Pile it on. It’s easy hide behind buzz words. Regent Hall is doing a fine job. He is performing his sworn duty with honesty, integrity and honor. Regents Hicks and Stillman are continuing poor form and are tarnishing the honor of the regents by continuing the controversy. It is time to let justice prevail. If there is an impropriety by requests, let there be hearings. If not, let regent Hall do his job. Read More
The Huffington Post | By Tyler Kingkade
At the Texas Tribune festival, a three-day public policy forum in Austin, Perry said students who go to state universities should have the same tuition for their senior year as they do when they enter as freshmen. According to reports, Perry seemed intent to push for a tuition freeze in the next legislative session. Read More
By Kevin Kiley
It likely won’t take the same form – the removal and reinstatement of a university president. But somewhere, sometime, probably sooner rather than later, the governing board of a public university, claiming to be acting to move the university forward and addressing 21st-century challenges, is going to make a move that upsets faculty members and other traditional university stakeholders. Read More
The Bill Powers Jr. School of How to Win Friends and Influence People. (Dale Carnegie would be ashamed)
Posted by WILLisms
Texas is ground zero in the national higher education reform movement. While the Washington crowd tends to fixate on President Obama’s piddling slap fight with Congressional Republicans over government-secured student loan rates, the real action on fixing higher ed is happening in Austin, Texas. The battle between Rick Perry and the higher ed reformers on one hand versus UT-Austin President Bill Powers and the Ivory Tower status quo on the other hand has been marked by years of grueling and often dull trench warfare that was punctuated last week by a flurry of bombs, beginning with a tuition freeze, followed by rumors of the UT President’s termination, and culminating in a textbook social media public relations campaign that deserves serious examination. And the consequences of this fight? Well, what happens in Texas won’t stay in Texas.
This is the story of “I Stand with Bill Powers,” a remarkably well-executed example of online astro-turfing.
Bill Powers is the President of the University of Texas at Austin. He individually receives an annual income roughly twelve times the median household income of Texas, not counting six figures of deferred compensation or benefits. He commands a robust team of sharp folks internally at UT and has secured the big guns as outside public relations counsel. There is now an ongoing effort– a well-orchestrated social media campaign which appears highly inorganic– to “save” him. Save from what and for what is the difficult part to figure out.
This post aims to 1. provide some context for the UT kerfuffle itself, 2. cast some light on how people and organizations successfully astro-turf social media campaigns, 3. provide reasons why members of the media ought to be a bit more careful in how they report on the online/digital/new media horse race, and 4. offer some thoughts on what comes next.
1. Kerfuffle Context
First, some background on what the heck this “Save Bill Powers” stuff is all about.
There’s the very, very macro context, which is basically that the higher education establishment has become sclerotic and out of touch, tuition has skyrocketed well beyond inflation, and the next major economic shock in America could easily be the higher ed bubble bursting. It’s an iceberg straight ahead and we’re the Titanic, but there’s still time to steer the ship into safer waters. If we don’t, though, yikes.
This is the startling context for this kerfuffle:
Zooming in a bit further, to Texas, we see that tuition at UT went up 39.88% from Fall 2004 to Fall 2011. We also see a Governor, who happens to be a Texas A&M alumnus (that’s UT’s primary in-state rival, so there’s a built-in suspicion among Longhorns), and who has appointed the entire Board of Regents at The University of Texas system, who has committed to making public higher education in Texas more affordable, accountable, and accessible. Specifically, Governor Perry embraced various specific higher ed reforms over the years, including what are known as the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” as a starting point for reform. Not surprisingly, the higher ed establishment opposed these reforms. Despite UT-Austin receiving more dollars– and more dollars per student– in state funding from the State of Texas than UC-Berkeley gets from California, it seems like the only acceptable higher ed reform to the higher ed establishment is more money.In the summer of 2011, battle lines were drawn, with the “Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education” (a.k.a. “The Coalition”) emerging out of the Burson-Marsteller P.R. shop to support Bill Powers and the higher ed status quo. In October of 2011, Natalie Butler and Keshav Rajagopolan (current and former Student Body Presidents, respectively) launched a “spin-off” group group called Young Texans for Excellence in Higher Education. Various groups formed on the other side (including “Rock the Ivory Tower“) devoted to affordability and reform.
