Texas Public Agree: We Need to Reform Higher Ed so That it Provides Students with a Better Education at a Lower Cost
Next year’s U.S. Senate primary in Texas offers a wide range of choices. RedState has previously noted our strong preference for either former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz or former railroad commissioner Michael Williams – both of whom have proven themselves as articulate and reliable champions of conservative principles. On the next tier are former Texas secretary of state Roger Williams and current railroad commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, whose commitment to conservative principles may be somewhat shakier but at least are mouthing the right words so far in this campaign.
And then there is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, or as I like to call him, DewCrist.
Much like the former Governor of Florida turned ambulance chaser, DewCrist’s conduct as lieutenant governor has been consistent: whatever advances his political aspirations at that moment, he’s for. Obviously, it worked well for him during his first two terms. But in the first few months of his third term – the one in which his path toward higher office has finally cleared – his continuing to play both sides of the fence is costing Texas conservatives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make historic policy gains.
He has approached the budget as a math problem rather than an opportunity to downsize government. As president of the Texas Senate, he allowed the finance committee to adopt a draft budget $12 billion larger than the one approved by the House and endorsed by the state’s leading conservative organizations.
Rather than using his leverage with senators to persuade them to reinvent and downsize government within existing revenues, he assigned a moderate Republican senator to come up with accounting gimmicks and “non-tax revenues” to pay for $4 billion of higher spending, and then gave mixed signals as to whether he’d support their use of $3 billion more from the state’s rainy day fund.
But his latest antics on higher education may be his most egregious knifing of conservatives yet.
For the past three years, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has promoted a responsible agenda for improving Texas public universities. The measures in the package are intended to increase transparency and accountability, emphasize quality teaching, and rein in the runaway costs.
Recent polls show that Texas voters overwhelmingly support these higher education reforms. After all, who could possibly be against making teaching a higher priority, reducing university operating costs, and making universities more transparent and accountable?
University administrators, tenured professors, and alumni elitists – that’s who. And now, apparently David DewCrist.
At the start of the session, DewCrist named Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a liberal Democrat and the University of Texas’ best friend in the Legislature, to chair the Senate’s higher education committee. Just this week Zaffirini said in an interview, “Rick Perry doesn’t understand higher education. He doesn’t have a graduate degree, and he graduated a long time ago with a major in something like agriculture. I have a PhD, so I understand the value of research and teaching. He just doesn’t understand it.”
In other words, DewCrist has handed over education reform in Texas to an elitist, arrogant snob.
During the past three years, while the Texas A&M and Texas Tech University Systems have made baby steps toward reforms, the University of Texas passively defended its status quo and quietly undermined its colleagues.
But once Gov. Perry appointed a new board chairman and three new reform-minded regents earlier this year, the UT establishment went to DEFCON-1. For the last two months, it has engineered a relentless media assault against Gov. Perry, the UT regents, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation – on whose research much of Gov. Perry’s proposals are based.
Sen. Zaffirini has exploited her chairmanship to build the media narrative. When the regents hired a former TPPF scholar to help them analyze university data on excellence and productivity, she cheered on the UT establishment’s witch hunt that led to that scholar’s reassignment, demotion, and eventual firing.
Zaffirini’s weekly committee hearings have become show trials where university officials are trotted before her and let through a series of increasingly pointed questions attacking the higher education reforms championed by Gov. Perry and TPPF.
Last month, she filed an open records request with all Texas public universities and systems seeking all e-mails and documents from all university employees that reference TPPF’s recommendations, plus its president and a board member – both of who are private citizens. Despite the furious outrage of the Left over a request for the e-mails of three professors in Michigan, this exponentially more expansive and invasive request has generated barely a peep from Texas news outlets.
But the kicker is the decision by DewCrist and fellow liberal Speaker Joe Straus to create a “Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency,” to be co-chaired by Zaffirini and House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, a blue-blood liberal Republican from Highland Park.
It begs the question – why would there need to be a “joint oversight committee” when both the House and Senate already have committees singularly focused on higher education and with the authority to meet together? Looking at the committee duties and jurisdiction, we find the real motive:
“The committee shall examine the following matters:
- The governing structure and organization of the state’s universities, health-related institutions of higher education, and university systems;
- The manner in which the governing boards and administrators of those institutions develop and implement major policy decisions, including the impartiality and adequacy of their processes;
- Measures to identify and encourage those governing boards and administrators to follow best practices in policy development and implementation; and
- Any other matter related to excellence, transparency, accountability, or efficiency in the governance or administration of the state’s universities, health-related institutions of higher education, and university systems.”
Essentially, the first three charges give Zaffirini and Branch carte blanche to menace the university system regents – particularly those at the University of Texas System – who dare to step outside of their recent role of hiring and firing the football coach, and instead seek to do their statutory job “to promulgate and enforce such other rules and regulations for the operation, control, and management of the university system and the component institutions thereof as the board may deem either necessary or desirable.”
Gov. Perry, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, important business leaders, and overwhelming majorities of the Texas public agree: we need to reform higher education so that it provides students with a better education at a lower cost. Meanwhile, DewCrist has staked himself to the view that the universities should be free to do whatever the hell they want – regardless of the cost to taxpayers or students’ futures.
I would have thought that the 2010 gubernatorial primary would have been enough to convince DewCrist that the path to the Republican nomination no longer went through the Dallas Country Club. But I guess conservative voters are going to have to convey that message again next spring.