By FRANCISCO G. CIGARROA, M.D. HOUSTON CHRONICLE
With only a few clicks on a mouse, one could find out the graduation and retention rates for baccalaureate students at all University of Texas academic institutions.
A few more clicks will reveal passage rates for UT students on state licensure exams, such as those for teachers, doctors or pharmacists. Maybe you would like to know the proportion of lower-division courses taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty? Or how well UT institutions are using their classrooms and lab space? Or how about how UT campuses are faring at achieving enrollment diversity?
All of those metrics and more are studied annually by the UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives and laid out for the world to see. In fact, the annual UT System Accountability and Performance Report (online: http://www.utsystem.edu/osm/accountabili ty/2009/homepage.htm) measures 72 key indicators that tell us how well our campuses are doing in teaching, research and patient care.
The UT System always has been interested in knowing how its institutions measure up. We should be held accountable to the public for how we perform. These reports are not intended to show highlights and good news only, but to give an accurate picture of how we are doing and what areas pose particular challenges for us — so that we can define areas of improvement.
This annual report has evolved over the years into what we believe is a robust performance review – one that has provided the framework for a national higher education accountability system launched by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
This culture of accountability has always been a part of the UT System, but it became more pronounced under the leadership of former Board of Regents Chairman Charles Miller, and it is something the UT System takes seriously.
We recognize that, to be an institution of the first class, we have a responsibility to thoroughly examine all aspects of the university enterprise, including faculty recruitment, student outcomes, fiscal responsibility and national competitiveness. It was through this thoughtful process – and under the board leadership of previous chairmen James R. Huffines, H. Scott Caven, Jr. and Colleen McHugh – that proactive steps were taken to recruit some of the brightest faculty members in the country and to invest heavily in science and technology so that our students are taught by the very best, whether it be in the humanities or physical chemistry.
These efforts also helped our system become more efficient (allowing us to realize $1.4 billion in savings), avoided costs and added new revenue. And we expect to improve upon that.
We are proud that, even in times of fiscal constraint, we have been in a position to achieve progress. That ability to move forward in economic downturns is spurred greatly by this careful review process.
Indeed, given the current trend of waning state and federal funding, it is imperative that public higher education institutions be more innovative and creative so they can dig deeper and further examine productivity and efficiencies. And we must achieve this while being mindful that we must serve even more students.
Last October, the UT System drew up a new blueprint for enhanced productivity and efficiencies, and now, two task forces have been established by current board Chairman Gene Powell to help advance that very goal. It is our expectation that these task forces will help us strike the right balance between providing a higher education of the first class and doing it in a way that keeps it affordable and accessible for the students of this great state.
We know that for our universities to serve our state and nation we must invest wisely in teaching and research, because great universities not only attract great minds, they produce great minds.
Cigarroa is chancellor of The University of Texas System.