The Governor also called for a 4-year tuition freeze for incoming college students (in January of 2009) and a $10,000 college degree in 2011. The $10K degree idea was met with scorn and incredulity from the higher ed establishment, but it’s now been adopted in public universities across the state. And the tuition freeze? Well, just this month, the UT Regents approved it for two years (not the four that Perry initially called for). Bill Powers lashed out at the tuition freeze idea online and in an email:
If all of this context (and the above context is certainly just the Cliff’s Notes version this story) was the collective geopolitical navigation of the Great Powers in the 1930s, then Paul Burka’s apocalyptic, all-caps Texas Monthly blog post was the bombing of Pearl Harbor:2. How to Astroturf a Social Media Campaign
This is where it gets interesting. While most of the press coverage has focused on the numbers of people who “joined” a Facebook group called “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS,” at least one member of the press has hinted that something else might be afoot here. The Texas Tribune‘s Reeve Hamilton tweeted a note of caution:While I already suspected that the anonymously sourced, (and still uncorroborated) BurkaBlog post and the apparent organic response to it was all a little too convenient, Reeve Hamilton’s tweet further piqued my interest, so I explored it further. Along with some others in the higher ed movement, it quickly became apparent that a handful of really sharp young folks, working with some powerful organizations with ample resources, synthetically engineered what appeared to be a natural groundswell.Let’s take the url registration, just 100 minutes or so after the nuclear BurkaBlog post went live, the savebillpowers.com domain name had been secured:
Okay, that’s been known to happen organically, I guess. People just happen to read an unsubstantiated, rumor-mongering blog post at 7:30 pm on a Wednesday night and just happen to buy a domain name that just happens to become the focal point of a public relations campaign, within an hour and a half. And they just happen to buy the domain name anonymously. It just happen all the time.Meanwhile, the issue positioning, keywords, and instructions went out via Facebook, from Natalie Butler of the “Young Texans”:
And at nearly this precise moment, #saveBillPowers began trending in Austin, Texas:Accompanying the Save Bill Powers Twitter presence was an identically-branded Facebook page, formed at 8:10 pm(just 40 minutes after the BurkaBlog post hit the web):Even with such robust branding, a matching website, matching twitter, implied institutional backing from President Powers himself, and a catchy slogan, the Burson-Marsteller team has only managed to gather mere hundreds of actual fans:It can be frustrating to oversee such a meager social media presence, but luckily there is a solution. Ditch the Facebook page. Go with a Facebook group!A bit later, two-time Teaching Assistant to Bill Powers Rachel Meyerson founded the “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” Facebook group:
Immediately after the group was created, Meyerson added two admins to the group:And they all started adding members to the group.In order to boost its “groups,” Facebook allows individuals to not only invite someone to a group but actually add him or her to it, whether he or she is even interested. Many Facebookers, even young digital natives, aren’t engaged enough to even notice they’ve been added without their permission. And many Facebookers aren’t savvy enough to know how to leave a group after they’ve been “Facejacked.” Some people tend to fear leaving the group and insulting their friends who added them. Needless to say, spam-adding folks en masse to Facebook groups they may or may not agree with is not cool, and it’s definitely not true digital virality in any organic sense. Indeed, this guy showed how easy it is to add all of your Facebook friends to a group in only about 20 seconds.
Bad etiquette or not, “Facejacking” is how the “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” group grew and continues to grow. If you go in to the group, click “about,” then click to view members by date added, you can find the screenshots below yourself. Scroll down to the beginning (it’s kind of an annoying process), and you’ll see that nearly everyone was spam-added by just a couple of individuals (these first 120 or so members are in reverse chronological order):
See all of those “added” folks? The overwhelming majority: added, not invited. And all by two individuals.
But surely they just seeded it a bit, and it became an organic, sustaining organism of its own shortly thereafter, right? Not really. Yes, others got in on the spam-adding action, but look at a sample from Friday:
Lots of spam-added folks. Not really much evidence of a true newsworthy movement.Or the 21 most recent additions:
Again, out of 21 new members, Callie Williams added 1, Shelah Flowers invited 1, Andrew Grant invited 2, Keshav Rajagopolan added 3, and Rachel Meyerson added 14. Rajagopolan and Meyerson alone spam-added 81% of the newest 21 members. In total, 86% of the newest 21 members were spam-added, while 14% were invited.We’ve established that the response to this kerfuffle was astro-turfed. So what? People astroturf all the time.
Well, it’s one thing to astro-turf, but it’s another thing to actively lie to the press about it.
3. Why More Skepticism is Needed in Reporting on Social Media
Let’s look at Keshav Rajagopolan’s statements to the Houston Chronicle.
Did social media explode with support for Bill Powers? According to the Houston Chronicle, yes:
Explosions!Some relevant points:
Keshav Rajagopalan, who was UT’s student body president in 2008-2009, said he started the Facebook group last night after Burka’s post was published. He said thousands have asked to be part of the group. He worked with Powers closely during his time as student body president, but thinks that many UT students who did not know him personally recognize him as a leader that cares about them.
Wait. We just saw that Rachel Meyerson started the group, and that nearly all the early members were spam-added by other people. Indeed, Rajagopolan was personally responsible for a great deal of the spam adding. “Thousands have asked to be part of the group” is just plain deceitful.
While the spam-adding continued at a fast and furious pace on the “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” group, there was no activity overnight and into mid-morning on the “Save Bill Powers” page:
Again, a page (rather than a group) doesn’t allow you to spam-add. People can be invited, but they can’t be added without their permission.So, the Save Bill Powers page was essentially a ghost town, and essentially the entirety of the social media operation to that point was astro-turfed by a P.R. firm. Jennifer Sarver of said P.R. firm tweeted:
Julie Shussler of the same P.R. firm posted to the group a bit later:Matt Portillo said it was a piece of cake, and, sure enough, he (and Shussler) spam-added members as well:Portillo is also an organizer for the Young Texans, which he calls “a subsidiary of kind of a larger group“:That subsidiary stuff sounds so organic, doesn’t it?Meanwhile, the media drumbeat about how amazing this spontaneous social media movement has kept pounding.
Many uncritical headlines and stories were all over the web this past week. To give credit where credit is due, though, an Austin American-Statesman story did join the Tribune‘s Reeve Hamilton in noting that something wasn’t quite right with the numbers:
By 5 p.m. Thursday, a Facebook group called “I Stand With Bill Powers” had more than 9,800 members, although some whose names were listed said in subsequent posts that they had been included by friends without their knowledge and against their wishes.
