Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Texas Universities in Major Turmoil with Colorado Players

Texas higher education politics is in an uproar, and Colorado education reformers are in the middle of the action.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is pondering a presidential run, has launched an effort to reduce tuition costs and to increase productivity of the state’s two main research universities – the University of Texas (with 9 academic campuses) and Texas A&M (11 campuses).

Major players in the effort have Colorado ties. Rick O’Donnell, now a Texas think tank consultant who formerly headed Colorado’s Department of Higher Education and was policy chief under Governor Bill Owens (also defeated Republican congressional candidate); Alex Cranberg, an oil magnate and a K-12 educational reformer (pro vouchers) in Colorado; and Phil Burgess, one time head of the Center for the New West, a now defunct policy group, which was sponsored by US West.

O’Donnell has been the point person for Perry, who is using the Texas think tank to help produce analyses and recommendations to shake up the universities. The multi-year effort has caused a massive counterattack from university interest groups fighting to protect their autonomy and traditional methods of operation and compensations. One casualty was O’Donnell, who in late May was hired at the encouragement of UT Regents in a highly visible position to gather and analyze system-wide data on teaching, research and compensation. He was fired unceremoniously in a few weeks by the UT administration.

Phil Burgess came to the defense of O’Donnell in a Memorial weekend guest editorial in the Austin Standard portraying his old friend as an effective innovator in Colorado.

Perry is also adding like-minded people to the governing boards of the Texas state universities. Cranberg is one of his new picks for the UT Board of Regents.

While the effort has been derailed for the moment, there have been a number of initiatives at both A&M and UT. The state’s higher education establishment, its supporters, and both independent and critical stakeholders are now highly engaged in the discussion.

Although Colorado’s higher education system suffers from many of the same problems as those in Texas, and our major research universities are led by people with business backgrounds, reform here has been more modest and low key. Recent legislation (SB 52) calls for statewide goals and a master planning process. A similar planning effort was started at the beginning of the Ritter administration.

See articles:

Houston Chronicle
Perry’s pal pressing his “seven solutions”

Austin American-Statesman
Sneak attack on university research

San Antonio Express-News
University reformers advancing with “Seven”

Austin American-Statesman
UT System official ousted after criticizing bosses
Perry getting pushback from Longhorn faithful
UT System releases data on faculty salaries, teaching load

The American Independent
Statesman interviews Sandefer about higher ed proposals
Texas A&M Chancellor McKinney stepping down in July

Austin American-Statesman
UT Chancellor wins endorsement of regents

Dallas News
Perry and regents need to step back. Now.

Austin American-Statesman
Burgess: By being shortsighted, Texas will come out the loser

Times of Texas
Seven breakthrough solutions would boost productivity and accountability at public universities

No comments: