A New Chair

This week the UT System Board of Regents elected Sara Martinez Tucker as its new chair. Tucker, who was appointed to the Board by Gov. Abbott in 2015, was undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education in the George W. Bush Administration. Chancellor McRaven predicted Tucker would be a “fabulous” chairwoman. President Fenves said in a statement that, “Chair Tucker is a Distinguished Alumna of UT Austin, a former commencement speaker and one of our most dedicated Texas Exes. As a former U.S. Under Secretary of Education, she also has a deep knowledge of higher education and understands the support that UT System institutions need to accomplish their missions.” At the meeting the Board also affirmed $4.5 million in spending for the bid to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory, “a key part of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.”
 
Lt. Gov Dan Patrick announced members of an interim committee focused on higher education funding. Absent from the committee? Any members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, including the committee’s chair, Sen. Kel Seliger. The issue came up at this weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival where Seliger and other higher education leaders were on a panel to discuss higher education funding. The Joint Interim Committee on Higher Education Formula Funding includes Senators Hancock, Kolkhorst, Hinojosa, Campbell and Schwertner. House members have not been announced.
 
This week UT Austin announced that its four-year graduation rate had risen to 65.7 percent this year, up from 52 percent in 2012. “By raising our four-year graduation rate, UT has reduced the cost of higher education for students and families and has been able to enroll 1,000 more freshmen per year, without increasing overall enrollment,” said President Gregory L. Fenves. While it had missed an overall goal of 70 percent set under the administration of President Bill Powers, there will notable gains in minority and lower-income students. According to the Texas Tribune’sreview, “black students’ four-year graduation rates went up from 37 percent to 58 percent. The rate for Hispanic students grew from 43 percent to 60 percent.”
 
This week the U.S. Department of Education rescinded guidance on school sexual assault put in place by the Obama Administration. Secretary DeVos has said that the policy had been “unfairly skewed against those accused of assault” and had "weaponized" the Education Department to "work against schools and against students." For their part, most Texas universities queried were still reviewing the communication and have not issued any statements or changes to their policies.
 
The Houston Chronicle profiled Chancellor John Sharp in his new role as “Harvey Recovery Czar,” one he took with a mandate to “rebuild Texas ahead of schedule, under budget and with a friendly smile." Sharp estimates the role, an unpaid one that he’s undertaking while retaining his post at the Texas A&M System, will last for three years.
 
Want to smile? Watch Texas A&M professor Henry Musoma and his student, Ashton Robinson, on The Ellen Show this week. They made national news when Musoma invited single-mom, Robinson, to bring her 10-month old to class when she lost her childcare.

Week of September 24, 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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