Bottom line: the widely reported “I stand with Bill Powers” Facebook effort was not an organic display of support. It was, however, publicly held out by the organizers as organic.
It’s one thing to astro-turf, as that happens sometimes in the public relations field– it now ought to be clear how easy it is to do that. But it’s another thing to astro-turf and lie and say it was organic, then not only passively allow the media to inaccurately portray it as organic but actively feed that inaccuracy with untrue statements.
As for members of the media, more of them should turn a far more critical eye to claims of social media prowess based on what could very well be pure astro-turf.
4. What’s Next?
Moving forward, the higher ed reform movement will continue, and the status quo guardians will continue as well. The UT faculty this week voted to support their boss, although one professor abstained:
English professor Snehal Shingavi was the only member who abstained from voting at the meeting. Shingavi said it was dangerous for the faculty’s support of Powers to be coupled with tuition increases.“There is an unfortunate narrative in Texas that presents faculty as living off the fat of tuition,” Shingavi said. “It’s important not to connect these two. I abstained from voting because I understood the importance of having a unified vote.”
Meanwhile, the target of most of the negative social media content on the “Save Bill Powers” page(s) and “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” group, Governor Perry, is not going away quietly on this issue:
“I don’t think it’s any big secret that I’m for keeping the cost of education down, so my suspicion is that no one in Texas thinks that I’m for tuition growth,” Perry said. “It’s a good message to send to the citizens of the state that we’re not going to just have tuition increasing with no regard for what’s happening economically for the citizens of the state.”
And, ultimately, that’s why this “movement” smelled so fishy from the get-go. You’re telling me that students are rallying around the guy who wants to raise their tuition? Yeah, no. It was always a fabricated social media cause via public relations firm. It was well done, no doubt– a great example of why my alma mater pays them so much to do what they do. But it was never a truly viral or organic cause.
As for Bill Powers, can someone please explain to me what exactly are his accomplishments, or, alternatively, what exactly are his goals, ideas, values, or policies that are worthy of support?
UT Professor Rob Koons bravely asks this very question:
Under President Powers, tuition has climbed over 23% in just 4 years (15% over inflation, as measured by the consumer price index). Average net cost per student (taking into account financial aid) has gone up 33% from 2005 to 2009, from $4534 to $6052 (the System stopped reporting this figure in 2010). In the same period, spending on administrative salary has gone up 86% at the university level, 55% in the College of Liberal Art and 45% in the College of Business, to take two typical examples of the Colleges. Spending on faculty salaries have gone up 21% in the same period (13% over inflation), with no increase in student learning, as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (in which UT ranks in the 23rd percentile of its peer group).President Powers’ hand-picked student ‘advisory’ panels (whose discussions and votes have not been released to the public, despite the Open Meeting act) have simply rubber-stamped the views of Powers and his allies. For example, two years ago, after key lawmakers (including Senator Ellis) announced that any increase in tuition above 4% would lead to a reconsideration of tuition deregulation, Powers’ panel miraculously determined that UT “needed” an increase of exactly 3.95%. Amazing coincidence!
Change in rankings:
US News #44 in 2008, #45 in 2012. A drop of one position, paid for by at least a 33% increase in costs to students!
Four-year graduation rate
Six-year graduation rate
Nursing exam pass rate (UT graduates):
2008: 92 (A drop of 5%)
Engineering exam pass rate:
Exactly what are his accomplishments?
More on that dismal learning percentile figure:
On March 14, Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise, in his piece “Trying to assess learning gives colleges their own test anxiety,” reported that the University of Texas at Austin ranks very low in achievement of student learning. “For learning gains from freshman to senior year,” writes de Vise, “UT ranked in the 23rd percentile among like institutions. In other words, 77 percent of universities with similar students performed better.” The Post obtained this data through a public records request. The standardized test was conducted by the Collegiate Learning Assessment.Prof. Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist, “reviewed UT’s results at the request of the Post.” He found that “seniors have spent four years there, and the scores [on student learning] have not gone up that much.”
Again, what are Bill Powers’ accomplishments? Somehow vastly higher tuition with academic ranking and performance stagnation doesn’t seem like an accomplishment.
That all being said, the faster we can bring this back to a discussion about ideas rather than a quarrel between players, the better. For students. For parents. For alumni. For employers. For taxpayers. For everyone. Right now, the easy fixation is on Rick Perry vs. Bill Powers, but the ideas they are talking about are important. Tuition. Affordability. Accountability. Opportunity. The American Dream. Texas as America’s shining state on a hill.
Do we accept the broken status quo, or do we reform our higher education system in Texas? At stake: far more than parochial Ivory Tower politics.
Will Franklin is a proud graduate of UT-Austin. He also formerly worked for Governor Rick Perry. This post was adapted from an original WILLisms.com post.
