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Five Misconceptions

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 19, 2010

Five things you may think you know (but don't) about UT's decision to shut down the informal classes program and the Cactus Cafe:

1) The decision was made by the Union board.

"Let me off the top demythify something," University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith told the Chronicle. "The Union board didn't vote or didn't close [the cafe]. That was an administrative decision that we reviewed with them and they indeed supported it. ... They were unanimous in supporting it, but they weren't the agent that dreamed this up." Since board member Thomas Garza has publicly said he opposes the proposal, it is unclear what Smith means by "unanimous." Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe founding member Hayley Gillespie said she has been told that, of nine board members, only Student Government President Liam O'Rourke and board member Nathan Bunch were present for the discussion with Smith.

2) The decision was made because Gov. Rick Perry asked every state agency to cut 5% of its budget in January.

As Smith told the Chronicle, last fall "the university informed all departments that they should prepare a plan to accommodate a 2 percent merit-pay pool in each of the next two years. ... We came up with a plan to allow us to garner the amount of money we needed over that two-year period."

3) The cuts will save the Texas Union $122,000.

The oft-repeated "$122,000" figure is what the Union needs to cover its merit-pay pool. Smith has said that the actual savings could be as high as $172,000, but after staff transfers, he said cuts would provide the $122,000 and "a little left over." He initially said there would be $50,000 saved from closing the Cactus (but later modified that figure to $66,000), with the rest of the savings coming from cutting informal classes.

4) The $122,000 figure is annual.

No. This misconception has been broadly misreported. UT, like all state agencies, calculates its budget over a biennium – that's two full fiscal years – starting at the beginning of the academic year, Sept. 1. The estimated $122,000 would be saved over the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years combined.

5) The cafe will become a franchised food outlet.

O'Rourke: "That can't happen, because under IRS rules, 10 percent [at most] of an educational building can be dedicated to third-party vendors." But that doesn't rule out relocating an existing vendor into the Cactus space. Smith initially said, "It will go back into the inventory of rooms that are reservable for recognized student organizations and faculty departments. We have 17 of those kind of rooms where people can have meetings in, activities, dinners, all the rest of that stuff, soup to nuts."

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