Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's like highway 6

From President Loftin's speech at convocation:
As president, I commit to all of you that I will not only lead Texas A&M further down the path of academic and institutional excellence that you have worked so hard to define
The path of academic and institutional excellence runs both ways.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We make it up in volume

In the Eagle:
State funding per student within the Texas A&M System will decrease by more than 17 percent if a budget cut is as large as officials have been asked to prepare for.
The state provides $7,529 per student within the 11-university A&M System this biennium, the two-year period that began September 2009.
The projected funding per student for the biennium that begins September 2011 is $6,230.
That's based on a 10 percent state reduction -- as officials have been asked to plan for -- the loss of federal stimulus money and a 6 percent enrollment increase. Calvert said that's a conservative estimate and the system's enrollment is likely to increase by closer to 10 percent.
This is great news for Texas taxpayers: we've reduced the cost of higher education!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Loftin held hostage?

On Sunday we wondered where President Loftin was. On Monday, some at A&M received a communique purporting to be from him:
Texas A&M has had, for many years, mechanisms in place that allow the full range of your activities to be considered in annual performance evaluations as well as for promotion and tenure (which are guided by our faculty rules and guidelines). This report will not be used (even if inaccuracies are corrected) to assess the overall productivity of an individual faculty member, and it certainly does not speak to the quality of that productivity.
Vision 1920 is worried that President Loftin is being held hostage by faculty terrorists and sent this email under duress. Here's why:
  • The message was not delivered in public
  • Although President Loftin sends weekly emails from, this one comes from a different address.
  • There is nothing like it on his university webpage. Note how he fooled his captors by not sending faculty propaganda to the whole TAMU community.
  • Like POW Jeremiah Denton blinking out Morse Code, Loftin gets the real message through
    ...What I wish to emphasize to you is that the existence of this document does not imply change in our focus or behavior as a university. More explicitly, let me say that the mission of Texas A&M University has not changed nor have the processes we have in place for evaluating faculty.
What other explanation could there be?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Returning to our rightful mission

In the Academic Fishy Data Compilation, research funding was put into a separate column and did not count against each faculty member's red/black totals. The appropriate way to count research funding is not clear. For guidance, we can look to this Texas Public Policy Foundation report (pdf)
In short, we could afford to provide perhaps twice as many students in America with a college education if we just reduced the wasteful spending on scholarly academic re- search, and returned the university to its rightful mission of teaching.
Indeed. And, even better, if we just diverted all that extramural grant money to the football team, we could hire a really good special teams coach. Vision 1920 is sure the OMB would have no problem with that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where's Loftin?

Comments on the Academic Fishy Data Compilation from top A&M leaders (from the Eagle and the Chronicle of Higher Education):

  • Dean of Faculties Antonio Cepeda-Benito
    "...a simplistic and misleading way to measure faculty"
  • Provost Karan Watson
    "...we may have told them we don't really see the value in what you're doing."
  • Dean of Architecture Jorge Vanegas
    "... numbers are taken out of their full context and they feed into misconceptions or explicit lack of recognition of what the full spectrum of academia should be"
  • Dean of Business Jerry Strawser
    "...just totally and completely misleading..."
President Loftin has been strangely silent as his underlings criticize the System. Vision 1920 calls on Loftin to remind his employees about the bidirectionality of Highway 6.

Close enough for government work, part 2

Governor Perry explains the importance of the Academic Fishy Data Compilation exercise:
"We are in the process of doing the groundwork to ensure that tax dollars are being spent as effectively as possible by our higher education institutions," he said.

Close enough for government work

The Eagle reports on an update to the tale of the Academic Fishy Fiscal Data Compilation:
But following public release last week, the document has been criticized as containing widespread inaccuracies, from inflated salaries to faculty members not being counted.

On Friday evening, visitors who clicked on the report link online instead saw a message that stated, "In light of the feedback received, corrections are being made to the FY 2009 'Academic Financial Data Compilation.' Processes are being modified and an updated report will be prepared and posted to the web."
This suggests that the report is no longer available, but on Saturday night that note is just one of two pages appended to the pdf before the body of the report. The other page is a flow chart for how the data was compiled.