- Perry Declines to Take Stand on UT Austin President (insidehighered.com)
- As UT, A&M Regents Meet the Week, Governor Eyes Tuition (timesoftexas.com)
- Governor touts higher ed accountability, responds to rumors (mysanantonio.com)
- Perry: UT tuition freeze sent ‘good message’ (kens5.com)
- Regents freeze in-state tuition, fees at UT for two years (timesoftexas.com)
- Perry touts higher ed accountability, responds to rumors (mysanantonio.com)
- Perry: UT tuition freeze sent ‘good message’ (click2houston.com)
Advocates for a moratorium on tuition increases at public universities — specifically at the University of Texas System — will attempt to deliver bags of ice to the Capitol offices of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other key officials this afternoon as part of their “Freeze Tuition Now” campaign. Read More
The search for a replacement dean for the School of Law is underway, according to search committee chair David Rabban.
Rabban said he and other committee members are in the process of generating a list of potential candidates to replace former School of Law dean Larry Sager, who signed a letter of resignation Dec. 7 per request of UT President William Powers Jr. due to concerns over Sager’s management of the school. Sager joined the law faculty in 2002 and became dean in 2006. Read More
By Reeve Hamilton
For-profit institutions see opportunities in the declining state support for public institutions, disappointing graduation rates, and questions about productivity and efficiency.
Such schools, often referred to as career colleges, have their own well-publicized problems, including steeper price tags than some public schools, higher student loan default rates than other sectors and lingering suspicions about quality. It’s not uncommon to see an exposé questioning a for-profit college on the evening news.
But many stakeholders in Texas’ higher education ranks believe those schools will play an even greater role in the state’s future. And career college leaders are mobilizing to make the case that they offer an education that is both high quality and efficient. Read More
After the UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s speech and the UT regents blessing for his plan, we thought the UT controversy was over and progress now could be made in moving forward with positive measures. Apparently UT president Bill Powers wants to keep the fight going – all in our opinion to the detriment of the students, parents and taxpayers in an effort to continue with the status quo of rising fees.
In the article by Reeve Hamilton of the Texas Tribune titled – “President Bill Powers: We Are a House Divided” it appears he actually does have his, “head in the sand” and his “feet dug in against change.”
Read and decide for yourself.
Update: University of Texas President Bill Powers stuck to his prepared remarks (scroll down to view), and the audience — made up mostly of UT faculty, students, and boosters — responded enthusiastically. Powers’ expressions of support for the faculty and his reference to Gov. Rick Perry‘s $10,000-degree challenge met with the biggest responses.
Original Story: University of Texas President Bill Powers isn’t mincing words in his State of the University address, scheduled for this afternoon. According to prepared remarks distributed before the speech (and subject to change), he takes head-on the controversy that has dogged the state’s higher education community for several months.
“To paraphrase Lincoln, we are a house divided about our fundamental mission and character,” he says.
In the remarks, Powers prescribes his own path to bring people back together and implement transformational changes to higher education. He also takes some thinly veiled swipes at those that have criticized the university in recent months, including Rick O’Donnell, the controversial former adviser to the University of Texas System whose hiring sparked much of the controversy.
Months after his position was unceremoniously eliminated, O’Donnell released an analysis of UT data that grouped professors into different categories based on productivity. “Dodgers” were a particularly unproductive subset of the unproductive group he termed “coasters.” This did not go over well at UT.
Powers calls for a tone that is more respectful of faculty. “The tone of discussion would take a positive turn if everyone in the UT family — even those who call for more extensive change — would publicly defend our faculty and our campus from outside attacks,” he says.
He disputes the notion that UT has its “head in the sand” or its “feet dug in against change.” He also answers Gov. Rick Perry’s challenge for universities to create a $10,000 bachelor’s degree, noting that a quarter of current freshmen — after scholarships and grants — pay less than $2,500 per year for their UT education.
Powers’ speech includes a few bold challenges of his own. Playing off remarks he made in May calling for the university to raise its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent from its current perch around 53 percent. Today, he calls for that to happen in five years. Read More
A lot of comments about Chairman Gen Powell’s emails regarding Rick Perry. Here is a good explanation of the controversy surrounding regents and their ability to be politically active (or not).
By Reeve Hamilton
Hey, Texplainer: Gene Powell, the chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, is out raising money for Perry’s presidential campaign. Is that okay?
Earlier this week, Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post‘s blog The Fix published excerpts of an email they had obtained regarding Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The enthusiastic author was encouraging Perry supporters to begin writing checks for his soon-to-be-announced presidential campaign.
The email was written by Gene Powell, the CEO of San Antonio-based development company Bitterblue, Inc. — and the Perry-appointed chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents. The regents have been a focal point in an ongoing controversy about Perry’s approach to higher education.
Powell’s involvement in Perry’s campaign quickly became a hot topic of debate within the UT community. Recent graduate and Democratic staffer Michael Hurta tweeted that it was “disgusting.” Current student and president of the UT College Republicans Lauren Pierce tweeted back, “What’s wrong with that? Would it be okay if he was fund raising for Owebama?? [sic]” And so on.
Here are the answers to Pierce’s questions in reverse order: “Yes” and “nothing.” Read More
By Weston Hicks
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin provided an example of why Republicans have been losing for so long today, when she dismissed Rick Perry in strong terms for his efforts to reform higher education in Texas.
Adjusted for inflation, tuition at The University of Texas has tripled in cost since 1986, with no corresponding improvement in services, and even less interest in the trend. Higher ed is the one sector in America that makes ballooning medical costs look tame.
