Higher education To Boost Efficiency, UT Turns to Business Leaders

April 09, 2012
Reeve Hamiliton | Texas Tribune

Faced with shrinking state appropriations and increasing concerns about college costs, University of Texas President Bill Powers is reaching out to the business community.

Last year, the Legislature cut the university's funding for the current biennium by approximately $92 million. Now, Powers has assembled a 13-member committee made up of corporate executives from across the country to recommend ways for UT to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Stephen Rohleder, a chief executive at Accenture in Austin, will serve as the chairman.

“A lot of what we do is like a business, and a lot of things we do are not like a business,” Powers said, noting that the committee would only focus on matters such as food services, payroll management and commercialization. “There has been a lot of commentary about how people aren’t working hard enough. This has nothing to do with that. We have a fabulous faculty and staff. But if you organize things in a different way, it’s always possible that you could find savings.”

Powers told the Tribune that he does not expect the committee to make the sorts of recommendations offered last year in the controversial “seven breakthrough solutions,” a set of proposed higher-education reforms largely aimed at improving faculty productivity that was promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank.

Those proposed reforms, which at the time were touted by supporters as advancing a more business-like approach to higher education, sparked a heated statewide debate in 2011. Some criticized proponents of the reforms of devaluing academic pursuits that the university considers central to its mission. While some of the issues remain, the specific solutions are rarely discussed anymore.

The Tribune thanks our Supporting Sponsors

Kevin Hegarty, the university’s chief financial officer, said the new committee would be primarily focused on the back-end business decisions that the public usually doesn’t see, but where there is “a strong expectation” that they “ought to be as well-run as the best-in-class companies.” He expected some of the biggest savings opportunities to come from sharing more services across campus, and possibly some outsourcing of services.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp faced some backlash from staff at Texas A&M University earlier this year when he announced that they were looking into turning over food service and maintenance operations to private companies. 

But such a change would not be new at UT. “We’re doing many of these things already,” said Hegarty. “This is a recognition that we should always strive to be better, and part of that is to bring fresh ideas to the table.”

The committee held its first meeting in late March. Gary Kusin, a committee member and senior adviser at TPG Capital in Dallas, said that everything — whether it’s how the university runs its parking lots to how it licenses Bevo, its trademark mascot — will be on the table. He came away from the first meeting with a sense that his fellow members brought a beneficial perspective for the university.

“I think higher education is certainly in no different boat than the rest of the business world in regards to uncertain revenue futures, more competitive environments, being faced with trying to deliver the high quality services they have historically,” he said.

Fellow committee member Charles Tate, chairman of Capital Royalty in Houston, agreed and noted that the endeavor would be mutually beneficial. “The underpinnings of the economic future of our country lie in having a well-educated workforce. So, as a businessman, we ought to be really interested in what’s going on in education,” he said.

Tate is one of the executive members of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a large group of well-heeled higher-ed boosters that was created in 2011 in opposition to the promotion of the “breakthrough solutions” and similar reform efforts.

Thomas Lindsay, who became director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s center for higher education following last year’s spat over their recommendations, praised the task force’s creation.

“Universities, by their nature, always have a struggle between mission and margin,” he said. “It’s a natural tension and, to a certain extent, a healthy tension as long as both sides are heard.”

The committee is expected to form their recommendations in roughly eight months. Tate said he was entering into the process with an open mind.

Referring to his previous service on the Commission of 125, a group that conducted a two-year examination of UT in the mid-2000s, he said, “No one anticipated at the beginning of the process the two major recommendations made by that committee. It’s very important to go into something like this without a predetermined point of view.” 

 

Signup for Updates:

Latest Updates

  • Higher Education Coalition Calls For Hall's Resignation

    The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education today called on University of Texas System Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. to resign, citing a comprehensive investigation conducted for the Texas Legislature by an outside law firm, which concludes he has abused his office in ways the Coalition believes are creating a toxic distraction to higher education’s fundamental mission of educating students.
     
    The report outlined a number of potentially impeachable offenses, including “unabated and burdensome requests for records,” “misuse of confidential student information,” “public criticism for UT Austin,” and “obstruction of legislative process,” including pressuring “UT System witnesses to alter testimony provided to the Committee.”
     
    The Coalition issued the following statement calling for Hall’s resignation:
     
    “The job of a regent is to set broad policy and hold administrators accountable, not to create havoc and a culture of intimidation. The primary focus of the Board of Regents right now needs to be on finding and recruiting the very best new chancellor to lead the University of Texas System into a future of continued and increasing excellence. Hall’s presence has become a toxic distraction that is threatening the environment for a chancellor search, creating turmoil on the UT Austin campus and undermining the credibility and integrity of the entire Board of Regents. Rather than put the State of Texas through the spectacle of an impeachment trial that would no doubt bring additional negative national publicity to Texas, Hall should do the right thing and resign.”
     
    The Coalition is comprised of leading Texans with a lifelong commitment to higher education, including former presidents of UT Austin and Texas A&M, former members of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a former UT System Chancellor, and former university regents and chairmen of the Board of Regents. The Coalition also includes CEOs of Texas companies, numerous business leaders, philanthropists and more than 400 concerned citizens.
    Continue reading
  • Report Chronicles Pattern of Abuse, Intimidation and Disregard for Rule of Law by Regent Hall

    Following the public release of the “Investigative Report to the House Select Committee in State Agency Operations regarding Conduct by University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall and Impeachment Under the June 25, 2013 Proclamation,” the Coalition issued the following statement:

    “The findings in this report indicate that Regent Hall has betrayed the public trust and abused his appointed position in vindictive and damaging ways. The behaviors and actions documented in this report are not consistent with the way Texans expect our state boards and agencies to be governed. The intimidation and harassment of state employees, the disregard for student privacy and the abuse of power uncovered in this investigation are deeply troubling and warrant further action. We applaud the Committee Members for their commitment to transparency and good governance, and encourage their continued focus on this critical matter.” 

    Continue reading

Share This Page: