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Sen. Zaffirini condemns higher ed reforms promoted by UT System Chair Powell

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and leading critic of recent higher education reforms, released a statement today expressing her vehement disagreement with the goals outlined by chair of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, made public in an article published by the Austin American-Statesman.

Written by UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell and dated April 7, the memorandum titled “Draft Notes and Ideas for Discussion” suggested increasing undergraduate enrollment by 10 percent a year for four years at UT-Austin and reducing tuition across the system in the range of 50 percent, according to the draft copy obtained by the Statesman.

“Gene Powell’s interest in increasing enrollment at UT-Austin by 10 percent annually while reducing tuition by 50 percent flies in the face of making our flagship the ‘No. 1 public university in the U.S.’ In fact, the two goals clearly are mutually exclusive,” Zaffirni said in the statement.

“At a time when regents should be working with legislators to minimize dramatic funding cuts and the possibility of liquidating the Permanent Health Fund for Higher Education,

Chair Powell instead apparently is proposing changes that are detrimental to the pursuit of excellence,” said Zaffirini. “They are, however, consistent with his earlier—equally controversial—statement about pursuing a Chevy Bel Air education in lieu of a Cadillac.”

The memo also includes boosting enrollment by an unspecified percentage at the system’s eight other academic universities, adding a “high quality, low cost degree” to the system’s current offerings and coming up with a timeline for making the Austin flagship the nation’s top public university, the Statesman reports.

Zaffirni said she was, “dismayed by the extensive negative publicity caused by the actions” of Powell, describing his short tenure as chair as having, “caused a firestorm of negativity that is detrimental to UT-Austin, to the system, to higher education in general—and to his relationship with legislators.”

The senator said the proposals would do serious damage to the state’s universities and fears the issue will keep Texas’ seven emerging research universities from becoming nationally recognized, limiting their ability to recruit students and faculty.

“We must eliminate distractions that are detrimental to the timely task at hand: trying to ensure that higher education is funded adequately and is offered relief from unfunded

mandates,” she said.

Zaffirini recently filed a public information act request in order to obtain 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 — as well as information regarding former UT special adviser Rick O’Donnell and TPPF President & CEO Brooke Rollins.

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