The problem starts with a higher ed establishment that has virtually no meaningful accountability and transparency. Recent data in Texas, gotten from the higher ed establishment with great grumbling and difficulty, shows the 80-20 rule in full form at the University of Texas, with about 20% of the faculty carrying the load.
Even still, Rubin was more than ready to label reform efforts “crackpot”, satisfied with false reports, being pushed by the higher ed establishment, that reformers have already decided how to fix the problem.
This is a lie. In her instinctive rush to throw in with the establishment, Rubin and the Washington Post perpetuated this myth.
In truth, preparations to examine teaching, research, and money-spending were all that was required for higher ed and friendly liberal media to settle into the high-pitched fear mongering that Rubin has now clumsily assisted. Read More
By MQSullivan, Empower Texans
Whatever else the Fourth Estate might have once been, reporters of the past were at least willing to ask tough questions of those holding the reins of power and access to the people’s purse. Today, whether it’s the Washington Post or the Texas Tribune, the press seems to exist more to shield government functionaries from public review and accountability, and to attack reformers.
Let’s face it: The higher-ed establishment is out-of-control, spending wildly and waging a political fight to keep students, parents and taxpayers in the dark about how dollars are used in state-funded colleges and universities.
Of course, you won’t find that in the press. The “conservative” blogger at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, today took at aim at those with commonsense questions about higher education spending calling them “crackpot.”
Conservatives actually want government-spenders held accountable. At the WaPo, a staff “conservative” is really just a liberal who sits slightly to the right of Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank. Rubin has a history of attacking conservatives and conservative reforms. The Washington Post calls her a conservative, but it doesn’t mean she is. Rubin clearly trades in ad hominem attacks rather than government accountability.
Rubin and her crowd don’t ask hard questions of their ideological betters in lefty academia and the halls of bureaucratic power. That’s not what shills do. And her motivation today was clearly to attack Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with higher ed reform the convenient tool..
The Ivory Tower dwellers don’t want dollars spent better, and they sure don’t want any transparency or accountability. So the higher-ed administrators and their country club friends have taken to disparaging the reformers using their tools in the press. Read More
By Diego Cruz
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is expected to release an annual report today saying Texas universities have improved their standing among peer states since 2000 but continue to face challenges.
The state agency launched the “Closing the Gaps” initiative as a blueprint for state institutions of higher education with the goal of making Texas competitive with other states by 2015, said board spokesman Dominic Chavez.
The plan’s four critical goals are to increase enrollment, raise graduating rates, improve schools’ reputations and increase federal research, Chavez said.
“If we’re going to build a stronger economy for decades to come, then we need a more educated workforce,” he said.
After the plan launched in 2000, enrollment at public universities has increased by 486,000 students — nearing the goal of 630,000 students, according to a preliminary summary of the progress report. The number of degrees and certificates awarded annually increased by 176,000. The 2015 target increase is 210,000.
Having spent many years in public service, advancing K-12 education accountability, tax relief, higher education reform and running for Congress, one lesson I’ve learned is you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
If you had asked me before I started as Special Advisor to the University of Texas Board of Regents what the forces of the status quo might have disliked, the answer would have been the fact that, as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, I led the implementation of the College Opportunity Fund, which created the nation’s first higher education vouchers. For some people the mere mention of the V word brings a negative reaction.
The Texas Tribune reported accurately, however, that my hiring “sparked an uproar that, in the words of House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, ‘shook the foundations of UT.’” Hardly anyone ever mentioned vouchers, so the question is, what is it that caused this earthquake?
The First Iron Triangle
Among the reasons I was excited to serve the regents is my belief that this current board understands that higher education is undergoing disruptive innovation and that they are eager to position all UT System campuses to succeed in breaking what is often referred to in higher education as the iron triangle. As I wrote for the regents at the time:
The University of Texas System has a fundamental choice in how it responds to the pressures facing higher education: merely react and possibly be forced to make decisions that compromise our mission or be proactive and embrace the future, with a vision of being the nation’s number one public university system for the 21st century, including having the top flagship public research university in America. To be proactive will require that the U. T. System and campus leadership, management and faculty – and how it is organized and operated – embrace a culture that believes it is possible to accomplish three goals simultaneously:
- strengthen the quality of student learning and research excellence;
- expand access to serve more students; and
- reduce costs to be more affordable to students and taxpayers.
Too often many in higher education have believed these goals to be contradictory – more access requires more money or lower standards; higher quality means more limited access or more money; lower costs mean less quality or enrollment caps. The Regents’ Task Force on University Excellence and Productivity will explore how to break this iron triangle and instead embrace the implementation of improved quality, expanded access and lower costs.
Breaking this iron triangle is not an easy task. It requires courageous leadership, fundamental changes in how institutions operate and, ultimately, a shift in mindsets among administrators and faculty as to what makes for a premier public research university.
Unfortunately, before the regents or I had taken any actions beyond setting up two task forces to begin to look into how to break this iron triangle, we ran smack dab into a different one. Read More
As we reported several days ago, the Twitter accounts of a small group of conservative activists in Austin, including Michael Quinn Sullivan, the president of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, were abruptly suspended on July 18. Today they were restored, and one of those affected explained what happened.
In a post on the conservative commentary site AgendaWise, whose writers also had their accounts suspended, blogger Weston Hicks confirmed rumors making their way around the Capitol that it all started with Daniel Greer, the former Empower Texans employee who recently launched AgendaWise and shares office space with Sullivan’s group.
