MyEdu

MyEdu, a free online platform that helps students organize their classes and view career opportunities, has been acquired by Blackboard, a learning-management system from which the University is in the process of transitioning away from.

The UT System Board of Regents invested $10 million in a five-year agreement with MyEdu in 2011 to provide funding for the creation of new tools targeted toward UT institutions. MyEdu co-founder John Cunningham is the son of William Cunningham, former System chancellor and UT Austin president. The regents were aware of this connection at the time of the investment. A UT System press release said the agreement would be honored on a cost-free basis through September 2016 and there will be “no financial return to the UT System as a result of Blackboard’s acquisition.”

UT will transition from Blackboard to Canvas, a different learning management system, next fall. Brad Englert, UT chief information officer, said the University’s transition to Canvas will not be affected by Blackboard’s acquisition of MyEdu. 

Frank Lyman, chief product officer at MyEdu, said their decision to partner with Blackboard was not influenced by this impending transition. 

“The UT System has been very supportive of MyEdu doing what we can to help students,” Lyman said. “We were aware of [UT’s transition to Canvas], but I don’t think it concerned us necessarily. We had assurances from Blackboard that they had no intention of limiting MyEdu students at campuses with Blackboard.” 

Eighty percent of undergraduate students have MyEdu accounts according to the release. Lyman said MyEdu sought to establish a relationship with another company in the industry in order to expand their impact to a wider array of students. 

“We knew that we were doing some great things for students,” Lyman said. “We were looking for ways to really accelerate that. We had a lot of different conversations with partners and investors  …. [Blackboard] seemed to be the most compelling of all the options.” 

According to Lyman, MyEdu will be able to expand its existing functions by using tools and products provided by Blackboard.  

“One thing we’re very excited about is the fact that [Blackboard wants] us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Lyman said. “They want to keep it free for students and continue our approach to research and understanding how to help students.”

Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt said the services offered by MyEdu will help to strengthen Blackboard’s existing priorities. 

“Everyone is looking for ways to help more students obtain degrees more quickly,” Bhatt said in a statement. “MyEdu is highly complementary to our current solution set and will help us drive more value and a higher quality experience for learners and enable new paths to support student goals. This strengthens the focus we have on learner success, which is a big priority for us going forward.”

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University will be monitoring the acquisition closely to see what changes will take place.

MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno and Vice President Deepak Surana present to the UT System's Board of Regents in July.

Photo Credit: Will Crites-Krumm | Daily Texan Staff

MyEdu claims students support changes made by the company in the past year, but former student leaders doubt the changes are beneficial or worth the $10 million the UT System invested in the company. 

At the UT System regents meeting earlier this month, MyEdu showcased new features providing career services to the company’s website. MyEdu executives cited student satisfaction in their short presentation, which elicited few comments from the regents, but the company’s new career services options may not be the best direction for students, said Michael Morton, former Senate of College Councils president and UT alumnus. 

"I haven’t really been impressed with MyEdu and their communication with students on what exactly they’ve changed in their product," Morton said. "There’s a long way to go in order for MyEdu to be an effective company."

In October, MyEdu began offering career services on its website, as well as a “student profile” service. In an interview with The Daily Texan, Frank Lyman, chief product officer at MyEdu, said the profile gives students a place to showcase their skills to employers.

The partnership between UT and MyEdu began in 2011, when the UT System made a $10 million investment into MyEdu, a website that helps college students select their courses and professors online. John Cunningham, one of the company’s founders, is the son of former UT-Austin President and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham. The UT System Board of Regents were aware of the connection when the investment was made.

“MyEdu has always been an academic platform that helps students plan and succeed in college,” Lyman said. “What we recognized is that for a lot of students, the goal was really broader than just their academic success.”

However, Morton and former Student Government President Thor Lund both said they were concerned with MyEdu’s new focus on connecting students with employers. While in office, Lund and Morton were the only student members on UT’s MyEdu steering committee. 

