Bigger classes, faculty cuts continue to fuel debate
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 06:01
Faculty members continued to raise concerns Jan. 24 at a public forum where the subject was an administrative plan to increase class sizes and reduce faculty numbers.
With the university facing a projected $36 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, the talks took a fiscal turn.
Faculty questioned the validity of increasing class sizes to save money, suggesting that there are better places to cut.
“Given the spending pattern this administration has followed for the past five years, is this university ‘at risk’ financially?” asked Faculty Senate President Mike Dowd.
Main Campus Provost Scott Scarborough said the current budget is not putting UT in serious financial trouble.
“Are we in a bad financial situation? No,” Scarborough said. “But, if we don’t solve now the issue that has grown so large, the current number is at the magnitude and the number of options to nibble at are so few if any exist that it puts us now in this critical juncture stage.”
Scarborough said UT is not in “financial trouble” because the administration made smaller cuts up until now, most of which involved removing staff positions like secretaries and assistants.
“As a result we tried to maintain all that was important to us in a way that as we did it we’d just begun shaving away at the edges,” Scarborough said. “It’s not gradually declining anymore.”
Linda Rouillard, vice president of Faculty Senate, said the spending at UT is a “serious problem.”
“We can’t continue to nibble at the edges by dismissing a secretary here or a secretary there,” she said. “But the administrative ‘loadance’ is skyrocketing on a daily basis and that cannot continue either.”
Dowd said spending at UT appears to be unbalanced, which is unfair to the students.
“The spending on non-academic activities seems to be maintained year in and year out,” Dowd said. “Year in and year out there cuts to academic budgets and non-academic budgets, but the spending on non-academic budgets seemed to be a priority of the past five years.”
Celia Regimbal, an associate professor of Early Child Physical and Special Education, also expressed concerns for her ability to teach students affectively, a worry echoed by many faculty members.
“I offer my students the opportunity to practice what they’re going to do in front of their peers,” Regimbal said. “If we increase the class size to 30 that time won’t be available for them to get that authentic experience.”
Scarborough the debate about what a university should spend its money on is universal.
“There are certain debates that will never have a solution,” Scarborough said. “But at some point you have to balance the budget.”
Physics and astronomy professor Michael Heben said he’s most concerned with UT’s lowered retention rates.
“Enrollment dropped in the past year and that’s when there were changes associated with the enrollment requirements,” Heben said. “It seems like this is a bit of a self-inflicted wound.”
Scarborough said due to the “smaller cuts,” the university has not prepared itself for the recent larger decline.
“We haven’t made the big adjustment yet for that big decline,” Scarborough said. “And then, even though we bought ourselves some time, it would have been nice had the external environment helped us and said here let me make some things happen in my own environment to create more resources. Unfortunately the opposite happened. Enrollment began to decline.”
Scarborough said he is open to continue discussing other solutions to issues with faculty.