The governor’s hiring freeze imposed on state-funded agencies and institutions is hitting home with Tarrant County’s two largest public education destinations — the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive aims to save $200 million for budget relief by freezing vacancies in publicly funding jobs through Aug. 31, the end of the state budget year. Public safety positions generally are exempt, and many colleges and agencies are filing waivers seeking to spare certain other jobs.
For the health science center, that translates into keeping open 42 of 50 current faculty and administrative staff positions, said Steven Sosland, executive vice president and chief people and performance officer.
The faculty are critical for student success, for meeting our mission. The staff positions are important as well to keep the health science center running at full capability.
Steven Sosland, chief people officer, University of North Texas Health Science Center
Two positions that can be filled are in public safety, including one left vacant by school Police Chief Gary Gailliard’s retirement, and the remaining six are funded by nonstate grants.
“The faculty are critical for student success, for meeting our mission. The staff positions are important as well to keep the health science center running at full capability,” Sosland said. “We also understand the need to cut the budget, so we’re looking at creative ways to keep everything going with fewer people.”
The campus has 2,200 total jobs, including about 200 for students, who are all graduate students. Most of the student positions aren’t affected because the funding comes federal work-study programs or locally generated funds, Sosland said.
At UTA, 144 positions started on the frozen list, but are being held open. They range from faculty to support staff to graduate assistants.
“All academic areas impacted,” the university said in a written response to Star-Telegram questions, after officials declined requests for interviews. “But our colleges with significant student growth such as Nursing and Engineering could be the most challenged to meet the student needs.”
$138.7 million State-funded portion of UTA’s $720.6 million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
One student, a junior management and marketing major, feels like she dodged a bullet.
“I’m really fortunate to have this job before the hiring freeze started,” said the part-time Student Affairs worker, who asked not to be named because she felt she needed permission to talk to a reporter. “Hopefully everything works out, because there are a lot of students in need of jobs.”
State funding comprises 19.2 percent — $138.7 million — of UTA’s $720.6 million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The hiring of these students is critical to the core instructional mission of the university.
UTA President Vistasp Karbhari in the waiver filed with the governor’s budget office
The university has filed a waiver seeking exemptions for student positions in teaching and research assistance and in internship and work-study programs.
“The hiring of these students is critical to the core instructional mission of the university, because students use these paid positions to earn money toward tuition and fees, while also providing instruction, research or other services necessary to institutional operations,” UTA President Vistasp Karbhari said in the waiver filed with the governor’s budget office.
The work-study program pays $10 to $11.50 per hour, while salaries of graduate teaching and research assistants can top $55,000 a year, according to the waiver.
In return, UTA promises that the number of students hired would not push the total number of student jobs beyond 1,700. And it would work to offset those costs through “energy savings and higher operational efficiencies in facilities as well as not filling key administrative positions,” according to the waiver.
Everyone knows Texas is going to need to live within our means.
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington)
The health science center hasn’t filed waivers but has asked legislators to continue funding medical residencies for its students, worrying that graduates will have to leave the area for that training.
Nationally, 52.9 percent of students who completed their residencies out of state from 2004 to 2013 went on to practice medicine there, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“We run the risk of using Texas tax dollars to produce physicians who remain outside of Texas to practice medicine,” Sosland said. “It’s important to get residence slots as close to Fort Worth as possible.”
The hiring freeze may just be the tip of the funding iceberg for public colleges, following a Senate committee’s vote to restructure their state funding. It would reduce steep cuts initially considered for smaller colleges but make up for it with drastic cuts, ranging from 6 to 10 percent, to larger schools.
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, whose district includes part of Arlington, said the potential double hit on universities is a disappointing retreat from what he considered a recently more supportive Legislature. He cited the approval of revenue bonds for college construction projects as an example.
“The reality is our universities compete with other universities around the country, and even around the world, to attract talent,” Turner said. “When you have this much uncertainty in terms of the work force, that hurts our ability to compete.”
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, whose District 94 covers west and central Arlington, said he’s on board with the hiring freeze.
"Everyone knows Texas is going to need to live within our means,” Tinderholt said in an email to the Star-Telegram. “With uncertainty in our economy, the hiring freeze is absolutely necessary."