By Andrew Messamore Daily Texan
As the attorney general investigates the University of Texas Law School Foundation, legislators and former Foundation trustees are continuing to hammer out the fine line between the University and the private institutions that support the 40 Acres. Read more…
Lawmakers, Observers React to Tense UT System Meeting by Reeve Hamilton of Texas Tribune
Longtime employees of the University of Texas System said they could not recall a split vote on the board of regents, which has traditionally settled differences behind closed doors and presented a unified front. That changed on Wednesday, catching higher education observers and even some lawmakers off guard. Read more…
New reform framework unites critics and supporters of ‘seven breakthrough solutions’
In much-anticipated remarks to the University of Texas Board of Regents Thursday, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa laid out a broad nine-point plan to streamline operations across the system, increase accountability and expand science and medical education around the state.
The “Framework Action Plan” received unanimous support from all nine regents, and lawmakers and groups that have strongly disagreed about Texas higher education reform hailed Cigarroa’s plan as a turning point in the years-long debate.
Read more from American Independent http://www.americanindependent.com/191366/ut-chancellor-lays-out-broad-plan-for-higher-education-reform
By Melissa Ludwig
The University of Texas Board of Regents on Thursday approved an action plan to raise quality and productivity at its 15 institutions in an era of declining revenues, fortifying the effort with $243 million in strategic investments.
The plan pleased higher education boosters and critics alike, including Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank that’s served as a brain trust for those seeking radical changes in Texas higher education.
“The plan unveiled today reflects important steps toward both increasing productivity and improving academic quality in The University of Texas System, and I applaud Chancellor Cigarroa and everyone involved for their hard work in this effort,” Perry said in a statement. Read more…
Regarding the following article that was written By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz AMERICAN-STATESMAN, students, parents and taxpayers should publicly ask the following question: Is it true or not that UT President Bill Powers attempted to withhold information from the public and regents, as alleged by Rick O’Donnell? Is anyone going to ask Powers this question?
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz (original headline: Booster urges top regent to stand up for UT president)
A leading booster of the University of Texashas written a testy letter to the chairman of its governing board demanding that he stand up for the school’s president.
The chairman’s critics also include major donors, such as Dallas investor Peter O’Donnell Jr., as well as the Ex-Students’ Association, also known as the Texas Exes.
Jastrow is chairman of the university’s $3 billion fundraising campaign and led its blue-ribbon Commission of 125.
He wrote to Powell after the regents’ chairman issued a statement last month defending Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who oversees the UT System’s 15 academic and health campuses, against allegations by a dismissed system official, Rick O’Donnell (no relation to Peter O’Donnell Jr.).
Although O’Donnell also criticized UT-Austin President William Powers Jr., Powell’s statement made no mention of Powers. That didn’t sit well with Jastrow.
His July 8 letter outlines the Austin president’s impressive fundraising record during tough economic times, with more than $1.6 billion raised since the campaign was started in 2008.
“Clearly, 191,000 plus donors believe President Powers and others at UT are doing a good job, and they believe in the mission and core values of The University of Texas,” wrote Jastrow, former CEO of Temple-Inland Inc.
He went on to say, “Your overt lack of support of Bill Powers is troubling, especially given the fact that in a UT System Board of Regents roll call vote, Thursday, May 12, 2011, you voted to support Chancellor Cigarroa and the Presidents of each institution in the UT System which, of course, includes Bill Powers.” Read more…
The firing of a controversial aide to the University of Texas system has triggered a full-blown debate over the productivity of teachers and whether “star” professors who teach few classes are really worth the cost to the public. Rick O’Donnell, dismissed on April 19 after only 49 days on the job as special adviser to the public university system’s regents, had argued forcefully that public universities should devote their resources to teaching undergraduates rather than academic research. On May 5, in response to a request by the UT board of regents, the University of Texas-Austin, the flagship of the 15-campus UT system, released an 821-page spreadsheet listing the names, tenure status, total compensation, and course enrollment of each of the 4,200 people with teaching responsibilities on the UT-Austin payroll.The university cautioned that the data were preliminary and likely contained some errors. Nonetheless, acting on the presumption that the spreadsheet was generally accurate, Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, who heads the Washington-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity, quickly issued an analysis of the spreadsheet from which he drew some startling conclusions: measured by student credit hours taught (the credit value of courses multiplied by the number of students enrolled in them), the top 20 percent of faculty shoulder 50 percent of the teaching load, while the bottom 20 percent teach only 2 percent of student credit hours.Furthermore, only about 20 percent of faculty–more or less the same people who are most productive in terms of credit hours— pay for themselves in terms of outside research grants, Vedder asserted. He saw most of the rest as a net drain on university resources. Vedder also concluded that non-tenure-track faculty—graduate assistants and others–teach a majority of undergraduate student hours and a large fraction of graduate-student hours. He surmised that if the entire UT-Austin faculty taught as many student hours as its top quintile, the campus could ultimately reduce its total number of faculty so drastically that it could reduce student tuition by “63 percent, from $9,816 per year [for Texas residents] to only $3,632.”
