UT Watch Commentary on the Commission of 125 Report

"A Disciplined Culture of Excellence"?

Commentary on the Commission of 125 Final Report(pdf)

          UT Tower $$$
A Report Prepared by UT Watch
February 2005

Table of Contents
About UT Watch 2
A Few Notes 2
Introduction 2
Detailed Commentary 3
   - Strategic Initiative One 3
   - Strategic Initiative Two 4
   - Character and Scope 4
   - Recommendation One 5
   - Recommendation Two 5
   - Recommendation Three 6
   - Recommendation Four 6
   - Recommendation Five 7
   - Recommendation Six 8
   - Recommendation Seven 8
   - Recommendation Eight 9
   - Recommendation Nine 9
   - Recommendation Ten 9
   - Recommendation Eleven 9
   - Recommendation Twelve 9
   - Recommendation Thirteen 10
   - Recommendation Fourteen 11
   - Recommendation Fifteen 11
   - Recommendation Sixteen 12
   - Conclusion 12

About UT Watch:

UT Watch is a student-based watchdog group for the University of Texas at Austin. We promote campus democracy, affordable education, and genuine access to higher education for all Texans. We resist corporate control of education, authoritarian decision-making, and misuse of public money.

A Few Notes:

The two primary authors of this report are University of Texas-Austin alums, Nicholas Schwellenbach (History '04) and Forrest Wilder (Anthropology '03). It was mostly written in the Fall 2004 after the Commission of 125 Final Report was issued. Since then UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner has made several statements regarding the C-125 Report and deliberation and action have begun. This report may be updated or appended as events unfold. Please check www.utwatch.org for future updates. This file is located at www.utwatch.org/c125commentary.pdf. Also, the Commission of 125 Final Report, as well as other resources can be accessed at www.utexas.edu/com125/.


The work of the Commission of 125 is a tremendous accomplishment. The University is lucky to have a group of citizens committed to defining UT's future. The Commission's Report is sweeping and bold. If past Commissions' successes are any indication, the Report and its implementation will profoundly affect the course of the University in the next 25 years. However, as with any endeavor, the Commission and its Report are not the final word. The 16 recommendations in the Report do not carry the force of law. The 218 members of the Commission do not constitute a representative body of those who will be the most affected by their recommendations. The UT community, the public, and all interested parties need to reflect deliberatively and critically on the Commission's vision for the future of UT. With this in mind, we would like to contribute to the dialogue by offering the following analysis of the Commission of 125's Final Report. We approach this task as students, alumni, members of the campus community, engaged citizens, and Texans. Most important is the perspective of a student. While the Commission includes some students in an advisory capacity, the overwhelming majority of the Committee's members and decision makers can not offer this point of view. Most of the members hail from the private sector in one capacity or another. They all have a commitment to public service as evidenced by their involvement in philanthropy, civics, and education. Nonetheless, the makeup of the Commission - dominated by voices from the corporate, political, and legal arenas - leads to a particular understanding of the role of the University and the direction it should take. Readers should bear this in mind when reading our report as we will highlight certain passages that point to a particular philosophical underpinning1 that stresses "efficiency," "accountability," "commercialization," and the increasing role of the private sector in public universities.

We share with the Commission the hope that UT can fulfill its mandate to be a "university of the first class." We also take it for granted that UT must balance quality with affordability and access. The question of how to do this is wide open. The Commission of 125 points out one way, but it is far from the only one. Many suggestions contained within the Report have been on the drawing board for many years awaiting implementation. In a sense, they are no- brainers. Others need considerable more scrutiny and should be compared alongside other options available to university decision makers. In our report, we try to offer alternatives for consideration where necessary.

The Commission has chosen as the operative phrase in its vision statement for UT: "A disciplined culture of excellence." The Report spells out that this means creating a university that "requires superior performance in all University endeavors." To get to this undefined point, the Report recommends two overarching initiatives: one, a new core undergraduate curriculum; two, a higher standard for leadership. (Later in our report, we will critically examine these initiatives.) While few would disavow the pursuit of excellence in everything the University does, it is quite another to "require superior performance." The Report commands that "every [UT academic] program should rank at least among the nation's top twenty." To fulfill this drastic dictate would require drastic change, as the Report acknowledges. Thus, Initiative Two calls for an "accountability" system "by which performance of every program is evaluated consistently and rigorously and those individuals responsible for excellence are held accountable." The Report also hints that many programs not ranking in the top twenty nationwide would have to be axed even though the definition for "superiority" and the method for determining rank are both conspicuously absent.

Following the Commission's two strategic initiatives and a section entitled "Character and Scope" are sixteen diverse recommendations that address numerous issues on campus. We examine these recommendations in a detailed manner. Unfortunately, in many cases the Commission's Report is vague. We try as best we can to understand what is intended and to anticipate how these vague recommendations, which sound positive on their face, may be enacted.

UT Watch congratulates and critiques the Commission of 125 Report. We hope to further discussion on the University's future through the following comments.