“It presents a lot of ethical dilemmas when there’s a partnership between the UT System and MyEdu if students’ information is being giving to employers,” Morton said. “It really presents a lot of questions regarding what information is being used and how employers are having their jobs targeted toward students.”

The committee, also made up of faculty and staff members, meets with MyEdu representatives every month during the regular semesters to discuss ideas and issues with the company’s product. 

Lund said MyEdu’s job matching service is not the best place for UT students to find jobs. Lund pointed out that there are already Career Services offices and job fairs offered on campus.

“I don’t think that’s how the job process should go,” Lund said. “I don’t think people should be picked out for jobs based on what activities they’ve been in or how they did in certain classes. I think each person is a unique case, and you can’t judge them based on an online profile.”

Not all members of the steering committee share these concerns. Brad Englert, UT chief information officer and head of the steering committee, said students can choose not to use MyEdu if they do not want to use the service.

“We’re all for students getting jobs,” Englert said. “I’m not sure what the concerns would be, but you opt into it. It’s not that you’re required to use it.”

Englert said more than 90 percent of UT-Austin students have a MyEdu account.

The company also made changes to its professor review feature. Previously, the website allowed students to write both positive and negative reviews of professors and rate them on a five-star scale. According to Lyman, MyEdu removed the negative reviews and star-ratings as part of the company’s decision to move to an objective review method. Lyman said the site now offers questionnaires about professors’ classes.

“We changed our professor [review] model to a recommendation model,” Lyman said. “Every semester, we do a customer satisfaction survey with all of our students across the country. I specifically looked at the UT-Austin feedback for the April survey and there were zero negative comments around professor reviews and recommendations.” 

However, Lund said the company’s previous professor review system better served UT students.

“The reason I go to MyEdu is because I want to know how a professor teaches,” Lund said. “If they really wanted to be a successful company, they would bring back honest professor reviews. But for some reason, the company has decided that they’re a job hunting company.”

Michael Redding, former Graduate Student Assembly president, also expressed his frustrations with the company. Redding said while serving as GSA president, his attempts to contact MyEdu representatives about expanding the company’s services to graduate students were unsuccessful.

“My impression was that they weren’t very responsive when it came to working with students,” Redding said.

In a March letter to Rep. Roberto Alonzo, R-Dallas, Redding called the company an “unproven system.” Shortly after, he received an email from MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno regarding his comments. Redding shared the email exchange with The Daily Texan.

“We have worked very hard over the last year to build a partnership with all the System campuses and especially UT Austin,” Crosno wrote in the email. “Hopefully, you will take the time to learn more about what we are doing at UT Austin to work cooperatively with the administration, students and faculty.”

According to Crosno’s email, Crosno discussed Redding’s comments with UT Provost Steven Leslie.

“That was something that I’ve never seen before: The CEO of a company calling me out for calling his company out,” Redding said.

Lyman said Crosno always takes an interest with any student public opinion on MyEdu. 

“In this case he reached out to Michael Redding to invite him to lunch and try and better understand his thoughts on MyEdu,” Lyman said.

Redding and Crosno were unable to schedule a meeting with each other. 

“None of the other student leaders I have worked with like MyEdu,” Redding said. “I would definitely say that it is not the case that students, at least the elected student representatives at UT-Austin, like it.”

Responding to Lund, Morton and Redding, Lyman cited a MyEdu survey that found 96 percent of UT students surveyed expressed satisfaction with the company’s product.

“That suggests to me that most students are really pleased with what we are doing,” Lyman said.

In the future, Morton said the UT System must find a new way to make its partnership with MyEdu more beneficial to students since it now cannot take back its investment, 

“I can think of about 10 million areas that are better spent for the $10 million,” Morton said. “But you have to move forward. The money is spent. If [MyEdu and the UT System] can find a way that will improve how students find the courses that they need, and how they plan for their four years at the University, then that’s the key.”