The data on faculty payroll is shown as coming from the "BPP's pay history file for each instructor", except for the payroll from the Vet School, which comes from somewhere else. Wherever it comes from, the faculty are complaining:
Raymond Carroll wishes he got paid $443,000, like it says in a financial measurement released this week by the A&M System. But he says that's about $150,000 more than his actual salary.
Perhaps the extra $150K has just been strategically reallocated.

Vision 1920 suspects that BPP refers to the System Budget/Payroll/Personnel Operations Center. Alternatively it could refer to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Profits from downsizing

One of the comments in the Eagle story suggests a strategy for A&M to be even more profitable:

"The measure shows that some of our best, most prestigious faculty come out in the red," said Antonio Cepeda-Benito, dean of faculties. "Those are the people that other universities would pay money to take away from us. They're in high demand."

The highest paid faculty member who has never had an ex-president buyout is Jim Sacchettini in Biochemistry and Biophysics. The profit and loss document shows him as $159,018 in the red, shortly after TAMU fought off an attempt by the Univ. of Houston to hire him away.

The document includes the fiscal evaluation of several faculty who did leave A&M before FY2009, but who have TAMU appointments because they had graduate students in the pipeline when they left. These faculty are in the black because they have $0 salary from A&M, but we still get tuition and fees for their students. In some cases, those departed faculty were worth more than $10,000 to A&M.

Sacchettini has lots of grad students, so we would have made an even bigger short-term profit by letting him go to the Cougars, thanks to separating research funds from the bottom line. And what's the big deal about research? Sacchettini only brought in $2,217,551 in awards in FY2009 (that doesn't count this, which is from 2010).

Measure for measure

The famous report on faculty profitability is now available online. The Eagle covers the reaction:
It takes what a faculty member generates by teaching -- tuition paid by students and formula funding by the state based on weighted semester credit hours -- and subtracts from that the faculty member's salary and estimated cost of benefits.

It doesn't take research dollars generated into account, as The Eagle reported earlier this month based on how officials described the document. However, they appear in an adjacent column.
Two colleges at TAMU are in the red: Engineering and the Bush school.
In fact, at the College Station campus, the document shows that faculty members brought in nearly $75 million more than the $315 million spent on their salaries and benefits. In addition, they generated an additional $226 million through research.

The nature of the calculation means that the most profitable faculty are the non-tenured instructors who just got laid off. Identifying these is not straightforward, as different departments include or exclude graduate student TAs from the listing, depending on how the courses they participate in use them.
Jerry Strawser, dean of the Mays Business School and convener of the Council of Deans, said faculty members generally teach what their department heads tell them to teach that semester, sometimes big classes, other times not.

"According to this measure, it's going to look like one's doing a lot, and the other's not, and that's just totally and completely misleading, because they're doing what they've been asked to do," Strawser said.

"It's like judging a manufacturing process by how many units they produce. Not anything else. Not whether the customers buy the units. Not whether the units have defects in them. It just says, 'Here's how many units we've produced.'"

Universities should be run like businesses. Our model for evaluation of unit and employee profitability is Enron.
"I think this is all in the spirit of what we proposed," said Bill Peacock, the vice president for research of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal rankings

A&M is #2 in the nation in a new Wall Street Journal ranking of the best colleges.
In the study—which surveyed 479 of the largest public and private companies, nonprofits and government agencies—Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked as top picks for graduates best prepared and most able to succeed.
The Aggies are only behind Penn State (Tceh is #18, ahead of tu). Vision 1920 likes this ranking much better than the US News and NRC rankings, which are way too biased toward the insider values of the academic cartel.

Looking deeper at the WSJ rankings should help us evaluate the directions TAMU should take to maintain our high position in this poll, and ultimately to become #1. A companion article explains
Under pressure to cut costs and streamline their hiring efforts, recruiting managers find it's more efficient to focus on fewer large schools and forge deeper relationships with them, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of top corporate recruiters whose companies last year hired 43,000 new graduates.
Corporate budget constraints also play a role. Recruiter salaries, travel expenses, advertising and relocation costs run upwards of $500,000 to recruit 100 college grads, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "We're all accountable to the bottom line," said Diane Borhani, campus recruiting leader at Deloitte LLP, who said she recently narrowed her roster to about 400 schools from 500.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Enhancing the undergraduate experience

More from Loftin's email
- Unofficial preliminary fifth-day figures show another year of record enrollment - 49,426, or 724 more than last fall.
- We have two open forums scheduled for this week as we continue our discussions on the Strategic Budget Reallocation. The first, on enhancing the undergraduate experience, will be today from 4-5:30 p.m. in Rudder 601.
Our plan to enhance the undergrad experience is to reduce teaching staff while increasing enrollment. That way Aggies get to experience more of each other in every class they take.