Some numbers don’t check out.
Vedder’s analysis came under immediate and probably well-justified fire: he had jumbled together full-time and part-time instructors, so that graduate assistants teaching a single section or administrators taking on a single course to keep active in teaching counted the same as full-time faculty; he had ignored the fact that some courses, such as freshman composition, cannot be taught to hundreds of students in the lecture format that boost credit hours; and he counted as “productive” research only the kind of research that generates major external grants—typically scientific research. The historian who garners a few thousand dollars from the Mellon Foundation to peruse an obscure archive during the summer doesn’t count as very productive under Vedder’s metric. And what about the professor of ancient Greek? Wouldn’t he have to teach Greek from morning to evening in order to generate as many “productive” credit hours as a psychology professor with a 350-student introductory class? “Probably,” was Vedder’s crisp reply when I posed that question to him in a telephone interview. “It’s a matter of what students and taxpayers can afford to pay for.” (UT released an updated and more fine-grained set of data for the entire UT system in late June, and Vedder said he is currently seeking funding for a more thorough analysis of it.)
O’Donnell and Vedder might be accused of having different axes to grind, but a turn in the debate came on July 6: the Chronicle of Higher Education, which can hardly be called a conservative entity, published the results of a survey of chief financial officers of universities it had conducted in conjunction with Moody’s Corp. In response to a question as to what strategy the CFOs would pick to reduce costs or raise revenues if they did not have to worry about the consequences among constituents, a decided plurality of the CFOs—38 percent—said they would increase faculty teaching loads. Another 27 percent said they would eliminate tenure, and 7 percent opted for instituting a mandatory retirement age. Since slacking off by professors with tenure is a common complaint among younger faculty members, the Chronicle survey essentially indicated that a full 72 percent of university CFOs wanted professors to teach more and work harder.
The O’Donnell fracas also drew attention to another issue: whether during troubled economic times, states such as Texas can really afford to heavily subsidize prestigious, research-focused universities such as the UT’s flagship institution, the 50,000-student University of Texas-Austin, and its technology-focused cousin in the Texas public system, the 49,000-student Texas A&M University in College Station. According to UT-Austin’s own website, UT-Austin’s annual budget has increased nearly fivefold during the past 25 years, from $503 million in 1985 to $2.26 billion in 2010, far outstripping the effects of inflation. It has also become more tuition-dependent. In 1985 tuition and student fees ($27 million) accounted for only 5 percent of UT-Austin’s total revenues, but by 2010 that number had jumped to 24 percent, or $544 million. It is common to blame UT-Austin’s increased tuition-dependency on a stingy legislature that has gradually withdrawn state support—except that state allocations to support the Austin campus have actually increased by about 40 percent over the years, from $237 million in 1985 to $318 million in 2010—and it may be unfair to ask Texas taxpayers to cover every new budget-boosting expense that the university chooses to incur. Read more…
By Reeve Hamilton
Randy Diehl, the dean of the University at Texas at Austin’s College of Liberal Arts, is looking for ways to boost undergraduate graduation rates. Earlier this week, UT President Bill Powers told Diehl he’d be leading a task force on just that issue.
One set of proposals Diehl is unlikely to look to is the so-called “seven breakthrough solutions” — a set of changes for higher education in Texas written by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer and promoted by Gov. Rick Perry. Today, Diehl responded to the proposals by releasing an analysis of each one. His conclusion: “Put simply, this is the wrong approach.”
Deihl’s report comes at a time when the state’s higher education debate has been stirred anew, though players on both sides say they are open to reaching common ground.
The latest turbulence was instigated by the re-emergence of Rick O’Donnell, a former adviser to the University of Texas System whose hiring was one of the sparks that ignited the initial controversy. After 49 days on the job, O’Donnell was abruptly ousted in April after alleging that top administrators at UT and the UT System were suppressing information and thwarting needed reforms. While O’Donnell and the system reached a settlement after he threatened a lawsuit over his termination, O’Donnell recently has told reporters that he stands by his allegations.
Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, who had written O’Donnell a glowing letter of as part of the settlement, called O’Donnell’s recent comments “unfortunate.” In a statement he said that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa did not oppose or hinder regents as O’Donnell charged.
“The Board of Regents has an excellent relationship with Chancellor Cigarroa and fully supports his vision and commitment to advance excellence in education, research, patient care and service across the great University of Texas System,” Powell said.
The Texas Exes, the university’s large alumni organization, also issued a press release reaffirming their support for UT President Bill Powers “due to recent public attacks of him and his character.”