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno and Vice President Deepak Surana present to the UT System's Board of Regents in July.

Photo Credit: Will Crites-Krumm | Daily Texan Staff

While a presentation from MyEdu’s executives to the UT System’s Board of Regents elicited a positive response from the Regents on Thursday, some UT students are not pleased with the changes in MyEdu and the direction the company has taken since the system invested $10 million in 2011.

Michael Crosno, MyEdu chairman and CEO, and Deepak Surana, a vice president at the company, showcased the website’s student profile feature to the Board. MyEdu, previously a website that helped students pick professors and make schedules, now also doubles as a career search service for students. 

The student profile allows employers to interactively view multiple aspects of students, such as their skill set, work experience, coursework, interests, projects and more. At the meeting, Crosno and Surana said MyEdu allows students and employers to connect earlier and more efficiently.

“What MyEdu has always been about is helping kids succeed in college. We really focused in on how we can bring in jobs,” Cronso said. “This is a marketplace that puts supply and demand together.”

The UT System formed a partnership with MyEdu in 2011 and invested $10 million into the company. MyEdu was co-founded by John Cunningham, son of former UT president and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham.

While asking the MyEdu representatives questions, UT Regent Wallace Hall spoke highly of MyEdu.

“I’m really excited about what y’all have created,” Hall said.

But despite Hall's positive reaction to the presentation, some students said they feel the company is no longer representing students’ best interests. Former Student Government President and engineering senior Thor Lund, said the UT System should end its partnership with MyEdu. Lund, who served on a UT steering committee for MyEdu last semester, said the UT System does not benefit from MyEdu’s new focus on careers.

“There’s no one size fits all solution for the UT System. We have Career Services. We don’t need this website to take our information and basically sell it to employers,” Lund said. “I’m not impressed with the way MyEdu runs their business. You can learn a lot about somebody based on an online profile, but that’s not how you get jobs.”

MyEdu also allows students to post reviews of the professors they have taken classes with, but a star rating system the company previously used is gone. Instead, students write simple written responses to professors. Lund said balanced teacher reviews would make the site a worthwhile investment for the UT System.

“If a professor doesn’t teach a class well, then I think students should know that,” Lund said. “If they had honest and truthful reviews, both bad and good, then I think [MyEdu] would be of great value.”

Thursday’s regents' meeting also saw the introduction of new board members, Ernest Aliseda and Jeffrey Hildebrand. Hildebrand was not present at the meeting. The meeting was also the first for communications studies senior Nash Horne, the recently appointed student regent.

Also at the meeting, UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. announced the new Center for Latin American Law at the University will be named in honor of former U.S. Senator and UT alumnus Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

The Board also approved an $8 million repository for the Blanton Museum of Art. The repository will be funded by gifts to the University.

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

As students plan their schedules for another semester and navigate the often stressful registration process, they use the variety of course-planning tools at their disposal. They book advising appointments, consult degree audits and cobble together schedules. For help with that process, many turn to MyEdu, a website founded in 2008 that centralizes scheduling, degree planning, professor reviews and academic advising in one online platform.

In 2011 the UT System Board of Regents invested $10 million in MyEdu, ostensibly in an attempt to provide a more efficient and easy-to-use means of planning for graduation.

The investment was in the news for months following the initial announcement, and debate swirled over whether it was worthwhile — especially juxtaposed against the regents’ other, more austere measures, like the 2012 refusal to allow UT-Austin a modest tuition raise. At the time of the investment, UT President William Powers Jr., said that it “was a decision of the board, not a decision of the campus,” and that he would have spent the money differently.

In response, the UT System released a statement describing the investment as “a literal ‘gift’ from the Board of Regents directly to the 211,000 students matriculating in the system’s institutions.”

In the time since, the furor has died down. In an interview with The Daily Texan, Powers said that “the MyEdu people have been extremely responsive to the campus needs ... The working relationship between us and the MyEdu people has been very cooperative.” When asked about the comment he made to the contrary in 2011, he said, “That’s history, and I would like to move ahead and say, ‘How can we move forward in a positive way?’”

