State of the State

In his State of the State address this week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a state hiring freeze that included institutions of higher education. As noted by the Associated Press, the move “applies only to positions supported by money appropriated by the Legislature. That might allow campuses to use tuition dollars to pay for some positions while shifting appropriated funds to other college and university expenses.” In his remarks, Abbott also called on lawmakers to fully fund his University Research Initiative, which aims to recruit talented faculty to Texas institutions.
 
Following the weekend Executive Order by President Trump restricting immigration from seven countries, Texas universities struggled this week with how to handle students and faculty who hailed from those countries. According to The Eagle, “Texas A&M University president Michael K. Young joined with other higher education officials from around the country Friday to express concern” over the order. Young was one of 598 university and college presidents who signed on to a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. It read, in part, "We take seriously the need to safeguard our nation and also the need for the United States to remain the destination of choice for the world's best and brightest students, faculty and scholars ... We are confident that our nation can craft policies that secure us from those who wish to harm us, while welcoming those who seek to study, conduct research and scholarship, and contribute their knowledge and talents to our country."
 
UT Austin President Greg Fenves, who also signed on to the letter to Kelly, issued a letter to the campus praising the contributions of the 110 students and faculty from the affected countries. UT System Chancellor McRaven, noted for masterminding the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, expressed his concern in a statement saying, “I would hope that my commitment to our nation's security cannot be questioned … But, I also stand behind the core values we hold as a nation.”
 
On Thursday, the Senate Nominations Committee gave approval to Janiece Longoria, Kevin Eltife and Rad Weaver to be the next UT System Regents. The full Senate is expected to take up the nominees as early as this week.
 
This week the UT System announced it was developing a “biobank” to allow multiple UT institutions to share data and biological samples used for medical research. “Once in place, the UTSHB network will speed scientific discovery and translation of these findings into patient care, and will make the research of UT faculty more competitive for grant funding,” said Ray Greenberg, UT System executive vice chancellor for health affairs.
 
new study by the U.S. Department of Transportation highlighted the economic impact of a proposed “cross-border freight shuttle” a public-private partnership developed by Texas A&M. “The Freight Shuttle is a great example of how research universities and the private sector can solve everyday problems in the real world,” said Chancellor John Sharp. He added that the shuttle would “address border security, traffic congestion and environmental concerns” in addition to the economic benefits. Click here to watch a video of the shuttle in action.

Week of February 5, 2017

Latest Updates

  • Big Government, Top 10 Percent and Tom Brady

    In a push to regain more state control of higher education, a number of bills have been introduced this Session that would limit individual institutions’ authority and give power back to The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The Texas Tribune cited a number of efforts from tuition increases to regional expansions and new programs, which have made lawmakers rethink a 2013 move that limited the powers of the Coordinating Board under the belief that individual institutions could best make decisions about their campuses. Raymund Paredes, whose office stands to regain old power and add in some new res[responsibilities if some of these bills pass, supports the moves. “We need some oversight,” he said, “and I think the coordinating board was intended to fill that role.”
     
    One of a number of higher education bills passed by the Senate this week included a revision to the top 10 percent law, which would allow all universities (not just UT Austin) to cap at 30 percent the number of students admitted under the law. This bill is a step back from earlier efforts to repeal it altogether, in what State Sen. Kel Seliger, higher ed chair and the bill’s author, said was a response to “political realities.” Some lawmakers have expressed concern that eliminating the automatic admissions policy would have an adverse impact on diversity. But Seliger has questioned if this is a proper role for the state. “Is it the role of government to run the admissions department of any university?” he said. “It’s just another example of big government.”
     
    One of the nine researchers headed to Texas as a result of the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) is chemical engineering professor Joan Brennecke, who UT Austin was able to recruit from Notre Dame. Brennecke specializes in researching how to make fossil fuels “greener” and will bring with her a lab, equipment, and endless possibilities for innovation and commercialization that will attract new talent and industry to Texas. “It is really amazing that [GURI] exists,” Brennecke said. “I don’t know of any other states where the state is committed to attracting top people into their academic institutions and is committed to doing that by putting their money behind what they say.” However, the Legislature has neglected to fund GURI for the next biennium, something that may change when House and Senate budget negotiators begin meeting in the coming weeks.
     
    John Sharp may be on track to be the Texas A&M System’s longest serving chancellor. His contract isn’t up until 2020, but this week regents have submitted a proposal to extend his contract through 2023. The proposal does not include a pay increase. Citing the “tough decisions” the Legislature is making about university budgets, the regents cite transparency and consistency of leadership as important for the system moving forward. Using a professional sports analogy, [Regent Charles] Schwartz said the extension is an opportunity to "lock in a high performer at the current level." "The Patriots don't get to do that with Tom Brady, and we have an opportunity to do so," Schwartz said.
     
    Both the House and Senate have introduced legislation aimed at reducing teen pregnancy by requiring state institutions of higher education to “develop and implement a strategic plan for the prevention of sexual assault and unplanned pregnancy.” The legislation is based on similar efforts in Mississippi and Arkansas, which rank number one and three respectively, when it comes to teen pregnancy. Texas has the fifth highest rate of teen pregnancy nationally, a statistic, which has long term impacts on our economy. “If we want an educated workforce in Texas, students have to stay in school to get an education. And the reality is that the burden of being a teen parent makes that nearly impossible.”

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  • “Eating Your Seed Corn”

    Ahead of conference committees to hammer out differences between the House and Senate budgets, Columnists and editorial writers around the state have been lambasting the deep cuts to higher education proposed in the Senate version. Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle wrote, “The technical term is ‘eating your seed corn.’ That's what Texas state senators proposed when they voted to gut public universities, drive away talented scientists and stunt the future workforce …” The San Antonio Express-News wrote, “Higher education is an investment with the potential for tremendous returns for students and the state. It’s a false calculation to think reducing higher education funding is in the best interest of a state looking to grow its economy.”

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