Statesman, Chronicle put spotlight on Perry, TPPF, UT, A&M
Monday, April 04, 2011 at 1:32 pm
Recently, the Austin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle each ran a story summing up the controversy swirling around a conservative think tank’s influence on higher education policy at Texas’ major universities — and Gov. Rick Perry’s role in the narrative.
Read the Texas Independent‘s most recent story in its continuing coverage of the topic.
The Statesman’s Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and the Chronicle’s Patricia Kilday Hart trace the origins of today’s conflict to the 2008 presentation of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” to university regents, shepherded by Perry himself.
Read more about TPPF in the Texas Independent.
Perry did not make himself available for an interview with Hart, though he did speak with Haurwitz. In general, Perry downplayed TPPF’s role in university policy (while defending the think tank’s work) and said he’s the decider when it comes to appointing university regents. Saying that Texas government supports academic research, Perry pointed to the state’s 2009 investment to develop additional tier-one research universities (a program whose funding isn’t assured in 2011 due to the state’s massive budget woes). Perry dismissed concerns expressed by national academic experts, university leaders, faculty, alumni and students — saying they are a “distraction” from his higher ed goals, which include helping catalyze university research into economic gains.
Perry also said he doesn’t “know where that’s coming from” when people question the state’s dedication to the importance of research. As Haurwitz noted, in writings for TPPF, newly hired UT System special adviser Rick O’Donnell argued that academic research “has few tangible benefits.”
Both Haurwitz and Hart spoke with former UT Regent (and Perry campaign finance chair) Scott Caven, who said that Perry’s office was “disappointed” when UT — unlike A&M — didn’t follow TPPF’s proposals to the letter regarding the awarding of bonuses to faculty on the basis of student evaluations.
While the Statesman’s article focused primarily on UT, the Chronicle contrasted the state of TPPF proposals at UT and A&M. UT faculty leader Alan Friedman told Hart that A&M professors were “far more angry and dispirited” than UT faculty, largely because A&M professors feel they don’t have top-level administrators “on their side” — unlike at UT, where top officials have made public statements in support of their faculty.
In the Chronicle story, Hart concludes:
“It is news to no one that Longhorns and Aggies represent two distinct communities. But insiders say both politics and culture have guided how the controversy has unfolded at each school.
“Former students are more powerful at UT,” says Jon Hagler, former board chairman of the Texas A&M Foundation. “They have a law school, and they are more attuned to the Legislature.”
At his alma mater, Hagler noted, “loyalty is a big deal on that campus.” But there’s another reason that dissidents seem muted at A&M, he said: They are “afraid to get into the fray because the governor is so powerful.”"
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