to about a 4.6-percent average, still substantially lower than at what the administration calls our "peer" institutions. With a $275 million shortfall, minimum, over the next five years (with the fee increase), the long-term outlook for market-rate salary increases and new hires is pretty grim. Assuming that most faculty plan on being here for more than five years, it's surprising that they're so short-sighted.

Teaching assistants and assistant instructors have been noticeably quiet through all of this. Perhaps it's because they've been promised a cut of the infrastructure money via "tuition benefits." They seem to have forgotten that the University has rarely thrown them more than the obligatory bone.

The faculty is clearly afraid to bite the hand that feeds them (albeit not very well). But as student "infrastructure" fees cover an ever-larger portion of university costs, faculty would be wise to watch who they betray.

Pitting faculty against students is a shameless way to get what you want. Even worse, it ignores an entire group of people at the University: the staff. Historically, the worst paid and least powerful are those who clean out restrooms. The best paid are those who clean out pocketbooks.

Threats

The administration has outlined a number of ways the University will suffer without the fee increase. They have threatened the students by predicting a drop in quality of education, facilities and national competitiveness. They gave faculty a threatening prediction for their (already low) salaries. Patricia Clubb, vice president for employee and campus services, upped the ante when she told the Texan that without the fee we might have to forego air conditioning in the summer. But the real threat is that the University is taking more of our money and limiting many people's access to education while failing to deal with fundamental budget problems. Until these problems are addressed, our costs will soar and the administration's gloomy predictions will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Wilder is an English senior and Peterson is an anthropology senior.