Diehl says his response to the “breakthrough solutions”, which took approximately two months to compile and can be accessed on online on a new website, is motivated by a similar sentiment. “I really wanted to stand with the president and the chancellor, and I thought this was one way we could contribute.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank that promotes the “solutions,” also has a new website, improvehighered.com. It makes no mention of the seven solutions. TPPF spokesman David Guenthner told the Tribune last month that the group remains open to other proposals. Read more…
By MELISSA LUDWIG
Rick O’Donnell, a former special adviser to the University of Texas System who received a $70,000 settlement, this week skewered top UT officials for trying to block the release of faculty productivity data, accusing them of orchestrating a scare campaign to pit donors and alumni against regents pushing for changes at the system.
He also took shots at state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the higher education committee, saying she went to bat for university brass due to overly cozy relations between lawmakers and public universities.
Faculty and administrators “basically want to be left alone,” O’Donnell said. “They push back when regents try to run the university. They ask for lots of (state) funding, and legislators get buildings named after them and tickets to bowl games. (Zaffirini) seems to be extremely defensive of the administration, more so than what is in the best interests of taxpayers.”
Zaffirini denied there is anything unseemly about her support of academia.
“I proudly carry the banner of higher education,” Zaffirini said. O’Donnell and other critics “seem to hate higher education; they seem to hate UT.”
A $70,000 settlement could have bought peace between the University of Texas System and former special adviser Rick O’Donnell, but O’Donnell, who was fired April 19, instead spoke out against UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
In an interview with the American-Statesman earlier this week, O’Donnell said Cigarroa and Powers stirred up opposition among donors, alumni and faculty members against efforts by O’Donnell, and some regents to dig up data on faculty productivity. Efforts to gather similar performance data at Texas A&M, rating the “worth” of professors according to revenue brought in and classroom hours taught, earned a rebuke from the prestigious American Association of Universities.
O’Donnell said that Cigarroa, Powers and Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo who leads the Higher Education Committee, mounted “a brutal campaign” to demonize the regents who have been active in pursuing faculty data, including Powell, Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall and Brenda Pejovich. He said Powers begged him and Powell not to collect the data, according to the Statesman.
O’Donnell, a former executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, was dismissed after writing a letter accusing officials at the “highest levels” of the system of suppressing data that showed a great deal of tuition and taxpayer money go to professors do little teaching. Read more…
At the height of a controversy about the direction of the school’s governing board earlier this year, the chairman of the University of Texas System regents told a fellow regent that he felt as winded as he did during football practices decades ago under coach Darrell Royal.
“Reminds me of two-a-days in Austin in August — you never seem to catch your breath and when you do it feels like steam!” Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, said in an email to Regent Robert Stillwell in March.
That email and hundreds more that circulated among regents and others involved in the controversy were obtained from the UT System by the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act.
The messages convey frustration on the part of some regents that they were being criticized as anti-research, as well as an intense interest among regents in gathering data from the system’s campuses on online class offerings, teacher evaluations and other matters. When those data were eventually released publicly, the system said the information was “raw” and “cannot yield accurate analysis, interpretations or conclusions.”
The emails also show that three prominent supporters of higher education wrote a strongly worded letter to Powell urging the regents to make “meaningful statements” regarding the importance of fundamental and applied research, the benefit of the dual mission of teaching and research, and the value of tenured faculty members.
Such statements are essential to address “the perception that actions are being taken that would hurt UT System schools, in particular UT-Austin,” said the letter April 1 from Kenny Jastrow, former CEO of Temple-Inland Inc. and chairman of the university’s ongoing $3 billion capital campaign; Charles Tate, a member of the University of Texas Investment Management Co.’s board; and Pam Willeford, a former chairwoman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and a former ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The UT System is seeking approval from state Attorney General Greg Abbott for its decision to withhold an unknown number of emails and to black out portions of some that it released to the Statesman.
The Statesman will argue that the information should be made public, said Editor Fred Zipp.
The emails give a flavor of Powell’s reaction to criticism from some lawmakers, alumni and others for his hiring of a $200,000-a-year special adviser who had written that much academic research lacks value. Powell also drew criticism for suggesting in an interview with the Statesman that it might be possible to offer cut-rate degrees that he styled as Bel Air quality, a reference to a mid-level Chevrolet of a generation ago.
“I promise everyone I will be much more careful with my metaphors in the future!!!!” Powell said in a March 9 email to various UT System officials.
The adviser, Rick O’Donnell, was dismissed April 19 after accusing top UT System and UT-Austin officials of suppressing information on faculty members’ productivity. O’Donnell and the system reached a settlement Friday under which he agreed not to sue the system in exchange for $70,000 and a glowing letter about his work from Powell.