Earlier this month, Hicks wrote, Greer registered Twitter accounts that he correctly surmised NPR intended to acquire for its nascent StateImpact project, which provides in-depth coverage of state government in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana and Ohio. The project, which employs former Texas Tribune staffers Elise Hu and Matt Stiles, will soon expand to Texas in partnership with Austin’s public radio station, KUT (a Texas Tribune content partner). The standard style for StateImpact’s local Twitter handles is @StateImpact followed by the abbreviated name of the state — say, @StateImpactPA. Greer scooped up handles for states where the project was not yet in operation, such as @StateImpactME for Maine.
Twitter’s rules prohibit, among other things, “username squatting,” which includes “creating accounts for the purpose of preventing others from using those account names.” That alone — ignoring, for example, other rules that prohibit creating “serial accounts for disruptive or abusive purposes” — would seem to make a strong case that his actions violated Twitter’s terms of service. Read More
By Reeve Hamilton
A new analysis of faculty productivity data from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University-College Station argues that the institutions’ employment practices resemble “a Himalayan trek, where indigenous Sherpas carry the heavy loads so Western tourists can simply enjoy the view.”
The author of the study is Rick O’Donnell, the controversial former adviser to the University of Texas System whose previous writings questioning the value of academic research helped ignite a debate about the future of the state’s higher education systems.
After settling with the UT System last month following a threat of a lawsuit over the terms of his abrupt termination, O’Donnell told The Texas Tribune that he intended to remain involved in that debate in Texas. Clearly, he means it.
In his analysis, O’Donnell divides faculty into five categories: “dodgers,” “coasters,” “sherpas,” “pioneers” and “stars.”
In this system, coasters have low teaching loads and very little externally funded research. Dodgers are the most extreme segment of coasters. Sherpas have high teaching loads and low research funding. Pioneers have the inverse of that. And stars have both high teaching loads and high levels of research funding. Read More
Less than a week after taking over as interim chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, Jay Kimbrough announced the end of a faculty awards program rooted in reforms backed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence, which awarded $2,500 to $10,000 bonuses based on student evaluations, had been introduced by recently departed chancellor Mike McKinney, based on a program at Oklahoma University that has since been discontinued.
See entire story and more at the American Independent
- Seven Breakthrough Solutions Would Boost Productivity and Accountability at Public Universities (timesoftexas.com)
- McKinney Denies he Was Pushed Out By A&M Regents (timesoftexas.com)
- Gov. Perry Appoints Individuals Based on Their Qualifications, Willingness to Serve (timesoftexas.com)
- A&M System May Name Jay Kimbrough Interim Chancellor (timesoftexas.com)
- SMU Alum Takes Over as Interim Chancellor at A&M System (timesoftexas.com)
This Soros endeavor, laundered by NPR and institutions of higher education, will consist of 2 reporters in each state covering a single policy area with the stated goal of influencing public opinion and voter behavior. The timing of this project’s launch (March of 2011) and 2 year operation window smack of another political endeavor run through a mix of public private financing not unlike ACORN.
Nationally, the StateImpact project is being lead by two transplanted Texas journalists Elise Hu and Matt Stiles, both formerly employed by the Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a beneficiary of George Soros, having received $150,000 from his Open Society foundation.
While Soros and Open Society are on record providing seed money for StateImpact, NPR is actively soliciting additional funding in order to grow the scope of its operation. It was during an early 2011 donation solicitation that NPR executives derided American conservatives leading to the resignation of NPR’s then CEO Vivian Schiller. Read More
University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. told the Austin American-Statesman today that his school’s faculty recruiting efforts are suffering because of the recent controversy in Texas over cost/productivity analysis and tenure.
“In our recruiting we’re getting a lot of questions,” Powers said. ”These are people that are either very accomplished, young, midlevel, midcareer people, or they’re coming out of graduate school. They’re making a long-term decision on where they want to do their professional work, and this debate has had a negative impact on that. And the same thing for people that are here. When that person calls from UCLA or Illinois or Princeton or wherever, anecdotally, we’re getting the clear sense more people are saying, ‘Well, let’s chat.’… It’s also tied up in budget cuts. It’s very hard to tease out all the variables. But the debate that you were referring to is a significant factor. People want to come to a place that in a reasonable way is going to support their teaching and research aspirations.”
Powers said that those who have criticized research, such as the conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, don’t understand how professors actually spend their time. “Faculty spend a lot more time on their teaching than they do on their research. So the idea that people are just coming in and sort of making a wave at the teaching part and spending all their time on research just isn’t the case.”
Powers said that UT’s general revenue is down 16 percent. Read More
The UT Senate of College Councils is closely following the UT System Board of Regents with a new interactive time line.
Over the summer, the senate has kept students updated on an ongoing controversy surrounding research and University efficiency using the time line to post news articles on related subjects, said senate communications director Michael Morton.
The time line, created to bring transparency to the board’s work, starts with a link to an article about the invitation Gov. Rick Perry extended to the board and other higher education officials for a higher education summit, Morton said.
He said the senate believes during this time the board began losing transparency and straying from the direct needs of the University.
“At the meeting, Perry [endorsed] the Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Ed that weren’t necessarily right for UT,” Morton said. “This has been the backboard of the controversy. Unfortunately, this situation has progressed since early 2008 and has really gotten to the forefront of peoples minds.”
