The University of Texas at Austin recently announced it would be shutting down its well-known and much loved Cactus Café due to budget woes. The university will also be ending its decades-long program of informal classes that allow area residents to learn various subjects and skills for a nominal fee. Together, ending these programs will save UT-Austin $122,000, barely a drop out of its multi-billion dollar bucket.

The issue here isn’t cutting Cactus Café or the informal classes; it’s that UT-Austin chose to cut those programs rather than areas of the budget that would save substantially more money. For this reason, the cut seems suspect. UT-Austin has so many other areas in their budget to cut, and the fact that they chose something students and lawmakers would be upset about raises some red flags for me. Here’s why.

The state leadership’s letter asking state agencies to cut 5% from their budgets specifically states that: “Your plan should represent prudent, efficient reductions that minimize the impact on direct services. For purposes of this review, we expect you to analyze the necessity of all administrative expenses and purchases. Reducing direct services should be your last option, but should be identified, if necessary, in order to meet the 5 percent target.”

If that’s the case, then why is the Cactus Café the first cut that’s been announced?

To be clear, I’m not defending the Cactus Café. It’s just that when spending cuts are proposed, bureaucracies tend to offer up the ones that inflict the most pain on the public first (e.g., closing the Washington Monument on weekends) as a means to protect their turf. That’s certainly what this smells like.

The public should implore UT-Austin to cut the real fat in its budget. This paper lists several ways universities in Texas, particularly UT-Austin, could reform their operations to save substantial sums of money.

– Elizabeth Young