Senators criticize Yudof on funding

UT System under fire for investment efforts, administrators' pay

By Sharon Jayson
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, March 8, 2003

University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof's legislative honeymoon ended Friday during a Senate committee hearing.

Eager to talk about his proposal to give the state's universities tuition-setting authority, Yudof instead spent almost two hours on the defensive about an array of subjects, including management of the Permanent University Fund endow- ment, administrative salaries and a brewing controversy over the chancellor's perceived slight of UT-Arlington by lawmakers from that region.

With the state facing a $9.9 billion shortfall for its 2004-05 budget, Gov. Rick Perry has asked state agencies, departments and schools to find ways to cut spending. Perry has asked every agency for 7 percent cuts from the 2002-03 budget and 12.5 percent for 2004-05.

UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner estimates that the 12.5 percent cut alone will mean eliminating 300 staff and 250 teaching positions over the next two years.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, lambasted Yudof for failing to provide detailed information about the impact that cuts would have at UT System campuses.

"You spoke much more passionately about your feelings on tuition deregulation than the real clear picture of taking one-sixth of your proposed budget and cutting it," Whitmire said.

"You're either awful fat and got a lot to cut, which some in this building believe, or you didn't do a very good job to clearly help me during the (budget) markup to fight for your university. I'm going to give you another chance because I'm totally unimpressed."

Yudof said he accepted the criticism.

"I was trying, I guess, maybe too politely to say these are the consequences of each of the alternatives," he said.

That reception was frostier than the one Yudof got in February, when he appeared before a House appropriations subcommittee. He fielded questions about administrative spending that day, but he has also received more encouragement on his tuition deregulation push. House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, for example, had publicly embraced the idea before Yudof's appearance.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, whose district includes Texas A&M University, criticized the university's investment arm, the University of Texas Investment Management Company, which allocates money to UT-Austin and Texas A&M. The UTIMCO board came under fire last year for operating in secret.

"I've looked at the numbers, and I don't believe the basic argument that we get high-dollar professional money managers to manage our funds has resulted in any significant improvement in performance," he said. "In fact, the performance, in my opinion, has been disappointing."

Yudof emerged chastened but said he'll keep pushing for tuition-setting authority.

"I remain optimistic," he said. "I'm going to keep explaining and explaining and explaining."

sjayson@statesman.com; 445-3620