However, the question remains — was the regents’ investment justified? And has it turned out as helpful to students as it was promised to be?

The numbers show that since the investment, MyEdu has surged in popularity at UT. According to Frank Lyman, MyEdu’s chief product officer, roughly 90,000 students across the UT System use MyEdu today, compared to under 40,000 before 2011. UT-Austin specifically has shown a similar but less dramatic surge; 90 percent of the undergraduate population uses the website now compared to 75 percent before. Clearly, the partnership between UT and MyEdu has benefited MyEdu.

Michael Morton, former UT Senate of College Councils president, has a less positive view of the collaboration. “I don’t think it’s benefited UT students much at all,” Morton says. “From a student perspective, you’re not getting anything different than you had prior to the deal.”

MyEdu executives dispute that claim; Lyman points to the new sections of the website devoted to job searches and student profiles to attract potential employers. “We have about 20 current employers who are connecting with students on the MyEdu platform,” Lyman says. “We also scrape hundreds of thousands of jobs from around the web and suggest them to students based on things they put in their profile.”

However, one metric suggests that for the vast majority of users, the changes since the collaboration began have not been quite as revolutionary as MyEdu supporters predicted. The job search and career profile sections of the website, while expanding, still only comprise respectively 12 and 5 percent of the site’s traffic. The rest of the site’s users mostly stick to the professor reviews and scheduling features, which, while extremely useful, were freely available before 2011. They’re also easily accessible outside of MyEdu — RateMyProfessors.com and Google Calendar offer similar services, although anyone using them would have to endure the inconvenience of opening two separate tabs.

It’s impossible to quantify whether the collaboration will markedly improve four-year graduation rates as promised. But the question of whether the University should have partnered with MyEdu is easier to answer.

UT is welcome to invest its money in a wide variety of companies and enterprises, including online education aids like MyEdu. Based on the success the company has shown in increasing its foothold across the UT System, it’s proven to be a profitable venture. However, the regents’ unusually direct investment — which bypassed the University’s investment company — and enthusiastic hype for MyEdu overstate the partnership’s benefits to UT students. MyEdu is a useful tool, and its popularity among the student population is a credit to its functionality. But to the average student registering for courses this spring, it has not yet become the $10 million “gift” that was promised.

For his part, President Powers prefers to let the issue lie. “If the point of your inquiry is, ‘was the original investment worthwhile,’” he said, “that’s in the past and I’d like to focus on moving forward.”

For a public official, the appearance of a conflict of interest often drains public trust as irrevocably as a verified one. Gene Powell’s undisclosed connection to Vanguard, the company the UT System Board of Regents chose in September to build a new children’s hospital partnering with the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at San Antonio, presents just such a damaging appearance.

At a specially called meeting last month, Powell, the Board of Regents chairman, oversaw the selection of Vanguard Health Systems to build a $350 million children’s hospital in San Antonio. The hospital will partner with UTHSC-San Antonio, so the Board of Regents was charged with choosing the firm to build the hospital. As chairman, Powell doesn’t vote in board matters along with the other 10 regents, but he presided over the meeting and failed to reveal to many participants that a company called AirStrip Technologies that he co-founded with his son, Dr. Cameron Powell, has a pending business deal with Vanguard. That detail about Vanguard, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company, emerged in an article published Sunday, Dec. 2 by John Tedesco in the San Antonio Express-News, almost one month after the regents made their choice.

As a defense, Powell’s lawyer, Mark Murray, told the Express-News, “When you’re simply presiding over a discussion of others, I’m not sure I would have thought to make that announcement.” The Express-News said Powell “was listed as chairman of AirStrip, and [was] until recently, when the San Antonio Express-News began asking questions about the company.” Subsequent to the newspaper’s prying, AirStrip, which makes smartphone applications for doctors, removed Powell’s biography from the company website.