Detailed Commentary:

Strategic Initiative One: a new core curriculum

Develop a new undergraduate core curriculum to better prepare students for lives of accomplishment.

An undergraduate curriculum review at UT is sorely needed and the Commission rightly advocates one. All students, regardless of major, need to acquire the basic skills of writing and research as well as a balanced core educational experience. Unfortunately, many students do not receive a sufficient education in basic skills at the University. While we can agree that UT needs a new undergraduate curriculum, we find fault with some aspects of the Strategic Initiative One.

The Report puts the faculty at the center of developing a new curriculum: "the creation of a core curriculum is the province of the faculty." There is no mention of inserting students into this process. How will critical student input be factored in? The question of student input in the process of creating a core curriculum is important since students are the primary stakeholders; they have firsthand knowledge of the educational experience at the University and would be the most affected by the proposal. It is wise to put faculty at the center, but students should be included as well.

The Commission reserves an important role for the president in choosing the faculty who will shape this new core: "The president should convene a committee to develop a new core curriculum." While the president should monitor this process, it is unlikely that presidential oversight will be sufficiently vigilant because of the busy schedule university presidents maintain. An annual ceremonial rubberstamp is the most probable scenario. Therefore, in addition to presidential oversight, the curriculum development committee should hold publicly accessible meetings and make their meeting notes available. The public, especially students, should be allowed to address the committee at their meetings. This way, students, non-committee faculty, staff, alumni and other interested parties can have access, input and the ability to ensure their opinions are heard.

The following suggestion makes execution of some other Commission recommendations more difficult, as well as decreases flexibility for students:

"Core curriculum courses, like all others at The University, should be university-level curricula. Therefore, comparable courses may not be readily available at other educational institutions. Nor should course requirements be easily satisfied through advanced-placement examinations. To the extent that core course requirements are satisfied by transfer or advanced-placement credit, other more advanced courses in the respective subject must be taken both to satisfy core requirements and to give the student a university-quality learning experience."

In making core courses so unique that "comparable courses may not be readily available at other educational institutions" such a change may act as a deterrent for students who are considering transferring to UT and/or may simply increase the amount of time transfer students need to attend UT, since they will need to take core classes that their transfer credits do not fulfill. Additionally, by making it more difficult for advanced placement credits to count, some students will have to take more classes than they would otherwise. This also acts to make AP classes in high school less appealing by eliminating credit for them.

In a nutshell, this recommendation pressures students to take more classes at the University and reduces the relatively greater flexibility afforded by transfer and AP credits. This makes achieving Recommendation 2, to increase graduation rates, more difficult. By recommending a "speed-up" proposal - making the student's curriculum more rigid - and demanding more classes in a semester through setting graduation limits - students will be squeezed. Students will have less flexibility and heavier course loads in terms of credit hours and as a result may take easier, less challenging classes potentially harming what should be an exploratory educational environment.

Strategic Initiative Two: a higher standard for leadership of academic programs

Establish a more demanding standard for leadership of academic departments and research centers, and give those leaders the authority and resources to succeed.

Attracting top scholars to leading departments makes sense. However, within this suggestion are several questionable structural changes. Also, how will UT pay to fund and create "at least one world-class chair or center leader per year" for 20 years? We fear that tuition increases will be resorted to as the only "viable" solution.

The Report implies that
1) rotating chairs should be phased out, or
2) the length of time a person holds a program chair be increased, and/or
3) the rotation pool of faculty within a department be limited to more "qualified" faculty members.

Most likely, rotation is meant to be phased out in favor of simple appointment. It's implied that appointments would often be brought in from other campuses rather than from among long-standing faculty. Both of these developments-less or no rotation and longer-term appointments of chairs from off-campus with more power given to the chair-will result in less collegiality and, correspondingly, more hierarchy. On this note, the Commission offers no substantive suggestions in this section for increasing the voice and power of faculty in general. By increasing power for chairs, but not for faculty, the chairs are rendered more powerful than the faculty in their departments.

The Report indicates that department chairs should receive greater compensation, a lighter teaching load, and more staff support. In general, this is a good idea. The resources, especially in staff support, are necessary to effectively do the job. Once again, the question remains as to how this will be paid for across the campus. Does making chairpersons longer-term, with significantly higher pay and lighter teaching loads, convert them into managers of academic departments, increasingly distanced from the faculty they oversee?

The creation of an "external advisory board" is a very vague suggestion and sounds like an attempt to reduce departmental autonomy. In any case, the ultimate success of the board depends on how it is implemented and how it functions. Who is on it? Who determines the makeup? Will the board become yet another layer of bureaucracy? Could it undermine department chairs, which the Commission wants to strengthen?

Character and Scope

A commitment to a disciplined culture of excellence will force The University to reexamine its character and scope.

The Commission is keen on seeing UT in the list of the top five public universities. Clearly everyone wants to strive to make UT the best. But the recommendation that every program at UT should rank in the nation's top twenty or face elimination is drastic and can be directly linked to an over-emphasis on certain rankings.