In a March 14 email to O’Donnell, Powell said the “loyal opposition” is “telling anyone that will listen that you will be making policy and you have been hired to fire the Chancellor, fire the president of UT Austin and to take over the System.” Read more…
But any peace the UT System obtained with its money and a glowing letter from the chairman of the Board of Regents about the former employee’s work and integrity didn’t last long.
Rick O’Donnell, who was dismissed April 19 after seven weeks on the job, lashed out within hours of the settlement’s release at UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo who leads the Higher Education Committee.
In an interview with the American-Statesman, O’Donnell said Cigarroa and Powers ginned up opposition among donors, alumni and faculty members to efforts by O’Donnell, regents Chairman Gene Powell and other regents to obtain faculty productivity data.
He said Zaffirini has been carrying water for university administrators instead of letting regents govern the institution.
O’Donnell also charged that Cigarroa, Powers and Zaffirini mounted “a brutal campaign” to demonize the regents who have been active in pursuing faculty data, including Powell, Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall and Brenda Pejovich. And he said Powers begged him and Powell not to collect the data.
Moreover, O’Donnell said his understanding and expectation from conversations and emails with Powell and Francie Frederick, general counsel to the regents, was that he had been hired for the long term.
Barry Burgdorf, vice chancellor and general counsel for the UT System, said no assurances or promises of continuing employment were given to O’Donnell. System officials declined to address O’Donnell’s comments about Cigarroa.
Powers said, “I am not in a position now to comment on his comments in the press.”
Zaffirini said, “Clearly, he doesn’t know me or understand the principles by which I operate.”
O’Donnell, a former executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, was fired from his $200,000-a-year job with the UT System after writing a letter accusing officials at the “highest levels” of the system and its Austin flagship of suppressing data showing that a growing sum of tuition and taxpayer money is paid to professors and administrators who do little teaching.
The data were later released publicly in response to open records requests, with UT System and campus officials arguing that the figures on faculty salaries, teaching loads and other matters are not only raw and unverified but also give no insight into the quality and impact of professors’ work.
O’Donnell became a focus of controversy shortly after Powell, without consulting other regents, hired him March 1. Critics cited his previously published policy papers that criticized much academic research as lacking value and that recommended reducing such “wasteful spending” and returning universities to the “rightful mission of teaching.”
Within about three weeks of his hiring, O’Donnell was reassigned as a special assistant for research and told that his job would end by Aug. 31. His hold on employment got even shakier when the UT System announced that it was investigating errors in one of his published articles.
It’s unusual for the UT System to award money to people it has dismissed. In O’Donnell’s case, a settlement made economic sense, Burgdorf said.
“It was very clear that he was going to sue the UT System, and he had the backing to do it,” Burgdorf said. “It would have cost me a lot more to defend that lawsuit and get it dismissed than we ended up paying.”
The letter from Powell to O’Donnell, which is part of the settlement, was negotiated, Burgdorf said. “The chairman would not have signed it had he not believed what was in it,” Burgdorf said.
In the letter, Powell praised O’Donnell’s work as “excellent by all measures and done with integrity.” Powell noted “how sorry I am for the unfortunate controversies that surrounded your original appointment and subsequent work for the System” and said the controversies were “not of your making.”
Regent Steve Hicks, vice chairman of the UT board, said the settlement agreement was not submitted to the board for a vote. Such a vote is not required.
Asked whether he supports the settlement, Hicks replied, “I don’t have an opinion on that. The settlement speaks for itself.”
O’Donnell said the settlement tells prospective employers that he was not fired for performance issues.
“Not even universities can fire people for free speech and civil rights and speaking out,” O’Donnell said. Read more…
By Melissa Ludwig
A group of more than 200 powerful philanthropists, business leaders and other stakeholders have formed a grassroots coalition to push back against dramatic changes sought for Texas colleges and universities by Gov. Rick Perry and a group of university regents.
Most are connected to the University of Texas at Austin, the epicenter of the battle. But many hold ties to other university systems.
“This is not a liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, it is a unified group in support of higher education,” said H. Scott Caven, a former UT regent from Houston.
By Reeve Hamilton
The current controversy dominating the higher education headlines in Texas is nothing if not nuanced. It’s hard for anyone to disagree with the broad buzzwords used by both sides: accountability, productivity, excellence, accessibility, transparency.
One might be hard-pressed to find an official of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has promoted the controversial “seven breakthrough solutions” for higher education, who openly opposes “great research” or an administrator of a research institution, such as the University of Texas, fighting against “great teaching” — though those two are often presented as being at odds with each other.