Morton said the time line breaks down the complex issues in a way that gets students involved and is constantly updated.
“We use every news resource possible and students have responded to it,” Morton said. “Some reliable sources we use are Reeve Hamilton from The Texas Tribune, Ralph Haurwitz from the Austin American-Statesman and Melissa Ludwig from San Antonio Express-News. They follow the board closely.” Read More
A&M regents are expected to name Jay Kimbrough to a pair of top positions later this week.
While Texas A&M’s choice of an interim chancellor is looking more certain, a fresh controversy is developing around the way Gov. Rick Perryselected a student regent for the system’s board.The Texas Tribune reported that Rick Perry’s former chief of staff Jay Kimbrough was the likely pick for the Texas A&M system’s interim chancellor, and Kimbrough later told the Bryan-College Station Eagle he is indeed being considered for the job.
“It’s not set in stone,” said Kimbrough, who serves as special adviser to the Board of Regents. “Regents have the authority and flexibility to pick anyone they want.”
The A&M System Board of Regents will meet Thursday to consider selecting an interim chancellor and deputy chancellor, and Kimbrough confirmed that he’s being considered for the deputy chancellor job as well.
Kimbrough, 63, a motorcycle enthusiast who received a Purple Heart in Vietnam, has served as deputy chancellor and general counsel from June 2007 to October 2008.
In August of 2009 he became an adviser to regents. He also has been put in charge of several troubled state agencies, including the Texas Youth Commission. Read More
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
By Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph.D.
On May 16, Gov. Perry responded, “The big lie making the rounds in Texas is that elected or appointed officials want to undermine or deemphasize research at our colleges and universities. That disinformation campaign is nothing more than an attempt to shut down an open discussion about ways to improve our state universities and make them more effective, accountable, affordable and transparent.”
What Perry seeks to achieve in Texas would be a laudable goal for every state in the country.
Let me start at the beginning. I began college teaching in 1961 at the University of Michigan. In the ‘70s I began to witness the steady demise of higher education—not higher research, but higher education.
Today, higher education is actually abusive—in two ways. One, it is staggeringly and unnecessarily expensive. Two, too many good teachers are taken out of the classroom.
How did we get in this mess?
It began in the ‘70s with the glut of Ph.D. graduates. I watched it happen with my colleagues. With more and more applicants applying for fewer and fewer positions, administrators needed new ways to distinguish among candidates. As it would be difficult to assess teaching abilities of a new Ph.D. candidate, focus switched to the quality of their publications.
It logically followed that publication replaced teaching; education became replaced with research. Publication was first, students came second. Prestige and image outside the classroom replaced teaching within it.
When I began university teaching, the average teaching load was five classes, or 15 credit hours per semester. It then dropped to four classes, then to three classes, and then today commonly to two or even a mere one class. Reduced teaching loads were granted so that professors could conduct research. It was now the external prestige of the university that mattered—more so than the internal education of students. Read More
A firestorm now rages in Texas over transparency and accountability in higher education. Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have encouraged regents to peek inside the ivory towers, and the universities are responding. History argues that we must peek.
Perry wrote on May 13 that “efforts to protect taxpayers and get more results from our schools are not universally welcomed in academia. The attitude of some in the university world is that students and taxpayers should send more and more money, and then just butt out.” He adds, “Four-year graduation rates at Texas institutions of higher education currently average just 28.6 percent.”
Asserts the governor: “The big lie making the rounds in Texas is that elected or appointed officials want to undermine or deemphasize research at our colleges and universities. That disinformation campaign is nothing more than an attempt to shut down an open discussion about ways to improve our state universities and make them more effective, accountable, affordable and transparent.” Such a goal nationwide at all universities would be laudable. 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
The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed today by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder on the benefit, or lack thereof, of a college degree. Vedder, a senior TPPF fellow and founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, claims there is a large disparity in faculty teaching loads, and that teaching loads need to be increased while less productive professors are dismissed. His WSJ editorial calls for “the faculty to teach, on average, about 150-160 students a year.”
“As college costs have risen wildly, the benefits of the degree seem less and less clear,” Vedder wrote. “Larger numbers of college graduates are taking relatively low-paying and low-skilled jobs. The good news? There are ways to greatly ease the burden and make college more affordable.” Read More
By Daniel Greer
On Monday Mother Jones, a liberal smear outfit, launched an attack on Governor Rick Perry over his day of prayer and fasting. While 99% of Texans haven’t heard of the liberal website, it’s a farm team for the far left media world, including The Texas Tribune.
By way of introduction and orientation Mother Jones previously employed high profile liberal movie maker Michael Moore as an editor, receives funding from progressive mega-donors like George Soros, and worked tirelessly, though unsuccessfully, for two years to discredit the Tea Party. Mother Jones, a “news source”, leads with titles like “Will the Obama Administration Appeal This F@#&ing Case?” and “Bush’s Strategy for Fixing This Shit”. Read More
Beginning with Answers to Their Questions.
By Ronald L. Trowbridge
The debate on higher education reform has become a firestorm. The reason for the controversy is that, as with any debate, valid arguments exist on both sides. How, then, should the issue be resolved?
