The World as We Know It

By Scott Henson and Tom Philpott
April 1990; pages 4, 15; Volume 1, No. 5
Polemicist

Editors' note: The authors, too lazy to put together a single coherent polemic, have instead written a series of shorter pieces. If you don't like this one, please go to the next. They promise to work harder next time.

 

Luckett wins; now the work starts

For years, UT student politicians have failed to question the primary assumption on which the Student Association is based: that a few select students should lobby an all-powerful, hopefully benign administration for a say in university affairs. With the election of Toni Luckett, students finally have a president who challenges that assumption. Emerging not from a backroom in the Tower but rather from Austin's progressive community, Luckett has vowed to take the SA out of its office in the Union and onto the streets with students. The era of the obedient SA president has ended, for now; even without the support of the assembly she presides over, Toni can organize the growing progressive energy on campus into a true student opposition to the administration's monopoly of power.

She doesn't limit her critique of the status quo to any narrow set of issues. Worker's rights, the shuttle bus drivers' right to bargain collectively, students' right to control the allotment of resources at the University, issues of race, class, gender and sexuality - Luckett marshals all of these issues into a broad student agenda. The very fact that Toni - an African-American women-identified activist - could overcome the powerful forces of racism, homophobia and student apathy to get elected demonstrates the strength and validity of her views. Her election amounts to a mandate for an agenda including but not limited to: divestment, new UT policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexuality, the divorce of the University from industry, the creation of a racially and sexually diverse faculty, student body and curriculum, and universal free speech on campus.

But Toni won't simply be able to pursue her own agenda: she must also react to intrusions by the administration into the true university community: faculty and students. The most egregious of those intrusions include spending huge amounts of education money to boost private industry. Polemicist outlines a few newly discovered incidents below.

Cause: Clean rooms and biotech

Less than two years after pouring $15 million dollars into Sematech and its world-class clean rooms, the UT-System has just spent $42 million more to provide clean rooms for academic researchers in Austin and Dallas. The Austin American-Statesman reported this month that the University is already halfway through construction of a $22 million, 12,000 square foot clean room at the Balcones Research Center. UT-Dallas plans to spend $20 million on a new clean room this fall.

Amazingly, the Statesman article marked the first time the new clean rooms appeared in the local press, even though construction is nearly complete. In sorting through every article concerning the Balcones Research Center that the UT News and Information Service clipped for the past decade, the authors had never heard of the expenditures. UT sent a press release to Statesman reporter and industrial policy enthusiast Kyle Pope, but we never got ours.

These expenditures, of course, must be seen in context with the UT System's other recent high-dollar handouts to industry. Adding up just a few high-tech expenditures, we get the following equation:

 


MCC $50 million
32 endowed chairs $16 million
Supercomputer $20 million
Sematech $15 million
Molecular biology $70 million
Clean rooms $42 million
TOTAL $213 million

 

This list, of course, is wretchedly incomplete, excluding expenditures for a robotics institute at UT-Arlington, a high-energy physics plant at UT-Permian Basin, biotech capital for UT-San Antonio and others. But it provides some basis for looking at UT's spending priorities. The equation covers 15 years, between 1983 (MCC) and 1997 (the year UT's biotech spending will be complete).

The Diploma Mill

Polemicist calculates that it would cost $18 million per year to hire enough faculty to bring UT's student-faculty ratio up to the national average. Forgoing these six high-tech expenditures alone would have saved UT $14.2 million per year over this period. That figure doesn't include the money the University spent to staff those facilities with research-oriented professors - and to hire such faculty, UT had to compete with the lucrative salaries offered by the private sector. Still, the figure illustrates the cost of subsidization high-tech industry to undergraduate education.

Effect: Fee hikes and wage cuts

Even as it was building clean rooms for the microelectronics industry, the UT-System Board of Regents was imposing an austerity program on UT students and workers. At its Feb. 8, 1990 meeting, the regents approved the following measures.

    - New fees of between $10 and $40 per semester in the colleges of business administration, pharmacy and the graduate school of library information sciences to defray student advising and career placement costs.

For students who pay their own way through school, the fees cut significantly into consumption income. An upper-division business students, for example, must now pay $80 extra per year to be "advised," which can cut directly into recreation or even living expenses.

    - A new $30 fee will be imposed for degree checks for all graduate students - a service which undergraduates get free. What is an adminstration for if not to process degree checks? Perhaps next they'll charge us to trim the hedges in the main mall, or to use camps bathrooms. Undergraduates must join graduate students in resisting this measure. If we accept it, the administration can use it as leverage to charge undergrads for degree checks next. Administration PR hacks will simply argue that since grad students pay for it, why shouldn't undergrads?