This may be because there’s more agreement than disagreement, even among the most strident players on either side. Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has been outspoken in her criticism of Gov. Rick Perry‘s agenda. At the same time, she carried — and passed — most of his office’s proposed higher education legislation. Alex Cranberg, one of Perry’s newly appointed regents at the University of Texas System and a strong advocate of reforming higher education, told the Tribune recently that he believes the differences between himself and those who have criticized him to be “relatively modest.”
Of course, the devil’s in the details. Read more…
The left wing Texas Tribune ran another article in defense of the UT higher ed status quo. This time, UT regent Alex Cranberg was the subject of discussion and the story was picked up by the New York Times. The New York Times re-titled it “A Lightning Rod on U.T. Board, Regent Is Not Deterred”, a title much more descriptive of the article than the original title “Controversial UT Regent Hopes to ‘Push a Reset Button’”.
The article chronicled Cranberg’s supposedly controversial background, mostly based on the fact that he’s a conservative.
Not surprisingly, the article was silent to the actual controversy – skyrocketing college tuition costs without corresponding improvement – instead treating Cranberg’s appointment as regent as the controversy. Read more…
By Daniel Greer
Regent Alex Cranberg’s simple information request about professor compensation and use of time stirred Zaffirini into an agitated effort to shield UT from accountability. Read more…
AUSTIN, Texas — A University of Texas System regent has requested detailed data on faculty performance, causing some to further question whether some regents are interfering with academics.
Alex Cranberg’s request on Friday was made the day after the UT Board of Regents gave system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa a unanimous show of support when he told them “universities simply cannot be micromanaged.”
Cigarroa made his appeal for the regent’s trust amid political turmoil over outside efforts to reform higher education in Texas.
Separating research and teaching budgets, and new ways to evaluate teachers are among the reforms — dubbed the “seven breakthrough solutions” — being embraced by a conservative think tank and some backers of Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
Cranberg, who was appointed by Perry in February, wanted the nine UT campuses to advise how quickly they could provide information on teaching workloads, students’ grades and how students rated professors, the Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.
Some campus officials say a few regents are overstepping their policymaking role when they issue detailed directives to campus leaders, especially those asking for complex data compilations. Read more…
Two new appointees to the University of Texas Board of Regents have been peppering UT administrators with frequent, detailed requests for data, prompting one university president to complain and a key lawmaker to accuse the regents of “micro-managing.”
UT regents chair Gene Powell responded by saying that the complaints stemmed from a request from regent Alex Cranberg because it had been misinterpreted as a request from a task force, and not Cranberg’s independent request. But he added he asked his fellow regents to try “to be reasonable and compassionate as a board so we don’t overload the staff.”
“Some of the campuses have gotten a little tired of the requests. They may have been pushed a little too far,” Powell said. But, he added, regents have a right to request information. “When do you tell a regent he can’t do his constitutional duty to manage these schools?” Read more…
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
On the same day that University of Texas System regents unanimously agreed to refrain from micromanaging the state’s largest university system, at least one regent seemed to do just that by requesting records on individual faculty members‘ workloads, average grades for each undergraduate course and student evaluation scores of teachers, as well as a timeline for producing those materials, emails obtained by the American-Statesman show.
Regent Alex Cranberg requested the materials for each course taught in the 2009-10 academic year at the UT System’s nine academic campuses, according to the emails. One email said Regent Brenda Pejovich joined Cranberg in the request, but officials said in interviews that she had not done so. Read more…
By William Lutz
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. Read more…
By Reeve Hamilton
At the end of a turbulent week in Texas higher education, the circumstances of the chancellors of the state’s two largest university systems stand in stark contrast.
Two days later, the University of Texas System Board of Regents expressed unanimous support for Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa after a highly anticipated speech outlining his vision for advancing excellence throughout the system.
Interest in the actions of the university system regents has reached an unusual level, among the public and in the halls of the Texas Capitol, as distrust and acrimony have spread through the higher education community in recent months. And it seems that neither board’s action this week is likely to lessen that scrutiny. Read more…
By Mary Tuma
Brenda Pejovich, UT Regent
University of Texas System Regents received an update on the task force for “University Excellence and Productivity” led by UT Regent Brenda Pejovich. While a full report is not expected until August, Pejovich summed up the group’s progress over its six meetings since forming in February.
The update followed the presentation of a framework to increase accountability and transparency at the UT System’s institutions, introduced by Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, who received a unanimous show of support from regents.
Pejovich, a board member of conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said her task force focused on furthering research and teaching missions, identifying ‘best practices,’ and implementing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s ‘cost efficiency’ report – seven key actions spurred by a 2009 directive from Gov. Rick Perry. Read more…
At a meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents in Austin Thursday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa delivered a highly anticipated address, laying out his “framework for advancing excellence throughout the university system.”
In a roll call vote, the board of regents, who have been the subject of speculation and suspicion in recent weeks from some members of the higher education community — particularly with regard to their support for academic research — unanimously supported Cigarroa’s vision.
