Controversial Adviser to U. of Texas Regents Says He’s Been Fired
By Katherine Mangan
Rick O’Donnell‘s hiring six weeks ago as a special adviser to the University of Texas System Board of Regents caused a firestorm of controversy when his views about university research were aired. On Tuesday, he was apparently fired after he accused system officials of suppressing data that would show that an increasing amount of public money is being spent on professors and administrators who do little teaching.
In an e-mail to reporters late Tuesday, Mr. O’Donnell said the system’s chancellor, Francisco G. Cigarroa, had informed him that though his work was appreciated, his employment with the University of Texas was terminated effective immediately.
Mr. O’Donnell, a former executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, had made no secret of his skepticism about the work being done in universities. In 2008, he wrote a paper for a conservative think tank questioning the value of much of the research conducted in universities. He also worked for three years for Jeff Sandefer, a business educator and major donor to Rick Perry, Texas‘ governor. Both Mr. Sandefer and the governor, a Republican, have been pressuring universities to focus more on teaching and less on research.
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On Monday, Mr. O’Donnell wrote a letter to Wallace L. Hall Jr., a Texas regent, in which he said that, as part of his job with the regents, he asked university and system officials for data “that would inform task forces how student dollars and taxpayer money were being spent.” He said the university system refused to release the data, which he said would have shown that a growing amount of public money is going toward professors and administrators who do little teaching.
The University of Texas system and the flagship campus in Austin released a joint statement on Tuesday denying that the university is suppressing the data Mr. O’Donnell was seeking.
The statement said that a special system committee on productivity and excellence is gathering data on how tuition dollars and taxpayer money are being spent, and that the data is in a raw, draft format.
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