The Sky is Falling
It was a big week for higher education in Texas.
On Monday, Governor Abbott announced the appointment of new regents for UT Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech University. The Coalition issued the following statement in support of the nominees: “We applaud Governor Abbott on the appointment of outstanding Texans for positions on the Boards of Regents of our state institutions. Those announced today are committed to ensuring excellence in higher education and will continue to push our institutions forward. We urge the Senate Committee on Nominations to move quickly to confirm these nominees so they can get to work for higher education in Texas.” Former regent Bobby Stillwell spoke to the Houston Chronicle about the appointments. “They're on the same page and seeking the same outcome,”… a contrast to the mindset of the three outgoing regents.
On Wednesday the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on proposed budget cuts to higher education. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp painted a grave picture of what the cuts would do for higher education broadly, and Texas A&M specifically. “I remember when I was on this committee, and I used to listen to all these people like me talking about how the sky is falling, but the sky is really going to fall if this budget passes,” Sharp said. “Higher education is a long-term investment in the economic well-being of our state, [and] more importantly it is an investment in our students and our families. Almost all of our system teaching institutions will experience some significant general revenue reductions if Senate Bill 1 was implemented in its introduced form.”
On Thursday, the Senate Nominations Committee held the first hearing on the new crop of potential regents, with the three proposed for UT Austin’s board – Kevin Eltife, Janiece Longoria and Rad Weaver – going first. “Gov. Greg Abbott’s three nominees … are likely to win easy approval from the state Senate, judging by the friendly reception they enjoyed at a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Nominations Committee. ‘I see very capable people in front of me … I am very impressed’.”
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against UT System Regent Hall in his long feud with the System and its Chancellor, Bill McRaven. “Wallace Hall’s final days as a University of Texas System regent are ending with a defeat in the Texas Supreme Court. The court ruled Friday that Hall had no standing to sue the chancellor of the system he oversees.”
An editorial in this weekend’s Houston Chronicle focused on college costs, and how Sen. Seliger’s proposed solutions to addressing them, may not help. “ … This bill focuses on only one side of the triangle of school funding, tuition, without any acknowledgement of the Legislature's own share of responsibility for the unaffordability of Texas' colleges. … what [Lt. Gov] Patrick and Seliger aren't talking about is the fact that Texas' per-student funding for public colleges and universities has plummeted to 17 percent below 2008 levels. Texas' system of higher education needs a champion, and it needs tuition reform. These measures point to neither, and we urge lawmakers to try again.”
Week of January 29, 2017
With higher education facing financial and public opinion headwinds, Rice University took a proactive step this week by unveiling a seven-point plan to demonstrate its value to the public. According to the university, the plan is partially in response to “dramatic changes” in higher education. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Rice University plans to double research funding, work more closely with Houston and make undergraduate education more affordable for middle-class students in its next decade, a recognition that even the city's most prestigious campus must show its worth in a cultural climate skeptical of higher education.”Continue reading
"You can’t legislate morality or civility"
“No one should be shouted down … We need to put an end to that. But you can’t legislate morality or civility — I get that,” said Sen. Joan Huffman during a State Affairs Committee hearing on campus free speech issues last week. In the wake of a series of incidents on college campuses nationally, and here in Texas, where conservative speakers had been dis-invited or shouted down because of their political views, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tasked the panel with coming up with solutions to “protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.” The panel was co-hosted by Texas State University and held in San Marcos. “Senators seemed to agree that no one has the right not to be offended,” according to the Austin American-Statesman account. Read more here on free speech conflicts on Texas campuses in 2017.Continue reading