UT Powers Wants to Stop Gov. Perry and UT Regents Dead in Their Tracks.
By William Lutz
Powers announced change tenured professors can believe in
UT President William Powers Jr. gave an unusual live address to the UT community Monday. His talk was officially billed as an update on the final days of the legislative session, and his message was that UT is all for change and reform — as long as that change and reform doesn’t disturb the status quo or trample on any academic sacred cows (such as teaching loads).
In short, it was an attempt to mask resistance to change using the rhetoric of change and reform. It’s main goal is to stop education reform ideas promoted by Gov. Rick Perry and recent appointees to the UT System Board of Regents dead in their tracks.
Basically, Powers is arguing that the University of Texas is not immune from change and in fact is changing. He then launched into a passionate defense of academic research. Basically, Powers is hoping Republican lawmakers check conservative principles at the door, and instead opt for his brand of Hope and Change.
Powers gave a quick overview of the budget numbers. He basically said that if the Senate’s budget becomes law, UT has made many of the preparations to handle those cuts. But if the House version were to become law, it would require more cuts and layoffs at UT, in addition to those already announced.
He then gave an overview of some of the reform efforts at UT. Some of them are laudable, but they are really gradual change around the edges. He mentioned an effort underway at UT to redesign three large-lecture freshmen courses. He also lauded a freshman research initiative.
And he also talked about UT’s Commission of 125. That commission recommended a rewrite of the curriculum. While it sounded major, what the curriculum rewrite really amounted to was a way to get the politically-correct multiculturalism requirement past the business and engineering faculty.
Opinion: Powers announced change tenured professors can believe in By William Lutz.
In 1992, UT faculty voted down an attempt to add a multiculturalism requirement to student degree plans. Much of that opposition came from business and engineering faculty whose degree plans already require more coursework than many other UT programs. By including multiculturalism as part of a broader curriculum rewrite, it made it easier to sell. (Business
and engineering faculty spent most of their time successfully fighting a proposal to prohibit UT students from declaring a major in their first year.)
Another facet of the curriculum rewrite is the addition of an interdisciplinary freshman signature course. Powers noted that he has taught such a course every semester since becoming university president.
UT’s curriculum “reform” is not
a core curriculum
. Most academics
these days reject the idea that universities ought to be responsible for imparting a common body of knowledge.
Nor was there much discussion of changing how research is evaluated. Instead, Powers defended the inward-looking academic journal culture.
While Powers said UT is working on cutting administrative costs and he gave an acknowledgement that the current system is unsustainable, little in his speech gave any evidence of any meaningful reduction in the academic cost curve. We’ll still be paying faculty six-figure salaries to teach six hours a week.
Like President Barack Obama
, Powers hires good speech writers and delivers a good speech. But will Republicans allow a good speech to become a substitute for good policy? We’ll learn the answer in the coming months.