Read my lips: No More Bills
Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.
The Texas Tribune highlighted the ongoing battle over funding for Governor Abbott’s research initiative by telling the story of one electrical engineering professor who was recently recruited to Texas A&M with a promise of $9 million in research funding. While the Legislator has zeroed out the fund in both the House and Senate versions of the budget, Abbott is pushing hard to showcase the success of the program, hosting the researchers and lawmakers at a reception last week. A&M System Chancellor John Sharp praised the governor’s willingness to invest in higher education, saying Abbott was “one of the finest governors, perhaps the best governor for higher education that we have ever had.”
This week a UT Austin student made history by becoming the campus’ first Latina, physically disabled student body president. Alejandrina Guzman won a campus-wide run-off by nearly 800 votes. She is the first disabled student to win student body president in the entire Big 12 Conference. Guzman ran on a platform of diversity and inclusion, topics of debate and discussion on a campuses throughout the state. According to the Austin American-Statesman, “It has been 17 years since the last African-American student body president, Daron Roberts. Six years have passed since the last female student body president, Natalie Butler — until Alejandrina.” (Roberts and Butler are both members of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.)
University of North Texas System Chancellor Lee Jackson will this week announce he’s retiring after 15 years. According to the Morning-News report on his 40-year public service career, “He oversaw the transition of UNT-Dallas from a satellite location to its own institution as well as expansion of both the main campus in Denton and the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, which added a pharmacy school. The system also added a satellite campus in Frisco in 2016. Enrollment across the system increased from 27,769 to 43,384 during Jackson's tenure.”
This week Texas A&M University announced it received a "gold rating" for its work to make the campus a more sustainable environment. Also this week, the UT System announced that all 14 of its institutions will be tobacco free by the end of this academic year, making it the first public university system in Texas to become fully tobacco free. It will also become the largest single employer in Texas to prohibit tobacco use in the workplace.
Week of March 12, 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