Civil and Productive Discourse

While the “massive state funding cuts Texas higher education officials dreaded never materialized” during the legislative session, institutions of higher education have been busy further tightening belts and cutting budgets in anticipation of changes to funding in the future. According to a rundown by the Texas Tribune, Renu Khator has asked U of H academic departments to cut 2.5 percent from their budgets. “University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves ordered a $20 million spending cut, which amounts to a 2 percent reduction. Texas A&M University administrators are sticking with a planned 1.5 percent cut, while Texas Tech University departments were told to trim 1 percent from their budgets.”
 
In an editorial published in a number of statewide papers, UT Austin assistant vice president of research and policy, Richard J. Reddick, highlighted how recent polling by Pew showing a decline in support for higher education means we actually need universities now more than ever. “More of us need to understand that universities are learning organizations that are often at the forefront of longstanding social challenges. … Civil and productive discourse is essential to the development of critical thinking, and hopefully the solutions to problems that bedevil our society will originate when people engage, debate and analyze different perspectives.”
 
An in-depth Texas Monthly profile of Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp chronicled his political and professional life that led him to his current role. The article walked through the changes he’s made at A&M since taking the leadership helm including opening a law school, privatizing campus services, engaging in public-private partnerships and more recently, actively engaging the Aggie faithful in political advocacy during the Texas Legislative Session. “… Sharp and his team went to DEFCON 1. The chancellor got on the phone, working his political connections in Austin. A&M’s team of lobbyists went to work on state lawmakers. And Sharp played his trump card: A&M’s network of more than 400,000 fanatically loyal alumni …”
 
The Houston Chronicle noted that the state of Texas is a leader when it comes to “reverse transfers” in higher education. The practice helps ensure that students who move on from community to four-year colleges without finishing an associates’ degree, can retroactively go back and apply their four-year college credits to an associates. The National Student Clearinghouse says there are 2 million students nationwide who attended college for two years between 2003 and 2013 without earning a degree. And, “78 percent of students who transfer from a community college to a university do so without a degree.” While some communities, like El Paso, have programs in place to ensure coordination happens, the biggest hurdle to ensuring students get the reverse transfer credits they’ve earned is “limited fiscal and human resources and no mechanism for consistent communication between universities and students.”
 
This week the UT System Board of Regents named Taylor Eighmy as the next president of UTSA. Eighmy comes to Texas by way of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where he is a professor of civil and environmental engineering as well as the vice chancellor for research and engagement. Chairman Paul Foster said of the move, “Given UTSA’s growing reputation and continued pursuit of Tier Oneuniversity status, Eighmy is an exceptional choice to lead this remarkable institution as it strives to reach even greater heights.”

Week of July 30, 2017

Latest Updates

  • Dramatic Changes

    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.”

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  • "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.

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