Released data could misguide public

AddThis

Data on UT System faculty spending, earning, research production and course enrollment could mislead the public about the so-called productivity of professors and researchers in the system, a UT faculty chair said.

The UT System Board of Regents created the task force on excellence and productivity in February. Upon their request, the UT System created the 820-page document containing faculty names, their tenure status and course enrollment numbers and released it to the task force on May 5.

The UT System had numerous open-record requests, and in the interest of keeping the administrative processes transparent, the system released the data before they could verify the information, which they received from the Texas Higher Education Board, said system spokesman Anthony de Bruyn.

“The analysis is not intended to gauge performance on an individual basis, but rather to review university departments by institution so that the presidents of the nine UT System academic institutions can assess the strengths of institutional departments by campus and recommend adjustments as necessary,” de Bruyn said in an email.

Dean Neikirk, an engineering professor and the chair of the Faculty Council, said the data is premature because it does not take into account individual efforts of the faculty members. For example, the draft does not include intensive research efforts that some faculty at the Cockrell School of Engineering or College of Natural Sciences are conducting.

“The picture [this data] paints is a snapshot of a course of at most three semesters which does not accurately reflect what any faculty member does over years,” Neikirk said.

The Texas A&M System created a similar spreadsheet last year that some special interest groups said indicated professors’ efforts were not on par with their salaries, according to The Texas Tribune. Neikirk said he doesn’t think the UT System data will have a positive impact for the faculty members, especially when some of the expenditure data is inaccurate in the draft.

Neikirk said when he gets the expenditure reports from UT, they rarely match up with his own tracking.

“It essentially has to do with [how] some of the bookkeeping is done [at UT],” Neikirk said.

Kristi Fisher, associate vice provost of Information Management and Analysis, said the department submits faculty and student information to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board each semester, which is where the task force acquired the data.

“I believe what we submitted was accurate according to the specific definitions by the [board],” Fisher said.
But some of the research expenditure data does not reflect all the research done by all faculty members because they are funded differently, she said. For example, some organizations choose to donate directly to the faculty members, which means the management office cannot get the information without surveying the entire faculty population.

She also said the draft lacks context because it may seem to the public that some faculty members, including professors — some of whom work nine months a year — receive lower salaries than some administrators who work the entire calendar year.

The UT System administration said the information is being verified currently, but de Bruyn said he doesn’t know how long it will take to create a final, more accurate spreadsheet.