Sen. Zaffirini seeking all information on contentious higher ed proposals
The chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education has filed a comprehensive public information request for documents related to university proposals created by an ally of Gov. Rick Perry and pushed by the governor. Preliminary responses to the request have already yielded new evidence of the governor’s office pressuring regents, and regents in turn pressuring university officials, she said.
“I soon found out that this controversy is not just at UT and A&M; it is statewide,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). “I am getting information about UT and A&M, but also about Stephen F. Austin and Texas Women’s University and many others.”
In a pair of letters dated April 12 to University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, Zaffirini asks for all information related to the “seven breakthrough reforms in higher education” proposed by Jeff Sandefer, co-founder of Acton Business School and a board member of conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation.
She also is requesting information on related topics and people such as former UT special adviser Rick O’Donnell, as well as TPPF President & CEO Brooke Rollins.
In the letters, Zaffirini writes that she is particularly interested in communications between UT and other systems, statewide elected officials, the news media and social media.
The Texas State University System has attempted to respond to Zaffirini’s request, according to the Houstonian, the Sam Houston State University student newspaper.
Zaffirini said information has started trickling in from her requests, but that much of it already had been revealed by previous public information requests made by the and the .
However, she already is finding some new information from her requests, such as an e-mail from a Perry aide telling regents they will be evaluated on implementation of the new systems, and giving them a timeline. University personnel also were told that it would be a regents-driven system and that university officials should listen and not drive policy.
Zaffirini said the proposals would do serious damage to the state’s universities. She fears the issue will keep Texas’ seven emerging research universities from becoming nationally recognized, limiting their ability to recruit students and faculty.
“If policies are implemented the way they are intended to be implemented, it would not only hurt A&M and UT in becoming nationally recognized universities. It could damage them all,” Zaffirini said.
The proposed changes also could create an unfunded mandate in which universities would feel forced to hire consultants, as the UT System did with O’Donnell, in order to meet state pressures, she said. Other universities, like the University of Houston, also have hired consultants.
She said she is also concerned about suggestions in a TPPF legislative policy manual that taxpayer money be barred from being used for university research and allowing universities to be closed under sunset review procedures if they aren’t profitable or otherwise meeting proposed guidelines.
Here are Zaffirini’s letters to Cigarroa:
(Image by Matt Mahurin)