Academic Planning and Advisory Committee

Tamara Valdez shows support for fighting budget cuts at The Students Speak rally on the West Mall. The Students Speak is an organization that wants to meet again against budget cuts in the fall.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

A student-led group continues to organize on behalf of higher University funding even after many students, faculty and staff have resigned themselves to nearly $100 million in legislative budget cuts.

The Students Speak, a decentralized student-formed group, gives a voice to students who protest against the budget cuts affecting their education, said Mexican-American studies senior Bernardino Lucian Villaseñor.

“We’ve been against all budget cuts on campus because we don’t have to take this,” Villaseñor said. “The Legislature has continued to reduce our funding, and students are the ones who have to pay the costs with higher tuition.”

The group first met last fall after finding out the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee of the College of Liberal Arts recommended large budget cuts to ethnic and identity studies programs without seeking student feedback, Villaseñor said.

He said the group has not met over the summer but will reorganize in the fall. Villaseñor said students have been watching the administration over the summer after many received financial aid packages as much $1,000 smaller than they expected.

The Students Speak organized a rally and protest on campus last December as well as a march to Capitol in March, said member and computer sciences senior Ruben Fitch.

“I do sincerely believe that the budget cuts can be reversed. It will just take sustained creative organizing on a scale much larger than we’ve currently been able to accomplish,” Fitch said.

Women’s and gender studies senior Teri Adams began attending group meetings shortly after its creation to speak out against cuts to the Women’s and Gender Studies Center.

The group chose to remain independent from the University in order to freely oppose the legitimacy of budget cuts without being subject to guidelines and regulations normally followed by student groups, Adams said. After the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee’s initial recommendations, liberal arts administrators and President William Powers Jr. adjusted the plan and reduced cuts to several centers, including the centers for Mexican-American and African-American Studies.

“Students have traditionally been on the vanguard of social change movements, so we have a really important role to play in arming ourselves with the ideas necessary to interpret the information of what’s going on out there,” she said.

As a mother of two with a part-time job and six years at UT, Adams said the current model was not financially viable for many students who have other responsibilities outside of their studies.

She said the UT System Board of Regents caused many of the problems but were unaccountable to students because Gov. Rick Perry appoints the board.

“I don’t feel like they’re at all in touch with the reality of people’s and students’ lives, and yet they have ultimate power over us,” Adams said.

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: The Students Speak organizes, prepares agenda for next year

Several academic centers in the College of Liberal Arts face budget cuts next year after a college committee recommended cuts based on performance reviews.

The centers provide classes for students who are interested in specialized courses and obtain specialized research grants for UT. The cuts from the college also affect how many grants the centers are likely to receive.

Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl formed the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee last year to advise him on which areas of the budget to cut in light of a $3.75 million deficit in the college. Diehl said the committee has worked hard over the course of the year to make the changes and will help him make an informed final decision. The committee began collecting data in April from each of the academic centers, which most of the centers provided by late summer. APAC made recommendations to Diehl on Friday, but there is no deadline for when the final decision on cuts will be made.

Richard Flores, liberal arts associate dean for academic affairs, said the committee chose how much to cut from the centers based on several performance metrics, including total number of semester credit hours offered, total number of students in the major and monetary input. Flores said UT told the college a year ago that its budget would remain flat over the next two years, creating a budget deficit.

“We had laid out some assumptions in our plan based on recurring money we thought we would be getting,” Flores said. “When that didn’t happen, we had to go back to the drawing board.”

Flores said centers such as the Texas Language Center do not teach but do specialized research.

The college may cut 100 percent of their contribution to the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and the Center for East Asian Studies’ budgets, 40 percent from the Center for Mexican American Studies and 30 percent from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, among cuts to several other academic centers.

Only 15 percent of the $3.75 million deficit the college needs to fill is tied to faculty and teaching assistants, said James Southerland, assistant dean for business affairs.

Only the Center for European Studies gained college funding — about $10,000. The largest monetary decreases hit the Center for Mexican American Studies, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Centers that are cut 28 percent or more will get a two-year window to find outside funding sources.

Carl Thorne-Thomsen, an economics senior and president of the Liberal Arts Council, said he has not seen the proposed cuts and does not know how they will affect students. He said there was no direct student involvement in the decisions.

“I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but it would have been helpful to have students directly involved,” he said. “But I think APAC is a pretty good representation of student and faculty needs.”

Kristen Brustad, chair of the Middle Eastern Studies Department, said cuts to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies college funds could also endanger its federal grant money, so the center is scrambling. The center’s staff helps maintain grants and if the University does not show support for the center, the U.S. Department of Education may pass up the center for grants, Brustad said.

“We stand to lose staff who help run our programs and grants,” she said. “We’re gritting our teeth about the whole thing.”