A paradigm change is defined as a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations replacing the former way of thinking or organizing. UT Austin seems to be in the middle of a paradigm change. Major budget cuts, freezes on tuition and fees, and no planned increase in the size of the student body mean that new permanent dollars are in short supply. And yet, I think that it is fair to say that as a community, none of us is willing to let our great university stagnate.
The Committee on Business Productivity released its final report, “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT” last week. This report is a next step in adjusting to our paradigm change. Like so many things in life, we didn’t get to choose this new paradigm. But we are able to choose how we respond to our changing circumstances.
I was working here in the Dean of Students Office in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. With that law, the responsibilities of universities to make accommodations for people with disabilities moved from physical changes on campus to academic accommodations in the classroom. For the first time, faculty and staff were asked to change the way they did many things including how they tested students or provided content. In many cases, it was a simple change easily accomplished. In others, a more significant change was needed. But large change or small, the reality that faculty were expected to change something in their classrooms, facilities, programs and services to meet the needs of individual students was a significant paradigm change.
Like some people who were faced with the requirements of the ADA, we could dig in our heels and then be told what changes we have to make. Or we could be like others who chose to work with students and staff to find ways to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
It’s important to remember that President Powers was very clear in his speech last week, “…this report is not a blueprint that designs the details of change. It focuses on areas and recommends that we work differently and thoughtfully for change through a consultative process…” (emphasis mine). We don’t yet know what this process will be, but our job is to be ready to participate fully in the conversation. I have no doubt that everyone in this Division wants the best for our university and our students. I also know that change is difficult. But we are asked to be part of the change process. We will be invited to share our perspective. It’s our choice how we respond. I look forward to hearing your points of view as we move forward.
Keep up the good work,