Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kampus Komedy In Austin, TX: Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est Pareil

The Dumbos want to operate the University of Texas at Austin (and Texas A&M [sic] University) as business enterprises. Everyone knows how that worked out for the entire nation in 2008. If this is (fair & balanced) cant, so be it.

[Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] Meet A Crypto-Regent — Jeff Sandefer
[2] Meet A Meddlin' Regent From The Past — Lutcher Stark

[x Austin Fishwrap]

[1]Back To Directory
Ex-Oilman's Drive For Market-Based Education...
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz

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When Jeff Sandefer bought a small plane, he chose one of the few models equipped with a parachute designed to protect occupants by lowering the aircraft to the ground in an emergency.

That desire to avoid unnecessary risks has guided his investments as well. After graduating from the University of Texas and Harvard Business School in the 1980s, Sandefer formed an oil company but eschewed the wildcatting style of his father and grandfather.

Instead, armed with $1 million from an investment firm, he subleased from Exxon, Chevron and other major oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico. Sandefer figured that a small, nimble and cost-conscious independent could make a go of wells where the majors couldn't.

He was right. In four years, Sandefer Offshore Co. turned $500 million in profits, cementing his reputation as a savvy entrepreneur and giving him time and money to devote to his passion for education.

But in pursuing that passion, especially when it comes to public higher education, Sandefer has sometimes been more wildcatter than cautious player. And lately, the results haven't been pretty.

Sandefer-flavored policies embraced by Republican Gov. Rick Perry and some members of the governing boards of the University of Texas and Texas A&M University figure prominently in a debate over the future of higher education in the state.

Critics of those policies, including some lawmakers, alumni and leaders in civic and business affairs, say philanthropic support, faculty recruiting and the national standing of the state's universities are at risk. Even some GOP stalwarts, such as Peter O'Donnell Jr., a Perry contributor and major donor to UT-Austin, are crying foul.

At the root of the controversy are several "breakthrough solutions" outlined by Sandefer and endorsed by Perry at a summit of public university governing boards held by the governor three years ago. Among the recommendations: award bonus pay to teachers based strictly on student evaluations, put more emphasis on teaching productivity and less on research, split budgets into separate amounts for research and teaching, and treat students like customers.

The A&M System adopted Sandefer's bonus-pay model and assigned red or black numbers to faculty members based on how much money they cost and how much they bring in. That drew an embarrassing rebuke in October from the Association of American Universities.

In recent months, Gene Powell, chairman of the UT regents, and Perry have drawn fire from the Longhorn faithful for actions and pronouncements that seemed to take pages from Sandefer's lesson plan. The governor is pushing regents to freeze tuition for four years and to develop bachelor's degree programs costing no more than $10,000 — a price point that would require a substantial online component, which Sandefer predicts is part of a coming "tsunami" of higher education reform.

Powell, elected chairman by fellow regents after the governor's office signaled its wishes, hired an adviser to the regents, Rick O'Donnell (no relation to Peter O'Donnell Jr.), who previously was president of one of Sandefer's charitable foundations, an adviser to another and, like Sandefer, a critic of much academic research. O'Donnell was later dismissed when he charged that officials were suppressing a list of costs and revenues for each teacher at the UT System's nine academic campuses.

Another sign of Sandefer's behind-the-scenes role: Emails, released under the Texas Public Information Act, indicate that he knew Alex Cranberg and Wallace Hall would be appointed to the UT board weeks before the governor's office made a public announcement.

Last week , in a rare interview, Sandefer denied having a role in the governor's selection of Cranberg, Hall and another UT regent, Brenda Pejovich, who, like Sandefer, is on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that helped organize the governor's May 2008 summit for regents.

"That's the governor's job," Sandefer said of the appointments. "That's not my job."

