Letter to Dean Lariviere

Dean Lariviere,

In the Dallas Morning News story about the Texas State Historical Association’s potential demise, you acted as if the state budget crisis made drastic acts like these inevitable. I am exhausted after hearing for months about the inevitability of completely avoidable consequences of Texas’ budget shortfall. No one is saying that we need to release any of those that are incarcerated for minor drug charges and costing the state millions every year, just because of the shortfall. This is not “inevitable,” yet cuts to higher education, and then tuition deregulation, have no alternative.

You suggest further that with the money funding the association right now, UT could hire ten teaching assistants to teach one thousand students! But I thought you said that everything that is not teaching was on the chopping block? I appreciate all the hard work that was done by TA’s throughout my entire college career, but if a university were to rely any more heavily on TA’s in the classroom, I’d hesitate to call what was going on in the classroom “teaching.”

Why stop at having TA’s do the work of professors (we can cut their health care, but we do still have to pay them a salary)? UT could help develop technology that would allow computers to preside over the classroom! This research could be funded through any number of our generous donors, who always seem to support special interests (petroleum engineering, the business school) over the general well being of the University. Then, with 350,000 dollars we could buy one hundred computers that could teach 100,000 students! Would it still be the first rate teaching by seasoned lecturers and experts in their field that we find in professors? Or would UT be a trade school that gave people a certificate that was derided by those in states where legislators, provosts, faculty, students (and college deans!) worked creatively to solve budget problems?

I will believe UT officials’ words of fiduciary hellfire and brimstone only after they have made a request, a plea, to all potential donors to not earmark their funds for specific projects, but rather give to their alma mater unconditionally. Larry Faulkner also needs to return his entire endowed salary (about $450,00 of his $530,000, I think) to the University for general spending. I’m sure his sponsors would agree that drastic measures call for drastic times. And UTIMCO, which has lost over 2 billion dollars in the past 2 years, needs to be shut down, and the endowment needs to be handed over to someone who is financially responsible. Freshman from the economics department could do better.

UT raised over $1 billion dollars in less than five years with the “We’re Texas” campaign. Then they turned around and tried to pass the largest tuition increase ever. When that was deemed illegal, they went to the legislature and began lobbying, illegally, for the power to set their own tuition rates. This had been an item on Larry Faulkner’s palm pilot for years. He cynically used the budget crisis to bring it about. Then, when the Texas House and Senate voted tuition deregulation down, three men forced them to put it back on the agenda.

It is not that UT has no other options, it is that UT sees no other options. They have single-mindedly pursued tuition deregulation, and this will backfire. Not on them but on future students. When UT asks for increased financing from the state in the future, the Senate will tell you to raise tuition. The percentage of the UT budget coming from the state is already embarrassingly low, and now UT has given them a great reason to never increase it again.

Who pays in this scenario? Students, obviously, from their pockets. Many students will no longer be able to afford going to UT, and will opt for trade school or an associate’s degree. The wealthy will continue to attend, and perhaps a few token cases from the swelling numbers of poor people and people of color in Texas. But, and I encourage you to think this over very carefully, the next to pay will be those schools, colleges and departments that are not “profitable” to the University. Where will liberal arts programs fall in the chopping order? They fall pretty early, and they’ll fall pretty hard. If liberal arts is not seen as pulling its weight, is not producing the big future donors that business and engineering do, and a liberal arts education is not seen by many students as a good enough reason to pay increased tuition rates, it’s your programs that will be on a chopping block. And I will be fighting for public education then, as I am now. What will you be doing?

David Peterson
UT alumnus
Austin, TX