Update: The email also says:
My memo about these forums, and how you can view them remotely if you are unable to attend, can be found at
But if you follow the link, all it says is
All open forums are taking place in Rudder 601 and will utilize electronic simulcast for maximum participation.
Note the email says today is the first, while the website shows one from last Friday on graduate programs.

Update 2: the streams are at


A highlight from President Loftin's email to the Aggie family:
Often when I meet with other university presidents, they express amazement at the level of support provided by our former students through the Association of Former Students. For the 2010-2011 academic year, our students, faculty and staff will receive $3.2 million from the Association to support 65 initiatives for which state appropriations are not available, such as scholarships (more than $1 million), student activities (including travel support for the Aggie Band), and enrichment programs for faculty and staff.
Vision 1920 imagines these meetings:

Other University President: "Hey Bowen, given how fanatical your former students are about A&M, it's amazing that your alumni giving ranking is not even in the top 50, which means you're behind Texas, Michigan, Berkeley, UNC, UCLA, and even UC-Davis."

Loftin: "Yes, it's an amazing level of support. Of course, we've been working very hard lately on impressing some of our big donors".

So, if it was an emergency it must have been important, right?

Hmm... no coverage of the yesterday's Emergency Faculty Senate Meeting in the online editions of the Eagle, KBTX, or the Batt.

But we do get coverage of how new Aggie license plates are available.

Anyone have a report? Vision1920 wasn't able to get away from more important things.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Emergency faculty senate meeting today

The Faculty Senate has called an emergency meeting today to formulate their response to the Strategeric Budget Reallocation Plan. The Faculty have this peculiar idea that the process should be open and transparent.

The faculty have tried to give their input on how the budget crisis should be handled before. In the wake of the layoffs of instructors and staff reported last week, Vision 1920 reminds our readers that in a survey over the summer, only 82.4% of the faculty agreed with the following statement:
I am willing to forego a merit raise for one academic year on the grounds that the money saved will be used to reduce the number of faculty and staff terminated.

And only 64.4% agreed to forego raises for two years.

This idea did not make it into the SBR Plan. But if the faculty could be less divided, then maybe the administration would have listened to them. And if you believe that, Vision 1920 thinks you would be an excellent Faculty Senator.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

All your base are belong to us

A story that first appeared in the Texas Tribune last month is starting to get noticed:
The Texas commission charged with aiding economies hit by military base closures will spend millions for a vaccine plant in Bryan-College Station — even though the region’s military base closed nearly five decades ago.
Critics think that the military base closing commission should prioritize places like San Antonio, where bases have closed more recently. To them we say: You have no chance to survive make your time. Ha Ha Ha Ha

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shared Services

From Tuesday's Eagle
The university-wide plans had called for the elimination of 93 faculty and 117 staff positions -- along with 100 vacant faculty and 175 vacant staff positions -- to help meet a "worst-case" state reduction of $39 million and an internal $21 million reallocation plan to bolster a centrally administered pool to fund strategic priorities.

Across the university, non-tenured faculty have been given notices.

On Monday afternoon, all nine lecturers and senior lecturers in the biology department were set to receive notices of non-renewal.
Vision 1920 is thinking Chancellor McKinney and System VP Giroir, who both have MDs, could pick up a couple of sections of Intro Biology. If their student evaluations are good enough, they could even get some teaching awards.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The bottom line

Today's Eagle reports on a new way A&M is leading the way in redefining higher education
A several-inches thick document in the possession of A&M System officials contains three key pieces of information for every single faculty member in the 11-university system: their salary, how much external research funding they received and how much money they generated from teaching.

The information will allow officials to add the funds generated by a faculty member for teaching and research and subtract that sum from the faculty member's salary. When the document -- essentially a profit-loss statement for faculty members -- is complete, officials hope it will become an effective, lasting tool to help with informed decision-making.
According to System VP Frank Ashley, most departments are in the black. The System isn't releasing the document yet, which makes sense to Vision 1920. There is obviously something wrong with the metric if it shows those lazy faculty with their tenured jobs as actually pulling their weight.