SAN ANTONIO — In his last week on the job as chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, Mike McKinney said he disagrees with some ideas being floated to give higher education in Texas a dramatic makeover, particularly one to drastically lower tuition while increasing enrollment.
“You shouldn’t even think about doing that at Texas A&M University,” McKinney said. “You change the whole nature of the campus if you get larger. It dilutes the expertise of the faculty and it dilutes the Aggie spirit, if that is possible.”
William Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, had a similar reaction when the idea came to light in a memo circulated by Gene Powell, chairman of the UT Board of Regents. In the memo, Powell suggested cutting tuition in half at UT Austin while increasing enrollment by 10 percent per year.
Powell is among a group of conservative university regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry who are pushing for changes they believe would lower the cost of college and boost faculty productivity and the quality of teaching. Some of the ideas have sparked widespread opposition among faculty, alumni and donors, particularly a list of “seven breakthrough solutions” written by Jeff Sandefer, a wealthy Austin entrepreneur who has Perry’s ear.
Sees no education crisis
McKinney, who is retiring on Friday, denies he was pushed out of his job by Richard Box, chairman of the A&M Board of Regents, for resisting reforms, as has been reported. Emails have shown that Sandefer and his father complained to A&M regents that McKinney was not moving quickly enough to enact the seven solutions and was “overcomplicating” things.
“Box and I never had a cross word,” McKinney said. “The seven solutions were never a point of contention.”
McKinney said he agrees with the spirit of reform, and is a staunch supporter of transparency and accountability. But unlike Sandefer and some other change-seekers, he does not believe higher education is in crisis.
“Higher education in the state of Texas is not broken. Period,” he said. “We do need to make some improvement, but not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Texas A&M already offers inexpensive degrees at some of its institutions, McKinney said, but not at its flagship research campus in College Station. Texas A&M offers a traditional, residential college experience with world-class research faculty. That can’t be done at half the cost, he said.
“I think we underpay the faculty,” McKinney said. “If you are going to be part of a high-performing research university, you have got to have the best people. To hire the best personnel, you have to pay them. No matter what else you say, that has to be done.”
Those faculty, however, harshly criticized McKinney for pursuing Sandefer’s seven solutions, including creating a “red and black” report that generated a profit-loss figure for each professor based on their salary and the number of students taught. Read more…