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Student leaders call on UT board of regents to give attention to their reform concerns

President of the Senate of College Councils Carisa Neitsche penned a column in the UT student newspaper today demanding a more thoughtful response from UT regents following a inquiry letter from students regarding recent controversies over the role of research and teaching, and of blended and online learning, proposed at UT.

The Senate of College Councils, Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly wrote a letter last week to the UT System Board of Regents asking for students to be included in the discussions and for more transparency from regents.

The board, via a brief email from Executive Director for Board Services Art Martinez, “vaguely outlined its commitment to UT and higher education in Texas and ignored the concerns mentioned in the letter,” wrote Neitsche in today’s Daily Texan.

“Rather than addressing student queries, the board instead attached a copy of a letter sent to the Texas Exes in mid-March on similar subjects,” Neitsche said. “As the Board of Regents engage in these important discussions that will affect the future of higher education in Texas and the value of degrees from UT-System schools, a 162-word email and a previously sent letter are not enough to address student apprehensions. By responding in such a way, the Board showed a failure to adequately consider the thoughts and opinions of students who attend the flagship university of the UT System they are appointed to represent.”

Neitsche also took issue with an email by Jeff Sandefer, architect of the controversial “seven breakthrough solutions for higher education, that she said seem to suggest that scientific research is the only kind of research important for an institution.

“As argued in our letter to the board, soft research holds a revered position at our institution and is a valuable part of receiving an education at UT,” Nietsche said. “Our peer institutions as well as more prestigious Ivy league institutions have not weakened their commitment to soft research, and they seem to be doing fine in university rankings.”

She said that a document titled “Draft Notes and Ideas for Discussion” by Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, which was made public by the Austin American Statesman yesterday, outlined goals and items for discussion for the Board in the upcoming year, including reducing tuition in UT System by close to 50 percent, an idea that falls in line with Gov. Rick Perry’s recommendation of a $10,000 degree plan.

“Many conversations regarding the feasibility of a $10,000 degree plan have centered around transferring a fixed percentage of courses in a student’s degree plan online, something expressly advocated against in the student letter that was hand-delivered to the Board of Regents office,” Nietsche said. “Students still want and need interaction with faculty members, and by emphasizing cost over quality, the Board puts the quality of our institution and the value of our degrees at risk.”

The Daily Texan editorial board also took issue with the $10,000 degree plan, saying in an editorial today:

There are already dozens of online colleges and dime-store diploma mills scattered across this country and this state. But there is only one University of Texas at Austin, and once stripped down, its esteem and respectability may never be restored.

So please, regents, if you’re going to play political games and fight ideological wars against the boogey-men of Ivory Tower academia, take it to some other part of the state. Don’t mess with Texas; not with our education and not with our futures.

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