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
“A clever political move”
Calling it “a clever political move,” the San Antonio Express-News editorial board criticized state lawmakers for turning tuition-setting authority to regents, saying Texas parents have lawmakers to thank for higher tuition bills this fall. “State lawmakers know they can shortchange higher education because the university boards will feel obligated to make up the difference with tuition. An added bonus of the arrangement is that it allows the regents, appointees of the governor, to take the heat off elected officials, who can claim no direct involvement in the rising cost of a college education. But, in truth, cutting state funding for higher education directly causes tuition increases. Denial is a sham, and pointing fingers at regents is an evasion of responsibility.”Continue reading
A longhorn and leading former member of the Trump Administration is being considered to head The University of Texas System, according to media reports. Rex Tillerson, who was ousted as Secretary of State just two weeks ago, is “open” to the idea of becoming the next UT System Chancellor per a Wall Street Journal report. Tillerson gave a farewell address at the State Department this week and his final official day on the job is March 31. Chancellor Bill McRaven will step down as Chancellor in May. “Rex is a solid citizen, very ethical, straightforward, and straight talking,” said ExxonMobil general counsel Charles Matthews to Texas Monthly. “He brings great integrity to whatever he does, and if he were chosen he would be a very, very solid choice.”Continue reading