Incredibly, The Texan missed this development completely. Why should students pay for a daily newspaper if it fails to report mandatory comprehensive fees? If it fails to perform even that basic service, why even have an official daily?

    - A doubling of all library fines, and an increase in the maximum fee for all overdue books from $12 to $30. For the 1989-90 budget, the estimated contribution from library fines was $250,000. The administration can reasonably expect its take from library fines to double. Library fines exist to deter students from abusing their library privileges. Yet the administration uses them as a fund-raising mechanism - even as it doles out millions to fund high-tech research.

Amazingly, The Texan didn't report this obvious austerity measure, either. Must we pour yet more student money into The Texan before its editors feel they have sufficient resources to report such basic, critical student issues? The Texan's failure to do so dramatically confirms its need to shift resources to campus issues from state, national and international issues (see the Daily Texan chastisements, page 2).

    - Wage cuts for blue-collar personnel. Students rarely consider non-faculty university employees when they talk of austerity measures. But the same forces that extract large fees and fines from students also drive down the wages of blue-collar employees.

According to the chancellor's docket #50 cited above, starting wages for the following personnel categories under "Building and Allied Trades Titles" have been cut: Electrician foremen; electricians; plumber foremen; plumbers; masons; sheetmetal workers; maintenance foremen; air conditioning mechanics; electronic technicians and elevator maintenance mechanics.

By cutting starting salaries, of course, UT ensures that current employees are unaffected, thus lessening resistance. But if UT continues to cut starting wages even as inflation climbs, UT employees will end up underpaid and disgruntled with their jobs. Do we really want to cut wages for elevator maintenance mechanics? Think about it.

As Polemicist has shown in the past, high-tech research profs have received large pay increases in recent years. For instance, on average, electrical engineering professors received 69 percent wage increases over the 80s, adjusted for inflation.

UT's disgraceful wage policy merely reflects larger trends: austerity towards marginalized groups (students and workers) and bounty for high-tech intellectual capital (engineering profs). But it also points up the necessity of solidarity between students and workers. The multi-million dollar subsidies that UT supplies the high-tech industry conflict with both student and worker interests. To fight for more undergraduate funding without encompassing workers' rights to decent wages would allow UT to play these elements off against each other. Meanwhile, the source of these offensive measures - UT's industrial policy - would continue to flourish. Students must learn to contextualize workers' issues, and build links between the two groups to support and sustain each other against a common foe.

A Woman's Work...

Comparing the faculty salaries of men and women in the English raises few suprises - but it is quite angering. Deriving our numbers from the 1989-1990 UT-Austin Budget, we find that women in the UT English department make 74 cents on every man's dollar. The number of women in the English department is higher than the University average - 37 percent compared to about 25 percent - but women are concentrated in lower-paying associate and especially assistant professor positions. Here are the numbers:

 


  Women Men
Full Professors 2 30
Associate Prof. 11 23
Assistant Prof. 8 4
TOTAL 21 57

 

Worse, women who have taken on positions of considerable responsibility to undergraduates in the department earn far less than their male counterparts. For example, Maurine McElroy, the department's undergraduate advisor, oversees the progress of nearly every undergraduate English major. She works through scheduling snafus, counsels new majors, and faces a deluge of frustrated undergrads at registration time every semester. She makes $38,000 a year. Larry Duban, on the other hand, makes $48,000 a year. As director of the department's honors program, he handles a fraction of the students McElroy does and under much easier conditions. She deals with average students who have to scramble to get into oversized classes, he deals with a few dozen students who have their choice of several small classes every semester.

No rational system of pay increases could award Duban $10,000 more per year than McElroy. The disparity reflects a latent paternalism in the department's salary and promotion structure. Women handle the grunt work while men get the flashier jobs that ensure the fast track to full professorship.

Even when women do achieve presitigious positions, they're undercompensated compared to men. Betty Sue Flowers, director of the Plan II program, makes $66,667 per year. Some five male full English professors make more, and none of them hold administrative positions. The highest paid male professor makes $110,057 - nearly twice Flowers' salary.

We looked into the English department because of its relatively high percentage of women faculty, figuring it would be a significant case study in the wage gap. The same study can be performed for any department by anybody with a calculator - just ask for the budget at the reserves desk at PCL.