Rankings, although helpful, are not perfect. Rankings cannot capture every aspect of a program's quality. In fact, there are several different ranking systems administered by different entities. These different rankings may vary in methodology. Rankings often compare apples to oranges-vastly different programs are compared and measured as though they are similar in operation and goals. Finally, not all academic programs are ranked regularly.

While UT can not offer every imaginable field of study, it is a large public university and should attempt to offer great breadth and depth of academic possibility, even if not every program is in the top twenty. Quantity has a quality of its own. UT is not a small liberal arts college. Just because a program doesn't rank within the top twenty does not mean it should be eliminated. UT should work to improve every department while bringing some programs up to "preeminence."

Along with comparing academic programs with those at other universities, the Commission recommends the implementation of systems of accountability to constantly evaluate programs according to a set of criteria. This suggestion - if utilized as a mechanism of controlling or regulating program activities - will reduce program variety and self-control by imposing external standards. Except for saying that this accountability will mostly be an "outside review of programs," details of the suggestion are lacking. Several questions come to mind: Who will be doing the reviewing and what will it be based on? What are the mechanisms to hold people, programs accountable? Firings? Demotions? Is this a shift from being mostly "internal review"? If so, why the change? Was "internal review" failing? In what regards? In sum, what does this "accountability" entail?

Recommendation One

Reduce the undergraduate student-faculty ratio to 16:1 within a decade, with no college having a ratio of greater than 17:1.

This recommendation, if implemented and achieved, would greatly improve the quality of education at the University. However, an additional important consideration must be added to achieve "direct and meaningful engagement between students and professors." Not only must more professors be hired and retained, but these professors must also teach. It will do no good for UT to hire professors who spend all or most of their time on research, in lieu of teaching undergraduates.

It is wise for the Commission to emphasize hiring tenure-track professors of the "highest quality." But the University must not take this to harmful extremes, such as the tendency for prestigious universities to become carried away with attracting "all-star" faculty members. When appropriate, this is fine, but getting the most bang for the buck must be kept in mind. Sometimes it may be preferable to hire two professors of high quality rather than one "superstar."

Also, we question the Report's statement that "Decreasing the student-faculty ratio will require reducing enrollment." While it is mathematically true that fewer students will mean lower student-faculty ratios (as long as faculty numbers remain the same or increase), how much does the University want to reduce enrollment? Currently, the University is admitting slightly fewer students than it has in prior years2. Politically and practically, as the state needs to increase university enrollment state-wide, it may not be wise for UT-Austin to reduce its share of the burden too much. To achieve better ratios and balance its social responsibilities, the University must hire more faculty, but to say should not be required to reduce enrollment. Additionally, pressures to decrease enrollment must not be used as an excuse to set hard limits on graduation rates or reduce student flexibility in determining their educational course. Anyways, the Commission recommends (in Recommendation Two) a stabilization enrollment of 48,000 students. UT. Since UT's enrollment is now approximately 50,000 and trending slightly downwards, the University is almost there.

Recommendation Two

The quality of the educational experience must be the primary factor in determining the size of the student body.

While we laud the fact that the Commission places "the quality of educational experience" at the center of an enrollment strategy, we believe they may in fact have a narrow conception of "education." At least their recommendations are at odds with a quality education at a large university that serves a diverse student body. The Commission recommends that "Bachelor's degrees should be completed in four years unless otherwise required by the degree plan or by extenuating circumstances." This is similar to suggestions made by the UTAustin Task Force on Enrollment Strategy which released their report in December 2003, except the Commission seeks graduation within four years as opposed to the Task Force's suggestion of five. To achieve this faster graduation rate the Commission, in addition to completion time limits, wants the average3 student course load to be fifteen hours per semester. This is difficult for many students to achieve, if they must work full-time, are taking difficult classes or for a host of other reasons. Although the Commission allows for "extenuating circumstances" the assumption is that students must take more hours, as opposed to privileging the student's control of their own education experience which includes semester course loads. In sum, this is a one-size fits all strategy not wellsuited to a large public university and it is at odds with what many students want.

Some questionable supporting arguments are used in this section of the Commission's report, which both UT and the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy also use. First, the Commission says that UT's student population has grown from about 22,000 forty years ago to 51,000 in 2003 - in their words, "a gain of 130%." At the time of the Commission of 125 Final Report's release in October 2004 it was publicly known that UT had already decreased enrollment by nearly one thousand between 2003 and 2004. Moreover, the argument is misleading. UT-Austin first had a student population of 50,000 in 1988 - nearly 20 years ago. So if you reduce the time window to the last two decades, UT-Austin has had no growth whatsoever. The Commission makes no attempt to explain why they chose forty years ago, as opposed to twenty or ten or one hundred. If they chose one hundred years they could then argue that UT has had even more growth! Secondly, the Commission implies that UT's educational quality is worse because of slower graduation rates. However, no causal relationship is established. It could just as easily, if not more so, be argued that slower graduation rates may lead to a better and more fulfilling educational experience for students.

