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UT regent Cranberg: ‘There’s some accountability in higher education, but for what?’

MahurinRedlining_Thumb_753.jpg
MahurinRedlining_Thumb_753.jpg

University of Texas System regent Alex Cranberg has several things in common with recently fired UT special adviser Rick O’Donnell: Colorado, Jeff Sandefer’s Acton School of Business and published statements to the point that universities, when judging professors, place too much emphasis on research as opposed to teaching.

In the same 2008 article on InsiderOnline.org (PDF) about Acton, Cranberg also blasted “Higher education’s infatuation with credentials,” and said that entrepreneurs should compare Acton’s MBA program and traditional university programs before deciding how to donate their money.

According to the article (reprinted from the March/April 2008 edition of Philanthropy magazine):

“There’s some accountability in higher education, but for what?” asks Alex Cranberg, chairman of Aspect Energy and another Acton supporter. “Professors are held accountable for how often they’re cited, or for the amount of research grant money they bring in. But there’s very little accountability for actual student achievement. I’m impressed that at Acton both students and faculty are graded on a curve. Few schools—if any—are doing the same thing.”

Cranberg is likewise pleased that Acton employs teachers with real-world achievements, not just book smarts. “Higher education’s infatuation with credentials has made it blind to opportunities to use professional people that are equally, or even more, impressive. We should be focusing on teachers with achievements, not just credentials.” He agrees with [Texas homebuilder David] Weekley that the program instills a sense of purpose in its students. “The students are urged and taught how to set out a path in life as opposed to just allowing a path to be set out for them. The Acton MBA makes the student figure out who they really are.”

[…]

Both Weekley and Cranberg believe that higher education and its donors would be wise to adopt Sandefer’s approach. “A lot of entrepreneurs have an interest in supporting higher education. They want to inspire people,” says Cranberg. “But anybody looking to support entrepreneurship would do well to look at traditional programs, understand why the Acton MBA is different, and learn from that comparison.”"

Acton co-founder Sandefer, who like Cranberg is an oil-and-gas entrepreneur, has actively pushed university officials to implement his seven breakthrough solutions for higher education. Prior to O’Donnell’s short-lived stint at UT, O’Donnell was employed by Sandefer’s nonprofits the Acton Foundation on Entrepreneurial Excellence (where he was president) and the Ed Foundation (where he was “adviser to the board”), with a combined annual salary of $240,000, according to Internal Revenue Service documents for 2008 and 2009. By comparison, O’Donnell’s salary at UT was pegged at $200,000.

Sandefer is on the board of directors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank for whom O’Donnell was writing when he questioned the value of much academic research. (UT Regent Brenda Pejovich and Texas A&M System Regent Phil Adams are also on the TPPF board.)

In 2005, Cranberg donated $4,200 to O’Donnell during O’Donnell’s unsuccessful bid for Congress in Colorado. O’Donnell is also on the board of advisors to Cranberg’s Denver nonprofit Alliance for Choice in Education.

(Image by: Matt Mahurin)

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