7-27-1999

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Witt refutes Rep.'s criticism

State legislator blames enrollment decline on
lax minority recruiting

by Sally Claunch
The Shorthorn staff

University President Robert Witt refuted criticism Monday of the university levied Wednesday by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth during his speech to political science students.

Burnam criticized the university's inner-city recruitment and employee pay raise record, as well as the construction projects on campus to one of associate professor Allan Saxe's government classes.

Burnam, whose district is composed of Fort Worth inner-city neighborhoods, said the university doesn't do enough to encourage students from his area to seek higher education here. He also said that historically, UT System institutions have overlooked communities of color when it comes to recruiting.

"Where the university is failing the most is to not meet the needs of my constituents," he said. "UTA has declining enrollment because they don't care to come to low income areas."

Though Witt didn't attend the speech, he said Burnam's comments were unfounded and that the university recruits in all areas.

"The comments as related to me are all grossly incorrect," he said.

Witt said that he viewed Burnam's comments with much regret.

"I have worked closely with Representative Burnam during the legislative session and know how much he supports higher education," he said. "I look forward to working with him in the future and can only express surprise at the comments he allegedly made while on campus."

He also stated that the decline in enrollment, which leveled off during the first summer session, was caused by factors other than the ones Burnam alluded to.

"I cannot speak for the entire UT System, but only for UT Arlington," he said. "UT Arlington, for as long as I have been here, aggressively recruits in all areas that it serves. Evidence of this is reflected in our minority enrollment figures. The percentage of Hispanic and African-American students has risen consistently since 1995."

Jerry Smith, associate vice president for student enrollment services, said the university has not neglected that demographic, and it has been vigorously recruiting qualified students from all areas, especially in the Metroplex.

"We are going to be concentrating the majority of our efforts in the Metroplex and one layer outside of the traditional definition of the Metroplex," he said. "UTA has also recently developed the position of assistant vice president for outreach initiatives, and that person is specifically charged with what he (Burnam) said we're not doing."

Burnam said UT System universities, such as UTA, spend too much on big prestigious buildings that look good from afar, and not enough spending on scholarships and pay-raises for staff.

"I think we're spending too much on what I call the edifice complex," he said. "The serious conflict has been at least the last 20-30 years with the administration and what they want and what's best for students."

Witt said it was unfortunate that Burnam didn't check all the facts before he commented on staff and faculty pay raises and scholarships.

"This year alone, staff members got a six percent raise and faculty members received a four percent raises, and there have been faculty and staff raises every year that I have been here," he said. "The only building currently underway is a new residence hall. I personally believe that UTA students deserve excellent buildings because they are an outstanding group of students."

Witt also added that scholarship spending was at an all-time high for the decade of the 90s.

Burnam said the tuition is too high here to make it feasible for people in his district to consider attending the university.

Witt responded by saying that the university does not set its own tuition rates.

"Regarding Representative Burnam's comment on tuition increases, the legislature sets tuition, not UT Systems," he said.

Saxe said the university has done a great deal to reach students in areas such as Burnam's.

"UTA has done some mighty strong stuff to attract people ­it's just that the tuition is so high and that's not our fault, it's their (the legislature's) fault," he said.