Francie Frederick, general counsel to the Board of Regents, said Texas law did not require Powell to announce his connection or to recuse himself from the meeting; the Texas Education Code says board members need to disclose a conflict if they have a “substantial interest” in a company seeking to do business with an institution of higher education.

Because Powell is not paid by Vanguard, does not own stock and is not employed by the company, his connection is not a “substantial interest,” according to Frederick. Frederick’s argument pales in comparison to the appearance of a conflict of interest, sloppiness or obfuscation on Powell’s part, which resulted when he failed to act with an abundance of caution and disclose the potential conflict..

The episode is reminiscent of another father-son Board of Regents potential conflict of interest that occurred this time last year, when the UT System Board of Regents took a $10 million stake in MyEdu, a website that collects and makes available to students information about professors and courses at public institutions like UT. The regents claimed the costly investment would improve graduation rates by allowing students — consumers, in their view — to make more informed choices about the courses they selected during registration. More to this point, MyEdu was co-founded by John Cunningham, the son of William Cunningham, a former chancellor of the UT System and president of UT-Austin. William Cunningham invested $175,000 in MyEdu.

Anthony de Bruyn, then a UT System spokesman, wrote at the time in an email to the online news site Inside Higher Ed, “There are no conflicts-of-interest … The vice chancellor and general counsel to the system and the general counsel to the board are responsible for vetting possible conflicts for members of the Board of Regents. In this case, there were no conflicts of interest. Texas law was precisely followed.”

Considering their biographies and professions, it is no surprise the 10 regents have regular run-ins with potential conflicts between their board duties and corporate interests.

In recent years, the UT regents have held out their corporate backgrounds as evidence to bolster their constant drumbeat that universities should be run more like businesses, that college students should make registration and major decisions as if they were consumers and that professors at public institutions should be held accountable for their work product as if they were corporate employees. Many Texans support that line of thinking if only because it pledges to be in the interest of lowering college costs. Many UT students admire the regents’ line of thinking, too. From their freshman year, UT students are made to stand in awe of the job-guaranteeing McCombs School of Business, an outpost of the regents’ cherished principles of efficiency and accountability, and seek jobs as seniors with the most desirable corporate brands. At the same time that they demand efficiency, accountability and promote corporate culture, the regents appear to take advantage of their power as public servants to advance their personal business and financial interests. This, some might reasonably argue, happened with Powell and the selection of Vanguard, causing him as a UT System leader to lose his integrity and credibility.

Transparency calls for disclosing a potential conflict of interest. In this case, there was no good reason for Powell to keep quiet about his connection, however removed, to Vanguard, when the regents were awarding the company $350 million to build yet another UT System hospital.

MyEdu announced its student profile Wednesday morning, which will help students connect with potential employers (Photo courtesy of MyEdu).

Coinciding with a restructuring of UT’s career services on campus, MyEdu.com will now help students in the hunt for jobs and internships.

The online higher education platform launched an overhaul of its website Wednesday morning and introduced “the student profile,” designed to connect students with potential employers. Students can search for jobs and internships, while employers can search for candidates who are matches for their company.

“Our mission is to help students get a better return on higher education,” said Frank Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu. “After a couple of years of doing a lot to help students on the academic side, we are now adding this career aspect.”

Last year, the UT system invested $10 million in the online platform. MyEdu executive board member John Cunningham is the son of former UT President and UT System Chancellor William Cunningham.

Previously, MyEdu was a tool students could use to plan out their schedules for years in advance. The website has course data collected from more than 800 institutions, and Lyman said the scheduling service helps students graduate on time and save money. The scheduling service is still a part of MyEdu’s website, but now students can create a profile that shows their interests, skills and abilities.

Lyman said MyEdu spent a lot of time talking to students and trying to figure out what kind of services they were not receiving. He said many students wanted help finding careers and internships.