Some key attributes of a quality education are access to educational resources and student control over what they choose to study. While some students may thrive under intensive course and workloads, others learn best when they have the time and energy to explore UT and ruminate on the material. The point is that students should control their own education, its pace and content.

Recommendation Three

The University must aggressively recruit and enroll outstanding students representing the diverse regions and populations of Texas and beyond. In all its recruiting, admissions, and hiring, The University must base decisions on its vision to create a disciplined culture of excellence while building a community that reflects the face of Texas.

Recommendation Three, promoting a holistic admissions strategy seeking diversity and geographic and demographic representation, is good for UT and good for Texas-all Texans should be able to attend UT, not just whites, the upper-class and/or children from the suburbs of large cities.

The Legislature should not impede a holistic admissions strategy, although an oversight role for the Legislature is reasonable, one in which elected officials ensure that geographic and demographic representation is achieved.

A student's financial situation should not affect his or her ability to attend UT, but the question of how this imperative would be funded remains unanswered in the Report. Preferably, the state would step up funding for financial aid, rather than the University relying unsustainably on revenue from increased tuition and fees that harms low-income and middle class students.

Recommendation Four

Libraries, museums, and information technology resources at The University of Texas must rank with those of the best universities of the world.

Recommendation Four puts more emphasis on collections rather than on general use libraries. Prestigious collections, such as those at the Harry Ransom Center are invaluable, not only for the University and its standing, but for the state, nation, and world. However, the University should never privilege high-dollar acquisitions over the core essentials of the library system that serve undergraduates, graduates, and faculty alike. Strong libraries with a large and current selection of books, as well as periodicals, are the bread and butter for researchers at every level. Citing budget constraints, UT has cut library hours and curbed the purchasing of serials (from 2000-2002, UT library system has had to cut 1,892 serial titles because while subscription costs have been "rising at double-digit rates for more than a decade ... library budgets have not."). Access is the necessary condition for a library system. While the digitization of UT's libraries is crucial and one key to expanded access, it cannot replace physical access such as the number of hours the libraries are open.

In just the last year, due to a $1.6 million budget cut, library and computer lab hours have been cut. Departmental libraries such as the Architecture, Fine Arts, Life Science libraries have reduced their hours. The Student Microcomputer Facility, the largest computer lab on campus in the Undergraduate Library, closes at 11:45 pm instead of being open 24 hours because funds for one security guard were lacking. These two reductions in library access come after the Perry-Casteñeda reduced hours because of budget constraints in 2002. The PCL previously was open for 24 hours a day, now it closes at 2 am.

Also, the Report's suggestion that "weak" or "irrelevant" collections be phased out is troubling. How can one judge a collection of texts or historical items irrelevant? Only the unknowable future can judge. And what is meant by "weak"? If UT is to expand its collections to increase its prestige it has to start somewhere. This seems contradictory and a suggestion prone to abuse in periods when there is a budget crunch. For example, more powerful collections and their associated departments could turn to the weaker collections to be put on the chopping block first.

Recommendation Five

Develop a University Master Plan to integrate academic planning and strategic goals with our facilities, infrastructure, and financial resources. The plan should be selective, and results should be measured systematically and objectively.

Recommendation Five not too subtlety slips in overt business rationality to campus life by encouraging increasingly micromanaged facilities planning.

"The plan must be selective-it cannot apply resources equally to all academic programs."

It is true that resources cannot be distributed equally because of the varying needs of the different programs and the fact that resources are finite - this is the case now. So why dictate this at all? The Report introduces a curious idea: planning and goals shall be integrated with physical and financial resources and will be "measured systematically and objectively." Under the Commission's plan, the distribution of scarce resources will be planned according to more of a integrated system - "integrate academic planning and strategic goals with our facilities, infrastructure and financial resources" and measure the results "systematically and objectively" - whereas currently resource allocation is done in a more ad hoc fashion. But what will be the criteria for determining resource priority? Since the University's financial resources will systematically factor in how campus physical resources are distributed, will programs whose fruits are more easily sold on the market (through technology transfer and licensing) be given priority over less entrepreneurial ones? How do you "systematically" and "objectively" measure creativity, knowledge, ethics and other less tangible results? Also, under this suggestion it is reasonable to conclude that centralization will necessarily have to take hold in order to coordinate the systematized holistic planning that is meant to organize campus life.

"Encourage consolidation of duplicate academic or administrative functions."

Although it would be helpful to coordinate and manage resources more effectively on campus to eliminate excessive duplication, the advice of the Report can be taken too far. Some duplication is necessary for programs to preserve autonomy from other programs and from the administration. In addition, there are benefits to having functions duplicated by having them in-house. The needs and [the terrain] of their particular program are better known by insiders than by a centralized entity from afar.

