The Budget, McRaven, SXSW & Rick Perry
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has encouraged his chamber’s budget writer to dip into the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to address the state’s budget challenges. This week House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Zerwas filed House Bill 2 that would access $1.4 billion from the fund. “I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers,” said Straus. “Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations.”
In other budget news this week, Gov. Abbott’s “signature higher education project, which aims to lure top researchers to Texas universities, is at risk of being defunded by the Legislature.” The Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), for which Abbott had requested $40 million, was not funded in either the House or Senate budgets. The initial round of funds to launch the program came from the closure of Gov. Perry’s “Emerging Technology Fund” and was used to hire 11 top faculty to our state’s institutions. Abbott is fighting for the funding, and will host a reception at the Governor’s mansion this week to feature some of the researchers GURI has attracted.
This week, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven announced an end to plans to expand the System into Houston. The land purchase had been the subject of much consternation from the Houston delegation of the Texas Legislature, and had become a distraction from other priorities the System and its campuses were focused on this Session. In a letter to McRaven, Board Chairman Paul Foster said of the move, “Your actions as a strong servant leader to direct full attention to helping each of our presidents succeed, and your willingness to recalibrate and adjust priorities, are very much appreciated.”
From March 10-19, tens of thousands of people will descend on Austin for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival. Our state’s flagship institutions will bring their best and brightest to the interactive showcase to participate in what has become one of the world’s top venues for breakthrough innovation and technology. UT at SXSW will feature two days of panels, parties and exhibitions that will highlight the research, innovation and thought leadership of UT's faculty, students and programs. Texas A&M is joining SXSW for the first time and will host Texas A&M House to showcase art, science and technology from the school’s leading minds.
This week the Senate voted to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry as the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The Department has an important role to play in doling out federal R&D dollars, which could benefit Texas institutions if Perry were to steer projects toward his home state. The Department “runs the national laboratories, sets appliance standards, hands out loans and grants for basic research and early stage energy technologies from carbon capture and storage to battery technology” according to a Washington Post story on the confirmation.
Week of March 5, 2017
"A workhorse for our nation’s scientists and engineers"
Saying it was “among our biggest challenges,” this week Texas A&M President Michael K. Young indicated that lowering the faculty-to-student ratio was a top priority. While the institution has experienced tremendous growth in its student body, hiring of faculty has not kept pace. Last fall, Texas A&M’s ratio was 23-to-1. “As a comparison, Young noted the University of Texas had an 18-to-1 ratio -- 23 percent better than A&M -- and the University of Michigan has a 12-to-1 ratio -- 92 percent better than A&M.” Young told The Eagle, “We would like to improve that [ratio] as quickly as we can, but it does take time to hire quality faculty, [and] it is also a tremendous financial challenge.”Continue reading
Minors, Guns & Affirmative Action
Race in college admissions was in the headlines again this week when the Justice Department announced it was “preparing to investigate and sue colleges over their affirmative action policies.” UT Austin is “likely well-shielded” from any changes to its admissions policies, since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016 approved of The University’s approach. And, though, most institutions in Texas don’t use affirmative action, those that do employ it may face scrutiny. “Officials at Texas State University and Texas A&M University, for example, said such factors play no role in admissions decisions. However, some schools — notably UT and A&M — go to considerable lengths to recruit applicants from heavily minority areas in Dallas, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the state.”Continue reading