Without directly mentioning them, a number of Cigarroa’s comments alluded to a controversial set of seven “breakthrough solutions” promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and Gov. Rick Perry. The most hotly debated of the seven is a call to separate research and teaching budgets, which some critical students and alumni at the University of Texas at Austin have speculate is a divide and conquer approach. Read more…
One week ago, Rick O’Donnell’s employment at the University of Texas System came to an abrupt end after 50 days marked by tension and confusion in the higher education community — especially at the University of Texas at Austin.
O’Donnell’s position initially raised questions because of its $200,000-per-year salary and its similarities to the job description of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa — and the fact that he was to report directly to Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. Powell failed in his initial attempts to quell the controversy by having O’Donnell report to administrators under Cigarroa and ending O’Donnell’s employment at the end of August. An email O’Donnell wrote to a sympathetic regent last week criticizing the actions of system and university leaders since his hiring appears to have been the last straw, and O’Donnell was dismissed.
Recent controversy at the University of Texas System could hamper serious attempts for reform and taint the results of two task forces studying efficiency and online and blended learning, observers say.
“It is harmful for a bunch of false hysteria to be whipped up about what the board may or may not actually do,” said Alex Cranberg, a UT regent appointed in February.
“The genesis (of the task forces) is tainted, so I think it will continue to be tainted,” Leshin said about the group’s work.
The controversy sparked six weeks ago when UT regents hired Rick O’Donnell, a Colorado native, to staff two UT task forces on distance learning and efficiency. News reports linked O’Donnell to Jeff Sandefer, a wealthy entrepreneur whose “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” for higher education reform hold a lot of sway with Gov. Rick Perry, who made them the topic of a summit for university regents in 2008.
Despite a chilly reception to the solutions, Perry continued to push behind the scenes for implementation at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas systems, according to internal emails.
Texas A&M carried out a couple of the solutions, garnering backlash from faculty and the public. UT held back.
Observers speculated O’Donnell was brought in to “bring UT to heel” to the seven solutions, and rumors surfaced that regents tried to fire Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System, and Bill Powers, president of UT Austin, for “insubordination.”
Cranberg said Friday the rumors are untrue.
“Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed or manipulating,” Cranberg said in an email.
Leshin, whose Texas Exes adopted a resolution this week supporting Powers, said he “has heard from some very good sources that the two were both considered at-risk.”
The Executive Committee of the Chancellor’s Council, which represents more than 300 donors to the UT System, issued a similar statement in support of Cigarroa earlier this month.
In the end, it was O’Donnell who got the pink slip.
His $200,000 a year salary and job description first raised alarms, prompting regents to reassign O’Donnell and made his job temporary. Emails later showed that Gene Powell, chairman of the board of regents, had settled on O’Donnell before even writing a job description.
Powell declined a request for an interview.
When it came out that O’Donnell had written a 2008 policy paper that deemed most academic research a waste of time and money, supporters of UT Austin feared a plot to destroy the flagship’s mighty research enterprise. An Express-News analysis later found two dozen citation and other errors in the paper, written for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank.
In letters and public statements, alumni, donors, students and lawmakers raised concerns that regents’ reforms were headed in the wrong direction.
On Monday, O’Donnell penned a letter to Regent Wallace Hall complaining that leaders at the system and the flagship campus had resisted his efforts to get data, which he said showed a growing share of tuition and tax dollars going to professors and administrators who did little teaching.
By Tuesday, O’Donnell was out of a job.
Charles Miller, former chairman of the UT Board of Regents, said he believes Powell fumbled O’Donnell’s hiring, but that UT stakeholders overreacted with their public statements and letter-writing campaigns, damaging the school’s reputation nationally and abroad.
“If you are Coca-Cola, you don’t let your brand be diminished,” Miller said.
The work of the task forces is critically important, he said. Technology, combined with dwindling budgets, is forcing a paradigm shift in higher education. Leaders must find a way to lower the cost of educating while teaching more students. Powell’s instinct to study online education and productivity was right on, he said.
But will the task forces lose credibility in light of recent events?
“That could happen if we don’t tone down the discussion,” Miller said.
Kyle Kalkwarf, UT’s student regent and a medical student at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, disagreed.
“I don’t have a problem with people speaking up because they are interested,” Kalkwarf said. “I think it’s good we are having an open, frank discussion.”
Cranberg, a Coloradoan who has known O’Donnell for years and Sandefer from the oil and gas business, agreed that change is imperative, but denied that he is doing Perry’s bidding by pushing Sandefer’s seven solutions as the answer.
“Gov. Perry is a man whose opinions I respect,” Cranberg said. “However, I am very much my own man. I’m too committed to making a difference based on the principles I believe in to try running my life according to someone else’s belief system.”