"Provide a process for evaluating academic programs, and, if necessary, curtailing or eliminating those that are outdated or performing poorly."

This part of Recommendation Five enlightens the rest of the Recommendation. How programs are evaluated is intimately wound up with how many resources they will receive-in turn; fewer or more resources will affect performance and thus evaluation. And it sounds like the Commission is ready to put some programs on the chopping block! Yet this thinking is backwards-the principles of efficiency should not determine campus life; it should seek to accommodate it.

And finally technology should not substitute good old fashioned face to face learning, but may be able to complement it.

Recommendation Six

The University must consistently make the best use of its facilities, especially its classroom and laboratory space and off-campus properties, while maintaining a superior campus environment. New facilities should be designed and built more efficiently, with better coordination among academic, facilities planning, operations, and fundraising divisions.

Recommendation Six is somewhat similar and is complementary to Five. For example the manipulation of tuition and faculty wages to manage their use of the campus 24/7 all-year round (this recommendation also gels well with the Recommendation Two to increase graduation rates; already flat-rate tuition seeks this end):

"Make better use of existing campus buildings through a faculty compensation system and tuition incentives that promote classes scheduled outside traditional classroom hours and during summer months."

"Recognize that facilities and space provide capacity seven days a week."

Students from lower-income backgrounds will be financially pressured into classes with less desirable and possibly awkward class times because these classes will be noticeably cheaper (the price difference has to be a significant or else the desired effect of manipulating students to take the less desirable times will not happen) than classes with high demand.

Also Six recommends the University act as a business with its landholdings:

"Develop or lease non-campus properties to create investment income."

Recommendation Seven

Build financial strength and develop new public and private resources to support academic excellence.

Seven is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the recognition that "reliance on tuition increases is not feasible as a single long-term strategy" and that "[i]ncreased state funding is essential" is overdue. Without increased state funding the University turns more and more to students and their parents to pay for its operations-increasing tuition makes UT less affordable and accessible to the middle and lower classes. Furthermore, the lack of adequate state support leads the University to seek private funding for research-which invest in "profitable" applied research and are unlikely to support basic research. Yet even with the recommendation for more state appropriations the trends of university commercialization are still promoted:

"The University should take advantage of underdeveloped and undeveloped assets, including valuable real estate located away from the main campus and commercialization of abundant intellectual property."

Profiting from the pursuit of knowledge should not be a primary guiding notion at a university, especially a publicly supported one, because a "bottom-line" guiding principle skews research towards "marketable" ideas/inventions, inhibits the free exchange of knowledge and can lead to intellectual dishonesty. In any case, commercialization of intellectual property isn't the pot of gold in terms of revenue it's sometimes made out to be.

According to an Austin-American Statesman article on July 6, 2003, "universities [across the nation] spent $27.6 billion on research in 2001." In effect, publicly funded higher education serves as an indirect subsidy for corporate research for which the fruits can be privately reaped - the public produces and funds the research but doesn't own it. Taxpayers and students pay to have their fat sold back to them.

According to the same Statesman article, UT "earned more than $4 million from its licensing fees" in 2002. While plenty of tax money goes to support such research by paying for researcher salaries, new buildings, equipment and other supports, none of the licensing fees goes into general revenue for the University. In the same article, "[of that tech transfer revenue, half is shared with the professors who create the ideas, and half is kept by Nichols' office [the UT Office of Technology Transfer]. By law, all royalties must be used to further technology transfer."4

Recommendation Eight

Every student should receive effective academic advising and have access to a mentor.

Recommendation Eight is a worthwhile recommendation. Students could use better advice and the perspective of someone who knows the ins and outs of UT to maximize their experience and get what they want out of it.

Recommendation Nine

Increase the campus residence-hall capacity to 9,000 beds.

Regarding Recommendation Nine, where's the space for 50% more on-campus living space? The recommendation seems harmless, but the campus does not need another Dobie marring its aesthetics.

Also, the University's plans to build a four-star hotel should be reconsidered in light of this recommendation. Because of the oft-noted lack of space for expansion at UT-Austin's main campus and a tight fiscal situation a choice may have to be made between expansion of on-campus living space and hotel construction. There may not be money and space for both. On-campus space should be a priority over a hotel.

Recommendation Ten

Construct student activity space on the east side or on the perimeter of the campus.

We strongly agree with the Report's recommendation that a second space for students be created to serve the eastern portion of campus. The Texas Union leaves much to be desired in terms of student needs and desires. For that reason, we strongly urge that any entities created to evaluate and plan for a new facility include a diverse, representative constituent of students. UT's Student Government should be heavily involved with this process as they have done much work already.

Recommendation Eleven

The Honor Code should be assimilated into the culture of the campus and made relevant to the lives of all members of The University of Texas community.

The campus honor code was a student-led initiative that took five years to become a reality. In the process, many administrators greeted the proposal with intransigence and severe skepticism. The arduous task of implementing something as seemingly uncontroversial as an honor code highlights the difficulty students have in making positive change on campus. Ironically, if the UT administration and the Commission of 125 successfully forced students to graduate in 4 years (see Recommendation Two), the Honor Code may have become another idea relegated to the dust bin.