“What we are trying to accomplish is help students tell their story uniquely,” Lyman said. “The resume is a piece of paper, and everything interesting about a student is in one line at the bottom.”

The student profile will allow students to create an interactive resume where they show their work experience, volunteer hours, passion, skills, dream job, Facebook and twitter accounts, projects and more.

MyEdu’s new service coincides with UT’s establishment of the University Career Interview and Recruiting Center, which will oversee each college’s career services. The center was announced last spring.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Faculty, said having multiple career services across campus that were not overseen by one center made it confusing for employers who were trying to find an entry point to the University.

“We also felt that some of our students were not being served as well as we’d like them to be,” Ritter said. “Some of the smaller schools may not have as many resources.”

Ritter and Brad Englert, UT’s chief information officer, help lead the implementation effort for MyEdu on campus. Englert said this center will encourage students to use MyEdu’s student profile.

“I think they’re going to coordinate multiple tools to help students,” Englert said. “MyEdu is one of the tools in the toolbox. It is something that can be used.”

Ritter said UT System officials have been working with MyEdu since the company approached them about the idea of a student profile.

“It’s been something that has been refined through extensive dialogue between the company, the system, the regents and the campuses,” Ritter said.

Englert said the UT System responded very positively to MyEdu’s intial presentation of the student profile.

Lyman, senior vice president of products and marketing at MyEdu, said MyEdu will work with career service officers across the nation to ensure they understand what the new student profile can do for students.

“Career services uses a lot of different tools to help students,” Lyman said. “Our hope is that this will be another tool career services will recommend to students.”

MyEdu is a free service for students, and the company said Wednesday it will always remain free.

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: MyEdu evolves to include career services for students

The interactive degree planning site MyEdu will offer daily updates on course availability, user profiles and a mobile app in time for Monday’s registration.

As the University works with the site, more features will be added as a result of the UT System’s $10 million partnership with MyEdu that began on October 18. Frank Lyman, MyEdu senior vice president of marketing and business development, said discussions with the UT campuses influenced the creation of the features.

Course availability will be updated on MyEdu’s website at midnight each evening, which Lyman said will make planning a schedule easier and more reliable. While the system does not update in real time, developers are considering implementing the feature, Lyman said.

He said the creation of academic profiles stemmed from student interest in sharing and knowing more about their academic community.

“[Students] said who I am on Facebook might be different from who I want to be academically,” Lyman said.

This feature contains a question and answer section that Lyman said he hopes faculty will utilize to answer class questions.

Some faculty members are concerned about MyEdu’s comments and ratings section that allows users to evaluate individual instructors. Lyman said this section will remain, along with another feature that is expected to launch at the end of April that will match students’ preferred learning methods to the teaching styles of faculty members.

“How do we provide the same [feature] in a way that’s more fair and objective?” Lyman said.

The MyEdu app is available for any mobile browser, which includes information on courses and campus buildings, Lyman said. He said students can use it for different functions like finding building hours or forming study groups.

Psychology senior Stephanie Holloway said before she used MyEdu she would have to create a spreadsheet to plan her schedule, since she thought UT’s registration system was confusing.

Holloway said the University’s Interactive Degree Audit is better for long-term planning, but she uses MyEdu to manage course loads. However, she said she dislikes how students use some of the site’s other features.

“I’m not the kind of student who looks for the easiest class,” Holloway said. “It seems like it’s being kind of abused. I’m looking for teaching style and effective teaching. I would use it to see a nice visualization of ‘what am I stacking on top of myself this semester?’”

Vice provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield serves as the co-chair of the University’s MyEdu steering team, which includes several students and faculty members. Stanfield said MyEdu’s graduation roadmap is like a sketch pad, whereas the Interactive Degree Audit is like a more detailed planning device. He said the team’s main objective is to explore how the two systems can work together.

“We can say, ‘here’s how you can get maximum benefit,’” Stanfield said. “You can use these in a complementary fashion.”

