Board of Regents voices support for move to increase institutional transparency

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The UT System Board of Regents unanimously endorsed a framework Thursday that will ensure a systematic evaluation of institutions and will show more transparency in administrative processes.

Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa authored the framework, which includes improving the quality of higher education by enhancing research and excellence at all nine universities in the system, including UT-Austin, which is a tier-one research institution.

“People of Texas look up to us,” Cigarroa said. “We have the moral responsibility to maintain that trust.”

Cigarroa said universities cannot become research-intensive institutions unless they provide quality education to students. Enhancing research will require vigorous philanthropic efforts to raise money for student scholarships and reducing student debt, he said.

The framework came out in the midst of tension between the regents, University administrators and alumni. They perceive recent actions by the regents and the governor’s office as attempts to minimize the importance of research.

In the proposed framework, the administration would work to improve medical education by investing in technology and tools needed to enhance research, he said. Technology plays a crucial role in improving the interaction between students and faculty members, Cigarroa said.

The system universities may lose up to $600 million in the 2012-13 biennium because of state budget shortfalls, requiring the administration at each campus to make careful decisions, Cigarroa said.

This means new buildings should only be constructed if the old ones are being used effectively, he said.

“With declining financial resources, we must optimize time and space,” Cigarroa said.

The Board created two task forces to enhance excellence and productivity for the system and presented ideas on cost efficiency, retaining graduation rates and providing online courses to students.

UT-Arlington has already been looking at online courses, said the university’s president James Spaniolo. He asked the Board to consider that providing online courses is not going to work at each campus because each institution is different.

“We are sitting in a place where we can take significant steps forward,” he said.

Matthew Hicks, the chair of the Student Government assembly, said although he does not speak for SG, he believes technology plays a crucial role in students’ academic success and it should enrich, not substitute, quality education.

“To that end, it is my opinion that online classes should not be considered a substitute for brick-and-mortar courses,” said Hicks, who was one of more than 20 students who attended the meeting. “The more degrees of separation between the teacher and the student only [inhibit] the quality of the education.”