UT Watch commends the Honor Code and agrees with the Commission that it should be "assimilated into the culture of the campus."

Recommendation Twelve

The University should recruit the very best graduate students from Texas, the nation, and the world. It should seek to create for all its graduate students an academic environment that is second to none in intellectual richness and diversity. Stipends for UT graduate students should be at least as high as those at the nation's other premier graduate schools.

The Commission is right in celebrating the contribution of graduate students to the University's intellectual vigor and reputation. We would add that academic bonds between undergraduates and graduates help to improve both groups' learning experience.

UT Watch seconds the Commission's suggestion that "support for graduate students should be a high priority." At the University and many other higher education institutions around the country, graduate students have been overworked and underpaid. For too long, UT has been relying on graduate students to fill in for faculty members by teaching classes, holding office hours, running discussion sessions, preparing tests, and grading papers. Graduate students' primary role at the University is to learn, not to substitute for educators. At the same time that graduates' burdens have increased, their financial aid, stipends, and benefits have stagnated or fallen behind national standards.

For these reasons, we agree with the Commission that stipends should be increased.

However, UT Watch is concerned with the following language in the Commission's report: "If increased stipends cannot be provided for all programs, they should at least be offered for programs receiving special emphasis." The phrase "special emphasis" was used in the portion of the Report calling for a "selective" master plan that should not "apply resources equally to all academic programs." Of course, as it stands, not all programs receive resources equally. Therefore, it is not clear if the Report is calling for more unequal distribution or the maintenance of the status quo. In any case, it would be unadvisable to "starve" certain programs, and the grad students within those programs, because they were not invested with "special emphasis."

Finally, we wholeheartedly agree with the following recommendations:

1) UT's graduate programs should "include students from racial and ethnic minorities."
2) "Faculty members should integrate graduate students into the intellectual life of their departments so that the students' intellectual and social experiences are more akin to those of academic peers."
3) "More must be done to foster a campus-wide social and intellectual community for graduate students.

However, with respect to number one above, we should point out that this statement is extremely weak when one considers that most programs at UT do include at least some students from racial and ethnic minorities. This simple fact glosses the overarching reality of academia, which is that relatively few minorities work within certain disciplines at the graduate and professorial levels. Ignoring this problem, the Commission obviously makes no recommendation in promotion, hiring, and recruiting of diversity beyond the undergraduate level. It is our belief that a university is best served by diversity within every component of the institution, including management, graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty.

Recommendation Thirteen

Emphasize the study of leadership and ethics.

The C125 should be commended for making a bold foray into realizing the University as a center of ethical thinking. Universities are not simply degree factories, finishing schools, or sites of specialized knowledge; they are the engines of progress and the source of wisdom for the societies they are situated in.

Nonetheless, we are again confronted with the problem of what exactly an ethical and leadership curriculum would look like. The Report offers no clues. The prospect of developing a course of ethics that everyone can agree on would seem to lead to an unimaginative and rudimentary refresher of basic values that we all learned in grade school. Moreover, an ethics and leadership course at the beginning of a student's college career might prove less useful than one later on once the student has determined his or her major and area of interest. For example, it would be valuable for a business major to take a required class on corporate citizenship, or a government major to take a course on public service.

Finally, the 125th anniversary of the founding of the University is an opportune time to revisit its core purpose: "To transform lives for the benefit of society." If the University expects its students to become ethical citizens, the institution itself must critically reexamine itself in light of questionable ethical practices that have been raised by students, the faculty, and members of the public for years. We leave it to the UT leadership to step up and invigorate this long-suppressed debate.

Recommendation Fourteen

The University should serve Texas by marshaling its expertise, programs, and people to address major issues confronting society at large. The culture of the institution should convey to students, as well as to faculty and staff members, that a commitment to service is intrinsic to a University of Texas education.

Few would disagree that UT - or any university - should grapple with the problems of the day. And, of course, to a great extent the University has, does, and will continue to do so. Nonetheless, the Commission is right in reaffirming a commitment to the common good and suggesting that the University and the University community take this franchise to heart.

However, while the University should boldly pursue this admittedly vague goal, it will have undermined the entire enterprise if it undermines the fundamental commitment to providing educational opportunities to all Texans. An elitist institution that circulates its knowledge only in rarefied circles is undeserving of public support. The University needs, above all, to make sure that it is accessible, affordable, and open to all Texans regardless of race, sex, sexuality, or class. University resources - libraries, technology, information, and admission opportunities - must be open and as free as possible. In recent years, computer access, library resources, the physical plant, and other facilities have become more and more restricted. Even more disturbing, access to an undergraduate education has become out of the reach for too many Texans. Rising costs and stagnant financial aid have exacerbated the problem. The vast majority of the members of the Commission who went to UT attended the school when it was virtually free, at least in terms of tuition and fees costs. The steepest increases came in the wake of tuition deregulation, which was widely touted as a partial solution to funding "crises" that jeopardized UT's quality. UT needs to be mindful of what families and students from all means can afford. The State of Texas in its "Closing the Gaps" plan laid this mandate out clearly: "Colleges and universities can attract students who historically have not believed that higher education is within their reach by making certain that higher education is affordable through financial aid. Colleges and universities should also monitor the cost of higher education as compared to what a family can pay based upon its income."

