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.
A 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
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