The first consideration%3A Is there in fact a problem with the status quo? The recent study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity reveals an unacceptable disparity. Of the roughly 4,200 faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin, the
840 most productive teachers teach an extraordinary 57 percent of all student credit hours, while the least productive 840 members teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours. Why?
One thing is certain: Reform will never come from within the university. Derek Bok, president of Harvard for 20 years, tells us why: “In theory, presidents and deans are supposed to counteract self-interested behavior to make sure that the legitimate needs of students are properly addressed.
“In practice, however, academic leaders often fail to fulfill this responsibility,” he continued. 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
By MORGAN SMITH
“I’m going to move my desk up to the front mic,” Mr. Eissler said, “so I can watch every bill that goes by.”
After failing on three separate occasions to pass his signature education bill for the session and running out of time on a fourth, the Republican from The Woodlands was describing his plan to attach the legislation as an amendment to other bills that are still working their way through the House.
The widely liked, pun-spinning Mr. Eissler has led the House Public Education Committee since 2007, and this session he has a Republican supermajority to back him. Yet even with 66 co-sponsors, he stumbled with the bill bundling several measures to relieve school district mandates required by the state — including removing the 22-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten through fourth grade, minimum salary requirements for teachers and contractual obligations dealing with layoffs. Read More
By Weston Hicks
Accountability data has been compromised in the UT Austin internal audit called by the Board of Regents. The new establishment-controlled audit could release results this week. Two of the most important data points are teacher salaries and quantity of teaching. The existence and integrity of these important data points are now in question.
Rick O’Donnell was hired by the Board of Regents to run an internal audit into UT Austin’s inner workings, including how much teachers teach and get paid. The higher ed establishment erupted in opposition and succeeded in having fired Rick O’Donnell along with the meaningful accountability he represented.
Teaching, research, and money-spending were the subject of the two task forces sent to gather data in the interests of accountability and transparency. The higher ed establishment at UT, represented by Senate Higher Ed Committee Chair Judith Zaffarini (D), Chancellor Cigarroa, the Texas Exes, and others responded explosively to the call for accountability , essentially accusing the Regents of plotting the downfall of the University of Texas. Senator Zaffarini and Chancellor Cigarroa have a long history together of courtly privilege at taxpayer expense.
R. Bowen Loftin was named the 24th president of Texas A&M on February 12, 2010. He had served as interim president since June 2009. Prior to that, he spent four years as vice president and chief executive officer of the university’s marine-oriented branch campus, Texas A&M University at Galveston, where he also was professor of maritime systems engineering.
William Powers Jr. is the 28th president of the University of Texas at Austin. Before taking office on February 1, 2006, he served as dean of the university’s School of Law, where he won recognition for recruiting a world-class faculty and attracting diverse and talented students.
In recent months, as the top research universities in Texas, UT and A&M have been at the center of a tense debate about the productivity and accountability of the work done at such institutions.
UT Establishment: allergic to light
25 March 2011 by AgendaWise Reports
The higher education establishment is worried, and Gene Powell is the one who worries them. The UT Board of Regents, chaired by Gene Powell, has commissioned an examination to find ways to improve educational quality and efficiency. Rick O’Donnell was brought on to help staff the two task forces conducting the examination.
In a sense, Rick O’Donnell was given Chairman Powell’s flashlight to examine how well our money is spent at UT.
In a power play involving, among others, the Senate Higher Education Committee chaired by Senator Judith Zaffirini and Chancellor Cigarroa, and Evan Smith’s Texas Tribune, Rick O’Donnell has been yanked from under Gene Powell and placed under Chancellor Cigarroa. The UT establishment now controls the man that Gene Powell hired to wield his examination flashlight.
The Texas Tribune has written a string of hit pieces against the Board of Regents, focusing negative attention on a role player, Rick O’Donnell. Making the story about Rick O’Donnell distracts from the real story: the Board of Regents wants to know how UT spends taxpayer money, and whether they get efficient results. This has sent the UT establishment into convulsions.
With seemingly scant provocation, the UT establishment has all but declared war. The Regents just wanted to see if they could save money!
In the first article written by the Texas Tribune a week and a half ago, Senator Zaffirini remarked about Rick O’Donnell reporting to Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell. She said that having O’Donnell report to Powell “flies in the face of our impressive, established administration within our system.” It’s surprising she was so honest. She told us any examination the established administration doesn’t control is a threat to them.
Though Texans might not have been wondering if the University of Texas is a thoughtful steward of thier tax dollars, this bizarre overreaction by the establishment brought to us via Evan Smith gives Texans the answer.
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.
- by Reeve Hamilton of Texas Tribune
Top officials at the University of Texas System — Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell — said in an interview with The Texas Tribune today that they are moving quickly to allay the concerns of lawmakers, alumni and others regarding the direction and standing of UT, starting with the reassignment of a newly hired adviser to the Board of Regents.
Powell said that, contrary to recent speculation, the UT System “unequivocally” supports academic research, and said concerns that the views of recent hire Rick O’Donnell might change that “are absolutely incorrect.” In fact, they’re moving O’Donnell — who previously worked for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that espouses controversial higher ed reforms — to a different spot on the UT System’s organization chart. He was hired to report directly to the regents, but now he’ll work for the chancellor instead.
“We’re listening,” Powell said. “We’re definitely listening to what our constituents and our friends and partners in the Legislature are telling us.”