For Texans and the Texas Legislature to continue to believe in a flagship public university, the University must find ways to maintain its quality while expanding opportunities for deserving students.

The Commission believes that UT students, to whom so much is given, bear a responsibility to give back to The University, to Texas, and to society. The University can make them more aware of this responsibility through the curriculum and student life.

Cultivating campus and societal citizenship is a noble goal. However, the days of universities acting in loco parentis have hopefully passed. Institutional changes that avoid overt paternalism on the other hand should be considered. For example, the Commission has recommended creating a better campus community by expanding on-campus housing to accommodate 9000 individuals. This move would be a step towards laying the groundwork for students to give back to the University by living, working, playing, and studying on campus. Ultimately, the most empowering change would be for the university administration to recognize what Professor Mallet said to the first class of students at the time of the founding of the University in 1883:

"You frequently hear the phrase used, 'coming to the university,' not remembering that you ARE the university. More than the faculty - more than the board of regents - more than all else - it is the students that make the university...The students are, in the highest and truest sense, the university themselves."5

Recommendation Fifteen

The University must provide the broadest and most effective access to its knowledge and collections in order to share its assets with Texas and the world at large.

In just the last year, due to a $1.6 million budget cut, library and computer lab hours have been cut. Departmental libraries such as the Architecture, Fine Arts, Life Science libraries have reduced their hours. The Student Microcomputer Facility, the largest computer lab on campus in the Undergraduate Library, closes at 11:45 pm instead of being open 24 hours because funds for one security guard were lacking. These two reductions in library access come after the Perry-Casteñeda reduced hours because of budget constraints in 2002. The PCL previously was open for 24 hours a day, now it closes at 2 am.

Digitization of library and museum resources points one way towards increasing access to the University's treasures for the general public. It is an essential component of a university of the 21st century, one which fulfills the democratic principle of education available to all. Although the Report correctly assumes that "collections and other resources will increasingly be experienced through electronic access, thereby removing many traditional barriers to their general use, such as time and location," it is important to remember that many Texans and Americans do not have reliable or consistent internet access and therefore are hardly served by the emphasis on "electronic access." In fact, by transferring attention and resources away from the essentials of library hours and inhouse internet availability, the public - especially those without internet tools - is impacted negatively in terms of access to library and museums. Over the past few years, libraries such as the PCL and UGL have made it more difficult for those without UT IDs to enjoy the resources at these libraries by cutting the number of "public" computers - citing unspecified security concerns, by restricting library hours for non-students, and by converting many hard copy periodicals to digital copies which are only available to those with UT EIDs (electronic identification).

If UT purports to be a "public" university and if it truly wants to serve the state of Texas through its public treasures, then moving to curb public access overtly and inadvertently is reckless and disingenuous.

Recommendation Sixteen

The University's communications efforts must convey the value of higher education to society. In addition, UT must clarify its key strengths and distinctive qualities and devise ways to communicate them more coherently and consistently to its constituencies at all levels.

The University of Texas at Austin is a tremendous asset to the community, the state, the nation, and the world. We have much to be proud of. We do have bragging rights. At the same time, UT-Austin is only one school - albeit the flagship - in a system that consists of nine academic institutions and six health institutions. The State of Texas has laid out an ambitious long-term plan, "Closing the Gaps," that aims to meet and surpass the national standards for education as measured by various criteria. To meet these goals, all public educational institutions must participate. The most significant obstacle to "closing the gaps" is enrolling Hispanic and black Texans at a rate commensurate with peer states. As the "Closing the Gaps" plan states, "At present, a large gap exists among racial/ethnic groups in both enrollment and graduation from the state's colleges and universities. Groups with the lowest enrollment and graduation rates will constitute a larger proportion of the Texas population. If this gap is not closed, Texas will have proportionately fewer college graduates. In addition, more higher education programs need to be recognized for excellence, and more higher education research efforts need to reach their full potential."

While UT-Austin will play a role in building towards "Closing the Gaps" goals, other schools in the UT System will be the focus. UT-Austin will need to be humble in this difficult process and realize that limited state resources must be somewhat prioritized for growing schools in areas that service the burgeoning "minority" population. UT-Austin will remain the "crown jewel" of the System, but other schools must be nurtured alongside the University's prominence. The State, too, should take care to guard the University while working to create a system of first class universities around the state that can accommodate the needs of Texas. A little healthy competition between system schools is far from a bad thing as those familiar with the University of California system can attest.