Asked whether he provided advice on the appointments to Perry, to whom he has given more than $400,000 in campaign contributions since 2000, he demurred. Ω

[Haurwitz has been with the Austin American-Statesman since March 1993 and has been covering higher education since February 2004. Before coming to Texas, he was a copy editor and environmental writer for The Pittsburgh Press. He has received several awards, including honors from the Texas Headliners Foundation, the Press Club of Dallas, and the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors.]
[2]Back To Directory
Regents In Texas Push Ideas That Do Lasting Damage To Higher Education
By Thomas G. Palaima

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Unless you have been living on another planet, you know that the University of Texas and Texas A&M University have been targets of criticism. The criticism ramped up in 2008 when Governor Rick Perry orchestrated a closed-door "educational summit" involving the UT Board of Regents. There, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and retired U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey aired their views on our state's two flagship research-oriented universities.

At A&M, according to Armey, "only 49 out of 3,000 faculty members brought in enough money to pay for their salaries and overhead over the past five years." Departments should tell students what their starting salaries will be if they major in their fields. Perry wants bachelor's degrees to cost $10,000 or less.

No matter what motives or animus inspire such borderline crackpot ideas, they have to be taken seriously, because the governor is behind them and he appoints the regents. The regents, in turn, appoint university presidents. The presidents serve without fixed terms at the pleasure of the regents. They can, that is, be fired at any time.

Faculty senates at A&M and UT Austin are virtually powerless. According to regents' rules, faculty serve purely advisory roles.

That explains why regents in Texas have done such harm to higher education. We do not have trustees who are entrusted to safeguard what professional scholars, teachers, researchers and educational administrators create. We have political appointees who act like kings.

Between 1919 and 1943, Regent Luther [sic — Read about Lutcher Stark here.] Stark made UT, according to Ronnie Dugger, his "outstanding hobby." Stark devised in 1923 the regental rule "that no infidel, atheist, or agnostic be employed in any capacity in the University of Texas, and no person who does not believe in God as the Supreme Being and the Ruler of the Universe shall hereafter be employed."

Stark also opined that "the president of the University of Texas occupies the position to the board of regents as a general manager of a corporation does to its board of directors."

On May 9, William Powers Jr., the general manager of UT, said, "I am a president." He presented "A Report to the Commission of 125 and the University of Texas Community," available at this site.

Powers explains the arduous labors of citizens and enlightened leaders of our state over 128 years to achieve the constitutional mandate that UT be a university of the first class. He shows that the faculty, staff, students and administrators of UT have never rested on their laurels, despite such deep cuts by the Legislature that state revenues may soon only cover 13 percent of the university's operating budget.

Powers' message conveys a sense of his commitment to excellence in undergraduate education, scholarship and research. It has the ring of Homer Rainey, who was fired by regents for refusing to fire faculty who had the temerity to teach New Deal economic policies.

Powers is too tactful and lawyerly to say what I will say. Who are these people who, without a serious understanding of higher education, would denigrate over 100 years of hard work of so many men and women devoted to the pursuit of knowledge at the highest level for the benefit of society? Why in a democracy should members of a self-created partisan think tank be given exclusive access to present their views to regents who are themselves political appointees of a like-minded governor? Who in their right mind would define the worth of a professor of the history of religion, of Arabic languages, of African American music, of the art of Latin America, based on the money they bring in?

The saddest moment of all preceded Powers' speech. In introducing student government president Natalie Butler, Kenny Jastrow, head of the Commission of 125 and former chair of Temple-Inland, invited the audience to applaud her courage for writing a letter to the Board of Regents about these issues.

What have we come to in our democracy if writing a letter of opinion to fellow citizens entrusted with a public duty is considered an act of courage? Ω

[Thomas G. Palaima is the Raymond F. Dickson Centennial Professor and the founding director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1980. As an undergraduate, Palaimae attended Boston College and graduated B.A. (Mathematics and Classics) in 1973. He received a MacArthur fellowship (1985-90) for work on Aegean scripts and joined the UT-Austin Classics Department in 1986. Palaima also has written extensively about Bob Dylan and his cultural influence.]

Copyright © 2011 Austin American-Statesman

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