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UT donor, alumni speak out in support of UT research, teaching

Proposed reforms to Texas universities have sparked criticism from a Republican party bigwig, who also is one of the University of Texas’ largest donors, as well as the UT alumni association. Peter O’Donnell, a Dallas investor and philanthropist, told the Austin American-Statesman that he is worried about recent initiatives, including Gov. Rick Perry’s suggestion that universities offer a bachelor’s degree that costs no more than $10,000.

O’Donnell chaired the Texas Republican Party in the 1960s and was one of Bill Clements’ chief advisors in 1978, when Clements became the state’s first Republican governor in more than 100 years. O’Donnell has been instrumental in building the Texas GOP and has donated to GOP candidates, including Perry.

O’Donnell has contributed more than $135 million to UT endowed professorships, chairs and graduate fellowships in research-intensive fields, such as computer science, engineering and biology. He has not taken kindly to ideas pushed by Perry appointees that states universities should cut back on research, and he fears Perry’s plans will prevent the university from recruiting top professors.

O’Donnell has given many “challenge grants” to UT that resulted in contributions from others. His endowments, together with matching endowment funds, had a total market value of $406 million in February. The fact that O’Donnell has spoken out is particularly significant because he has usually sought anonymity. An exception was when he allowed a restaurant in the $32 million Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building, which he donated, to adopt the moniker, O’s Cafe, and permitted its signature hamburger to be named “Peter O’s Burger.”

O’Donnell also has been generous in funding secondary education. He has given more than $4 million to schools in southern Dallas and Ellis counties, paying for at least half the cost of the students’ $76 exam fees and providing stipends to teachers to learn how to better run their Advanced Placement courses. He also promised $100 to every student who earned a passing score on an AP exam, according to the O’Donnell Foundation’s website.

O’Donnell isn’t the only one defending UT as a great research institution. The board of directors of the Ex-Students’ Association at the University of Texas unanimously adopted a “complete confidence” resolution today in the leadership of UT President William Powers Jr., during a time when “the University’s mission, core purpose, and core values are currently in jeopardy, and the institution’s direction is being debated,” according to the Statesman.

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