These realities should be taken into account when considering changing the name of the University of Texas at Austin.


In our introduction we say that a "particular philosophical underpinning that stresses 'efficiency,' 'accountability,' 'commercialization,' and the increasing role of the private sector in public universities" lies behind the creation of the Commission of 125 Final Report.

It should be made clear that the Commission's report points, though vaguely and therefore subject to some interpretation, to a narrow direction for UT to take. According to the Commission, which is largely composed of businessmen and women, this direction is justified on the basis of "accountability" and "efficiency." These words are largely left undefined, but their meaning can be derived from the substance of the recommendations which this report has attempted to uncover. Many of these recommendations propose centralization, more hierarchy, mechanisms that reduce autonomy, funding based on success in the market, decrease flexibility and control for both students and professors. By and large what is recommended is a corporate model of education. This is not the only option available.

Yet, even the corporate model is not always vindicated through the rationale of efficiency. In an article from almost one century ago - 1905 - by Henry Pritchett, then-president of MIT and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's (CFAT) first president, called "Shall the University Become a Business Corporation?" is telling in this respect. Pritchett compared the six largest American universities with the six largest European ones on the basis of "educational efficiency." He observed that universities in the United States were "more and more [conforming] in [their] administration to the methods of the business corporation." In contrast, he writes that the European university was a "free association of scholars and teachers," and therefore European faculty enjoyed autonomy and self-control over their activities to a larger degree than American professors. However surprisingly, the more egalitarian, decentralized European universities were also economically more efficient and cost-effective to his dismay. Pritchett sought to impose a business model and through the influence of CFAT achieved massive changes in this direction in the early part of the twentieth century.6

This example is now historical, but should offer some perspective on how dominant assumptions are often wrong. Regardless, "efficiency" should not be a value that determines how a university is run. It should be a consideration, but only to facilitate intellectual exploration.

"Accountability" is a contemporary buzzword that takes a central place in this report. On its face the term sounds almost democratic, in the sense that the functioning of the university will increasingly fulfill its participants' wishes. However, this view is quickly refuted - nowhere in the Report are there recommendations or strategic initiatives to allow greater faculty, student or staff input in decision-making. The case is often quite the reverse - several recommendations emphasis greater hierarchy and centralized control. This "accountability" is a situation of decreased student and faculty flexibility and control with the administration greatly prescribing the life of the University through increased, more fine-grain control determined by outside standards. These standards are rankings and the bottom-line. We want "accountability" too, but we need to know what the word means and doesn't mean in the context it is used. In the phrase, "A Disciplined Culture of Excellence," used throughout the Commission of 125's Final Report, we wondered: what do the words "Disciplined" and "Excellence" mean in light of the Commission's recommendations? And what are the implications of pursuing these meanings? Where do we agree and disagree with the Commission?

While we don't dispute the good intentions of the Commission of 125, their recommendations must be debated. They can be accepted, modified or rejected by the campus community. UT Watch hopes this report contributes to informed discussion.

We all want the University of Texas-Austin to be the best it can be.

1 The sociologist Max Weber's concept of rationalization describes this philosophical underpinning. Briefly it can be broken into a philosophy or a perspective that values efficiency, calculability, predictability and control within bureaucratic organizations. The perspective and particular meanings of the values are from a managerial perspective. They may be at odds with values, goals and processes favored by subjects within those organizations. In the case of the university, administrators by virtue of their position pursue policies and procedures which further certain goals, these policies and procedures, while they may or may not be opposed explicitly by students, faculty, staff or even administrators themselves may in practice be at odds with them. A great example is the continuing debate over graduation rates. Administrators (as well as business people and state political leaders who pressure administrators) seek an efficient campus with fast graduation rates and seek policies to achieve this. Some students do not seek to graduate quickly due to numerous reasons. Therefore at least some policies, such as limits to how long students can study at the University recommended by the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy, may conflict with what these students want. In sum, students and administrators sometimes approach the University differently. UT Watch believes that the Commission of 125 shares a managerial perspective with the administration. This perspective is often at odds with our values. UT Watch seeks to critique and contribute to the debate over the future of UT and we emphasize an alternative student perspective. For more on rationalization at UT-Austin see Ovetz 1996 at http://www.utwatch.org/archives/ovetz/ovetzdissertation.html.

2 For a brief discussion of enrollment and graduation rates see Nick Schwellenbach's op-ed, "Enrollment report hurts all students," in The Daily Texan at

3 Because the Commission uses the word "average" rather than "median" then it is assumed that some students would be taking more than fifteen. The Commission does not distinguish between full-time and part-time students either.

4 See Nick Schwellenbach's article which examines UT's commercialization at

5 quote originally from: Catalogue of the University of Texas for 1883-4, the appendix of which gives addresses at the laying of the cornerstone and inaugural exercises. Cf., Austin Daily Statesman, Sept. 12, 18, 1883. see

6 See Barrow 1989, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894-1928.