"The Systematic Defunding of Higher Education"
This week the Coalition issued a statement ahead of the Texas House vote on the budget. It read, in part, “Six years ago our Coalition came together to fight back against shortsighted so-called ‘reform’ efforts that would have damaged our educational institutions, undermined our state’s academic standing, and stymied Texas’ ability to fuel life-saving innovations and discoveries. Today, some members of the Texas Legislature have proposed shortsighted budget cuts that would realize those negative effects.” We urged lawmakers to pass a budget that would “soften the budgetary blow to our state’s institutions.”
Texas Exes leader, Will O’Hara, also made the case for not shortchanging higher education in an interview on Capital Tonight, referring to the Senate version of the budget as a “continuation of the systematic defunding of higher education.” He continued, “they are taking a short-term view … Top tier research institutions are the engine that fuels job creation, research, discoveries; it gives our students a cutting edge education, it gives them a competitive edge in the job market, it’s the reason why all these companies have moved to Texas in the last five years … all of that is on the line.”
Thankfully, the House ultimately passed a budget that is “more generous” than the Senate. “The final spending plan for higher education, of course, won’t be known until the closed-door sausage-making by a conference committee of senators and representatives grinds out the finished product.” The two chambers differ on funds for the Texas Grants financial aid program, special items and the Governor’s University Research Initiative, among other items. Budget conferees will be named in the coming weeks and negotiations will begin thereafter.
In addition to budget cuts across the board, the Senate also voted to freeze tuition this week. The bill, however, faces an uncertain future in the House. Speaker Straus recently referred to Texas tuition as a “pretty good bargain,” noting that students are applying to schools in record numbers. “The supply and demand seems to be working,” he said. Acknowledging concerns over the negative compound effect of budget cuts and a tuition freeze, Sen. Kel Seliger, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “I am determined to do everything we can to keep those universities whole.”
This week, the top 10% rule was again the topic of debate in the Legislature. UT Austin President Fenves testified at a hearing on the bill, highlighting that while campus diversity may have increased, it may also have come from the state’s changing demographics, not just the law. “The Top 10 Percent Rule is a blunt instrument,” said UT-Austin President Greg Fenves. “Without the automatic admissions policy, he said, the university could factor in applicants’ academic interests, test scores, personal adversity and demographics for a larger proportion of its freshman class.”
Week of April 9, 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