Amid significant pressure to rein in spending at the University of Texas System, UT Chancellor Bill McRaven announced on Thursday that the system — which oversees UT-Austin and 13 other campuses across the state — is about to get a little bit smaller.
In the coming academic year, McRaven told the system's board of regents, the system will have about 140 fewer employees than it did last year and will cut millions from its administrative budget. The system will also divert $26 million more of its considerable oil revenue to its flagship university, UT-Austin.
"This serves more students, provides more care, and does more research than the [previous year's] budget," McRaven said. He added, punctuating each word, "the budget remains focused on the campuses."
McRaven appeared to be responding to criticism from certain regents, as well as state lawmakers from both political parties. Those critics have struggled to reconcile increasing tuition at UT campuses with what they see as irresponsible spending at the system level. On Monday, the Tribune reported that increasing revenues from a $20 billion oil fund has helped enable the system to quadruple the amount it spent on general administration over the last six years.
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Even with the proposed cuts, though, the amount of oil money that goes to system administration in 2018 will still be close to $100 million — about three times what it was in 2011. McRaven said a large chunk of that money directly helps the campuses by picking up the costs for some of their software, insurance, and information technology needs.
More cuts may be coming. While McRaven didn't propose any major changes to the Institute for Transformational Learning, a struggling educational technology startup within the system, he said that he owes the regents "a plan on how to proceed." For now, McRaven said the Institute is projected to employ 40 people and spend $21.6 million in the coming academic year, but he will give the regents an update in November.
The regents on Thursday unanimously approved the system's budget for the 2018 school year. But they seemed skittish to approve any extra requests to spend the oil money, even on relatively small-budget projects. When asked to provide $5 million to help aspiring entrepreneurs at UT research institutions , regents asked lots of questions, then decided not to make a decision about the initiative.
A smaller ask — $500,000 for a job and internship matching network meant for students at all UT campuses — was approved with certain conditions. But the regents did not seem thrilled about it. After Board Chairman Paul Foster made a motion to approve the money, Regent Janiece Longoria laughed and shook her head. The "ayes" were barely audible.
"Resounding approval," Foster joked, which triggered chuckles all around the boardroom.
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