Cranberg said excellence comes from “a fearless willingness to ask hard questions, experiment and capacity to make sometimes uncomfortable change.”
“I hope and expect that each campus’ leadership will be fearless in the pursuit of excellence and will follow that trail wherever it leads.”
by Weston Hicks at Agenda Wise Reports March, 23rd
Evan Smith, head of The Texas Tribune, has gone journo-nuclear, attacking UT interested in examining the effectiveness of current practices. Carrying the agenda of the higher ed establishment, Smith is using a newly hired adviser, Rick O’Donnell, as a proxy for the Regents.
Smith’s treatment of O’Donnell has been equal parts overreaction and character assassination. O’Donnell’s personal political history has been magnified in a way any number of employees of the University of Texas could be, but aren’t. At least seven articles in week and a half have peppered Smith’s Texas Tribune. Three articles appeared on the same day. Aspersions have been cast upon O’Donnell’s integrity and motives.
O’Donnell was essentially brought on by the Board of Regents as a staff member. Staff members work at the behest of their bosses; they don’t set the agenda. It’s common for staff members to work for bosses with very different agendas during their careers; just ask around the Texas State Capitol. In short, O’Donnell’s hiring, by any reasonable standard, just isn’t a big deal. What precipitated this explosive reaction by Evan Smith?
The University of Texas at Austin Board of Regents recently sent an internal memo indicating they’ve formed two task forces to examine technology, teaching, and research at UT. They want to find ways to improve teaching quality, research quality, accessibility, as well as find ways to lower costs, if possible. The first step in any self-improvement sequence is an internal audit. The self-assessment hasn’t even begun yet, much less have conclusions been drawn or recommendations made.
Even so, Smith has implemented a strategy of yelling at full volume, trying to drum up disgust. Nowhere are the merits of an internal audit examined, likely because they make such good sense. Instead, Smith finds “experts” to quote, similarly invested in the status quo, such as the Association of American Universities, a club of elite universities that UT currently belongs to.
Evan Smith is defending the higher education status quo like his job depends on it.
What gives? Well, we can say a few things that Evan Smith has left out of his Texas Tribune blitzkrieg:
2) Ellen Susman’s husband Steve Susman is on the UT Development Board. The Development Board encourages philanthropic giving on behalf of UT.
3) George Soros’s Open Society Institute recently gave a $150,000 grant to The Texas Tribune.
4) Many Texas Tribune donors work for the University of Texas.
5) Senator Judith Zaffrini chairs the Higher Ed Committee in the Senate.
6) Senator Zaffrini has extremely close ties with UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. The Cigarroas are a heavy-hitting political family from Senator Zaffrini’s senate district, and have given money to Zaffrini over the years.
7) Chancellor Cigarroa was nominated in 2009 for the position of chancellor by Senator Zaffrini.
8) O’Donnell has now been moved from the Board of Regents to directly under Chancellor Cigarroa.
Evan Smith has spent more time and money in the last 10 days on the UT Board of Regents than many hot-button issues such as the sonogram bill or Voter ID. There’s plenty of reason to wonder why his reaction has been so outsized. The connections between Smith and both Higher Education Establishment and liberal donors suggest a lack of impartiality is part of the answer.
Published: 8:56 p.m. Friday, March 18, 2011
As the University of Texas System grapples with tighter budgets and expected losses in state aid, UT regents agreed Friday to raise tuition at its medical, dental and nursing health campuses this fall.
That school’s tuition is the lowest among UT’s medical schools at $12,509 a year. Raising it to $14,509 would gradually close the gap with the other medical schools where tuition now ranges from $14,875 at the Medical Branch at Galveston to $15,793 at the Health Science Center at San Antonio.
System officials said the increases are needed in part to help the system’s campuses remain competitive. Several presidents of the health campuses said in letters to the regents that raising tuition also would help mitigate anticipated losses in state money.
In March 2010, before a state shortfall of $23 billion over the next two years came into focus, UT officials asked the health campus presidents to recommend tuition and fees for the 2011-12 academic year. The presidents recommended the increases after meeting with faculty and students.
The UT System board approved their proposals with just one “no” vote: Regent Wallace Hall Jr. of Dallas, who said he was worried about the impact on students.
“I’m concerned about our access to underrepresented groups,” such as low-income students and minorities, Hall said. “To the extent that we can keep a lid on it, that would be my goal.”
UT Executive Vice Chancellor Kenneth Shine said tuition was relatively low at UT medical schools in comparison with their peers nationally. For instance, at Ohio State University, it’s $30,948 a year, and at the University of California, Los Angeles, it’s $28,162 a year, documents UT provided show.
“This (increase) still leaves us well below the national averages for medical schools,” Shine told the regents.
