Students and their money are soon to part

By Forrest Wilder and David Peterson Columnists
Daily Texan
February 12, 2002

In two days, a group of unelected, unaccountable business people will make a decision for the 50,000 students at the University and countless others to follow. The regents, many of whom attended the University in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was nearly free, are set to vote on the biggest fee increase in UT history. This fee is part of a 20 year trend of steep tuition and fee hikes. In the early 1980s, tuition and fees were about $500 a semester. Only two years ago, a tuition and fee hike raised the semester cost for a full-time student by $210. The cost is now $1,883 per semester, plus a few hundred in college fees.

Now, with the proposed infrastructure "charge" the administration is going for the gold. A sophomore in high school who will attend the University and graduate in 2007 will pay an extra $2,970 for their education. If they work, take only 12 hours in the fall and spring and make up for the lost classes by going to summer school, they'll pay an extra $3,590. This is assuming that President Faulkner keeps his promise to "hold the line on charges during the next five years." This wording means that fee and tuition increases are still fair game. Dan Burke, UT System chancellor, announced over the weekend that they will continue to seek tuition deregulation in the Texas Legislature.

The 11th hour "compromise" last Thursday between Student Government and the administration is no reason to celebrate. It offers a total savings of $110 for students who will be here for the next three years. The administration will make our little brothers and sisters pay for what we save now, and they'll still get more over the long term than they did in their original proposal.

On Jan. 31, President Faulkner said that any increase in state funding to higher education was "a matter of public debate." According to a survey released on Feb. 6, 77 percent of Americans polled felt a "great deal of concern" that declining state funding would lower the quality of higher education. Clearly, Americans value college education. So why isn't a flagship state University five blocks from the Legislature getting enough money to fix leaky faucets and renovate crumbling buildings?

For starters, UT administrators haven't asked for the money. At the 2001-2002 legislative session, Faulkner and Co. reported only a $5.4 million shortfall in general revenues! Almost half of the funding increase they requested was for rising utility costs. Lawmakers must think everything is hunky dory up here since energy prices are back down. Why didn't President Faulkner give them the so-called realistic view that he has overwhelmed us with in the past month: $500 million needed over the next five years?

Instead of asking for funds to solve the budget crisis, Faulkner spent his energy pushing the Legislature to deregulate tuition, a policy that would give the Board of Regents the power to set tuition rates. This sends a strong message to state officials that the University will seek funds from anywhere other than the state. Not the best message to send to a body that has historically underfunded its flagship school. Faulkner has a nose for private money.

According to a Nov. 30 story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, only one-sixth of Faulkner's $418,000 salary comes from the state. Roughly, $348,000 comes from undisclosed private donors. One wonders whether he's acting in their interests or ours.

Kevin Hegarty, UT's chief financial officer, pointed out that the state gets a 500 percent return, by way of economic growth, on every dollar it spends on higher education. The role of the administration and the Board of Regents is to safeguard the symbiotic relationship between the University and the state. Their failure to do this threatens the students, the University, and ultimately, the people of Texas.

Faulkner, who is fond of quoting the University's founders, should take a refresher course on their goals and values. The University was opened in 1883 "to male or female on equal terms, without charge for admission."

The Legislature's goal was "to place within the reach of our people, whether rich or poor ... a thorough education." The state constitution directs the Legislature "to establish and maintain a university of the first class."

The days of free education are gone, and the days of affordable education are on their way out. The founding principles of the University are lost on its current stewards.

Now, it is up to the students to reclaim the 40 Acres. If students don't fight to keep the University affordable and accessible to all "on equal terms ... whether rich or poor," who will?

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