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UT System Regents Consider Campus Budget Relief

The UT System Board of Regents will spend the next two days hammering out the details on several key initiatives — including how to keep tuition flat and find a new president for the flagship university.

UT System Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa listens to Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster at the meeting on May 14, 2014.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents will spend the next two days hammering out the details on several key initiatives — including how to keep tuition flat, find a new president for the flagship university and structure a new university in South Texas.

In May, at the urging of Gov. Rick Perry, the board voted to keep in-state tuition flat at all of its academic institutions — and in so doing committed to identifying other sources of revenue to make up the difference. According to the agenda book for this week's two-day meeting, the board plans to vote on a proposal that will transfer some expenses traditionally paid by individual campuses to the UT System — providing more budget relief to campuses than a tuition increase would have. 

That solution would make use of the system's sizable endowment. However, there are significant restrictions on how that money can be used by the eight non-flagship schools in the system. The system, which has more flexibility for how is spends the funds, plans to assume responsibility for internal auditing functions and digital library services on the campuses and cover costs related to property insurance, information technology and data centers.

The upshot is that more than $31 million in expenses previously incurred by the campuses will be covered by the endowment, making up for a projected $18 million in unrealized tuition revenue resulting from the tuition freeze.

Two of those eight non-flagship universities — the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American — are expected to merge into the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley next year. The regents are expected to approve a structure for the new institution this week. As proposed, UT-RGV will consist of 11 colleges, including an honors college that will have a residential component on the campuses in Brownsville and Edinburg.

The regents will also consider the reconfiguration of their own facilities. The agenda calls for the board to approve an amendment to the plans for a new system office building. The plan, originally projected to cost more than $102 million, met with opposition from lawmakers who felt the system should be putting its money toward education on its campuses. The new plan that will be evaluated this week is unlikely to quell that criticism; it increases the projected cost to more than $133 million.

According to the agenda, the reason for the increase in cost is that the new plan calls for four additional stories, more than 83,000 additional square feet and an additional 220 parking spaces. The building, which will replace five outdated buildings that currently house the system offices in downtown Austin, will now be 19 stories with more than 342,000 square feet and 760 parking spots.

Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, is also expected to provide information about the creation of a search advisory committee to aid in the quest for a new president of the flagship university in Austin. Bill Powers, the current president of the University of Texas at Austin, plans to resign in June 2015.

At the university, nine professors have been identified as candidates to serve on the committee. Three will ultimately be elected by their peers to serve. UT-Austin faculty will be allowed to vote from Aug. 20 to Aug. 28, after which the results will be announced.

In other personnel news, Admiral William H. McRaven, the current head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, is expected to be officially named the next chancellor of the UT System. He was tapped as the sole finalist for the position last month. Francisco Cigarroa, the current chancellor, announced in February that he intended to step down and return to the life of a full-time transplant surgeon.

This won't be Cigarroa's final regents meeting as chancellor; he is expected to serve through the rest of the year.

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