Overview: Alumni voice support, ASU plays role in UT refrom

AddThis

Alumni voice support

Since the Board of Regents hired controversial politico Rick O’Donnell in February, the outcry from various alumni, both organizations and individuals, has been tremendous. The Texas Exes alumni association, along with several prominent individuals, including substantial University donors, voiced opposition to several of the “reforms” proposed by O’Donnell and others associated with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a local think tank. Specifically, alumni have reiterated their belief that the University’s research goals are a vital part of its core mission.

What makes that support especially noteworthy is the broad base from which that support has come. Earlier this month, several business leaders came together to form Texas Business for Higher Education, an organization that includes several contributors to Gov. Rick Perry’s previous campaigns. The group has come out in support of the University’s research mission; spokesman Justin Keener told the Austin American-Statesman that the organization opposes separating research and teaching budgets.

Last month, Richard Leshin, president of the Texas Exes alumni association, sent an email titled “Call to Action” to more than 200,000 alumni in which he asked alumni to keep voicing support for the University against the much-publicized reforms. Other big-name alumni, such as Red McCombs and Gordon Appleman, have also come out against what many see as corrupting and coercive pressures emanating from the governor’s office.

We hope that this renewed support for the University will persist even now that O’Donnell has been removed. The University still faces a potential $63 million reduction in state funding. So please, alumni, stay late and be loud.

ASU plays role in UT reform debate

The UT System hired Sandra Woodley on Thursday as vice chancellor for strategic initiatives to replace Rick O’Donnell.

Woodley was formerly the chief financial officer of the Arizona State University Board of Regents, a system which implemented many of the higher education “reforms” O’Donnell champions, such as a focus on classroom teaching over research and the expansion of online learning.

We thought the regents were listening to UT alumni, students and administrators when O’Donnell left his position, but by replacing him with an official whose background indicates the same type of approach O’Donnell advocates and the University community united to oppose, they tell us the route is the same — we just have a different driver.

Two weeks ago, UT student body President Natalie Butler visited ASU with two UT regents and several system officials to analyze whether UT could adapt some of ASU’s methods for university efficiency and online learning. Upon returning, Butler published an open letter claiming UT should not try to emulate ASU, stating the school is defined by “its high degree of inclusiveness and ability to manufacture a significant number of degrees at a low cost.”

We applaud Butler for her willingness both to protect research and to publicly state a position knowingly opposed by the Board of Regents. Some UT and ASU officials, however, were not as pleased.

According to The Daily Texan, Butler received an email last week from ASU president Michael Crow questioning her understanding of the ASU model. Shortly after, ASU spokesman Virgil Renzulli expressed a similar sentiment publicly, claiming Butler “misunderstood our quality level.”

It was a predictable move: Butler criticizes the academic quality of ASU, so ASU administrators circle the wagons to defend their turf.
What happened next, however, is neither expected nor admirable. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa wrote Crow and, in addition to thanking him for hosting UT emissaries, apologized for Butler’s letter.

Instead of simply stating that Butler adds an interesting perspective to the reform discussion, Cigarroa asserted that her views are not those of the UT System and claims the intent of the visit was not to compare the two universities. With his letter, the Chancellor undermines Butler’s observations in the same breath that he claims to value the “process of involving student government.”

So much for a burnt orange nation; apparently UT students can’t even count on their chancellor’s support.