Challenges await Yudof at chancellor position in Texas

Dylan Thomas

When Mark Yudof takes over as chancellor of the University of Texas system, he will face tasks as large as the 15-campus system he will be leading.

Several issues will be waiting for Yudof when he gets to Texas, including a possible state budget shortfall, major state demographic changes and the tangle of bureaucracy inherent to such a large system.

UT regents and Texas legislators expressed confidence in Yudof as their new chancellor. However, they said they are aware of the difficulties the former UT Law School dean and provost will be facing.

UT Regent Cindi Krier, chairwoman of the Academic Affairs Committee, said she feels secure with Yudof as chancellor.

“I am confident that he comes into this with his eyes wide open and realistic expectations of both the challenges and the opportunities that face him,” Krier said.

While state budget deficits are not new to Yudof, he will face a potential budget shortfall of $5 billion by the next legislative session in January 2003.

Legislators said that because Texas makes higher education a priority, the UT system would probably not lose a great amount of funding.

Still, Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said “dollars and cents are going to be short.” Yudof will have to prioritize between programs and institutions and make important funding decisions, he said.

A recent funding struggle within the UT system highlights the importance and difficulties of prioritizing.

Texas legislators, trying to increase the appeal of the smaller schools within the UT system, have increased their funding by 44 percent in the past decade.

Funding for the flagship school at Austin, however, has increased by only 28 percent during the same period. This has put pressure on UT regents to increase fees for the UT-Austin students which help pay for building renovation and repair.

Katie King, student body president at UT-Austin, said that the fee is “highly controversial” not only because it is expensive, but also because the fees process lacks student involvement.

However, while state funding is important to the UT system, it is state-aided, not state-funded.

Twenty to 25 percent of its funding comes from the state, said UT Regent Pat Oxford, chairman of the Health Affairs Committee. The rest comes from funds dedicated to the system by the state constitution and statutes.

Whether or not the UT system is facing funding problems, Krier said fund-raising skills were an
important qualification for chancellor candidates. She said she was confident in Yudof’s fundraising abilities.

“He was an excellent fundraiser” both while at UT and as president of the Minnesota system, she said.

Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, said that Yudof was a good lobbyist, an important skill for a chancellor.

“I think that Mark has the abilities to be a good advocate for funding for the university,” Bivins said. “He has certainly not been a stranger to the Legislature in the past.”

Krier said Yudof’s ability to work with people from both political parties would also be important for securing funding. She said his political skills would be especially important because many positions within the Texas government, including the governorship, might be strongly contested in the next election.

Yudof and Krier have discussed alternate ways to fund the UT system as well. She said expanding research to help offset state appropriations is something Yudof could help the UT system do.

“He has a philosophy that schools shouldn’t just ask the state to help schools, but that the schools should do things that help the state,” Krier said.

Demographic Changes

The demographic changes occurring in Texas will pose a “growing challenge,” said Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff,
R-Mt. Pleasant. A growing minority population and an increase in the number of low-income citizens in the state are both issues that affect the UT system.

“Texas is in the midst of sweeping demographic change,” Oxford said. He said that Texas is now a “minority-majority” state, meaning that there is no single ethnic group that makes up 50 percent of the population.

“Training a multiplicity of ethnic groups for the 21st century is a specific challenge that Texas has not squared up to as much as we should have,” Oxford said.

Recruiting students of color is a concern for administrators in the UT system. King said that the diversity of the campus could come into question next year due to the lack of minority representation.

Part of this problem stems from the Hopwood case that dealt with affirmative action and wound its way through courts throughout the ’90s, King said.

In 1992, four white applicants sued the UT-Austin Law School, charging reverse discrimination when they were denied admission. Their suit sought to overturn the Law School’s affirmative action admission program.

In 1996, the case was appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which ruled the race-based admissions policy unconstitutional.

UT lawyers tried to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court three times between 1996 and 2000 but were unsuccessful. However, a recent decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that contradicts the Hopwood decision makes it more likely the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the issue.

A new law encourages a more diverse student body by guaranteeing undergraduate admission to students graduating in the top 10 percent of their classes. However, the number of minority students enrolled in the UT Law School has not returned to pre-Hopwood levels.

Bivins said another problem is the rapidly growing number of
low-income citizens in Texas. He described providing a post-secondary education for people from low-income families as “a challenge facing all of Texas, and especially the UT system” and said Yudof would be a major player in that process.

Bureaucracy

Bivins said that because the UT system is so large, trying to balance the attention, needs and politics along with the alumni and faculty of so many institutions with such vast diversity is a huge job.

Krier said there is too much bureaucracy in the UT system.

When Yudof takes over the chancellor position, he will be heading a 15-campus system with a $6.4 billion budget. The UT system has 160,000 students and 85,000 employees.

By comparison, the University’s four-campus system has a $1.8 billion budget. There are 60,000 students and a staff of 17,000.

Krier said Yudof has discussed reviewing all the UT system operations to make it less bureaucratic.

“He has some ideas for making it more user friendly, opening the process up and making it more responsive that I’m eager and open to try,” said Krier. “Any time someone new comes in it’s a good time to reassess – ‘why are we doing this; is there a better way to do it?'”

A symptom of the system’s bureaucracy is the tension between the different institutions seeking funding in the UT system, Bivins said. Yudof “will have his hands full managing all those disparate interests,” he said.

The UT system’s size was a concern for Yudof in 2000 when a search team seeking to fill the chancellor position contacted him.

“I didn’t really want to be the head of a large system,” said Yudof in a Pioneer Press article from April 2000.

Oxford said he thought Yudof had decided to take the position now not because the amount of bureaucracy had changed but because of personal reasons.

UT regents and Texas legislators said Yudof’s experiences both at UT and as president of the University are invaluable.

“We think that the training he’s had with the good people of Minnesota will be his most valuable asset,” said Oxford.

Ratliff said, “I think he has all the tools, but it is a monumental undertaking.”

Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]