Tuition at the UT System schools will range from 47 to 62 percent of the average cost at U.S. public medical schools, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said in a written statement.
Student Regent Kyle Kalkwarf, a fourth-year medical student at the Health Science Center at San Antonio, said that he spoke with medical students at the various campuses. They supported the increases and understood that they were needed to maintain quality and hold onto faculty, Kalkwarf said. “The students know what a deal we’re getting.”
Regent Alex Cranberg of Austin said he wanted the board to come up with a more systematic way to assess student feedback. He also said he wanted campuses to devise more detailed plans on spending tuition increases, rather than presenting broad outlines, as most campuses did this time.
At UT’s two dental schools, where tuition is higher than at the medical schools, regents approved increases of about $1,500, raising tuition to $19,571 a year at the Houston school and to $22,575 at the San Antonio school.
In the nursing and health professions programs attached to health science centers, tuition increases ranged from 3.6 percent at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where the undergraduate health professions program would cost $4,623 a year starting in the fall, to 33.4 percent at Houston, where the master’s-level nursing program will cost $2,729 a semester.
In addition to approving the tuition increases, the board approved two appointments to its investment arm, the University of Texas Investment Management Co. It reappointed Charles W. Tate to another three-year term, which ends April 1,
2014, and named James P. Wilson, vice chairman of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, to a three-year term.
The regents postponed scheduled presentations from special committees on online learning and productivity and excellence.
University of Texas System annual tuition and fees
UT System regents voted Friday on tuition and fee increases at its medical campuses that are effective in the fall for new students. Existing students at some campuses would see lesser increases.
2010-11 2011-12 % change
Southwestern $15,640 $16,640 6.4%
Medical Branch $14,875 $15,875 6.7%
Health Science-Houston $12,509 $14,509 16%
Health Science-San Antonio $15,793 $16,855 6.7%
Health Science-Houston $18,071 $19,571 8.3%
Health Science-San Antonio $21,013 $22,575 7.4%
Health professions programs
Southwestern $4,985 $5,225 4.8%
Medical Branch $5,463 $5,913 8.2%
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center $4,462 $4,623 3.6%
Health Science-San Antonio varies
Medical Branch $3,184/$3,646 $3,422/$3,893 7.5% /6.8%
Health Science-Houston $3,082/$2,045 $3,322/$2,729 7.8%/33.4%
Health Science-San Antonio $3,430/$3,316 $3,680/$3,719 7.3%/12.2%
*Per-semester costs; 15-credit hour undergraduate/12-credit hour master’s programs
Source: University of Texas System
Last month, the Statesman’s Jason Embry reported that Governor Perry had turned to Colorado to find his newest University of Texas regent, energy executive Alex Cranberg. Now the regents have hired Rick O’Donnell, the former executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, as a special advisor. O’Donnell, who began work last week, is more of a Texan than Cranberg, having moved to Austin several years ago after an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2005. Cranberg, a major political donor in Colorado, supported O’Donnell’s campaign. O’Donnell most recently headed the Acton Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence, which is affiliated with Austin’s .
O’Donnell has served as an expert for the MBA program is known for its “students as customers” model of education. Courses are taught by business professionals, not academics, and bonuses are offered for professors who receive high ratings from students. In a 2009 audio interview archived on the TPPF site, O’Donnell said he felt the same innovations would benefit public universities in Texas. A clip that will be of interest to professors at Texas’ tier one universities:, where his work has focused on “transparency” and “productivity” in higher education. He has publicly questioned the value of research done at public universities, which he feels sometimes offers a poor return on taxpayer funds. Acton’s innovative
Texas should consider separating teaching and research budgets. Right now we pay a faculty member their salary, benefits, and office space, and they do a little teaching and they do a little research, and its unclear whether they’re any good at it. What do we get for that money? What Texas could do is say, ‘Look we’ll split how you get paid 50 percent for teaching and 50 percent for research, and at the end of the year we’re going to ask a simple question: How many students did you teach and did they rate you highly or not, and how much research did you produce.’ And was it good research? And then we can say, hey, did we get our money’s worth?
And one more nugget from the same interview, suggesting what university presidents can expect from O’Donnell: “We’ve supported our institutions of higher ed quite well with taxpayer funding. So frankly I don’t think there’s any reason for tuition increases. It just means the institutions haven’t wanted to do the hard work of cutting costs and getting more productive.”
I heard back from Rick O’Donnell and he had this to say about his appointment and the potential reaction from administrators and professors: “People are gonna agree and disagree with what I have written in the past. If a faculty member sees something and says, ‘I don’t know what that means,’ then I’m happy to talk to anyone and engage in frank discussion. I don’t know everything, that’s for sure. I have a lot to learn about the UT system from the leadership and faculty. I’m here to really serve the chancellor and serve the board and push their mission forward.”