Version 2.0 of the audit rolled out March 21 with what Stanfield described as a much more enhanced user interface.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure improvements,” Stanfield said. “It sets the stage for future features that we’re going to plug into the degree audit.”

Stanfield said the steering team has met twice, but plans to start meeting bi-weekly to further examine the features that MyEdu can offer the University.

“It’s very much still evolving,” Stanfield said.

The UT System has invested $10 million in MyEdu, a commercial business providing students information — and maybe advice — about the choices they make in working toward an academic degree. The information MyEdu relies on, as its senior vice president told The Daily Texan, comes from public sources and from “key university contacts.”

So why is anyone questioning a program that seeks to help students complete a satisfactory college career? Here’s why: MyEdu is a profit-making enterprise and owes its first duty to stockholders not to students. Many kinds of profit-making enterprises seek students as customers. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a problem comes when a public university takes a position as a stockholder in an enterprise engaging in activities where the university has a first duty to students.

It is no answer to this problem to say that MyEdu wants to help students just as much as does the university. It does not. If MyEdu says it can help students find an “easy” course and the University would like to explain why a hard course might be more worthwhile in the long run, there is conflict. MyEdu’s first duty is to its stockholders, and if MyEdu gains a bigger database of students to sell to advertisers by listing easy courses, it has a duty under corporate law to do just that.

Second, the University should not play favorites among competing businesses. If the University were not providing anything to MyEdu, the only issue would be whether the University should be offering the service itself rather than opening its students to the commercial market place. But if UT decided to defer to the market, companies should compete on equal terms. No favorites. No one company getting access to “key contacts.” No $10 million of UT funds invested in a company headed by the son of a former UT System chancellor, who may himself have a financial stake in the enterprise.

Francis D. Fisher
Senior Research Fellow, LBJ School

From the controversy surrounding the UT System’s investment in MyEdu to registration woes, the following quotes are among the best from the last few days.

“We don’t have enough faculty — that’s the bottom line.”
— Hillary Hart, senior lecturer in the department of civil engineering, on one of the main reasons why students struggle to register for classes they need, according to The Daily Texan.

“Information, especially in the technical fields, becomes obsolete, but inspiration lasts a lifetime.”
— Brent Iverson, professor and chairman of the Department of Chemistry, according to an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman. Iverson, a recipient of the 2011 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards and one of the most highly-rated professors on campus, calls to question the pressures to separate teaching and researching at universities.

“[The UT System’s deal with MyEdu] is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of successful rent-seeking in the public sector (although laypeople might use a less felicitous term than rent-seeking). This blog needs a contest for the most outrageous example of this behavior, and this is my entry into that contest.”
— Economics professor Daniel Hamermesh in an entry to the popular Freakonomics blog, of which he is a frequent contributor. Rent seeking is when private companies seek a chunk of the economic pie without adding any value by manipulating political outcomes. Hamermesh cites the connection between MyEdu’s senior vice president John Cunningham and his father William Cunningham, former UT president and UT System chancellor and current business professor, as well as MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno’s ties to Gov. Rick Perry, as justification for labeling the ordeal as rent seeking.

“We are not a company ‘loaded’ with ‘Perry backers’ nor have I ever served on a Perry finance committee, as has been alleged. My passion is education and I have no involvement with politics of any kind. In fact, our company is loaded with people for whom education is a passion, and it is unfair to all of us who spend endless hours working to help students to misrepresent who we are as part of some larger political agenda.”
— MyEdu CEO Michael Crosno in an op-ed to the Austin American-Statesman. Crosno comes to the defense of his company, which is the recipient of a much-maligned $10 million investment from the UT System. Crosno said the first meetings between the company and the system was “prompted by students” and assured that students control “how they share the information.”  

Allow us to introduce ourselves as three recent UT graduates who are loud-and-proud — and non-“Perry backing” — employees of MyEdu. Whether it is through familiar channels including Facebook, Twitter and email or even old-school telephone calls and face-to-face conversations, we interact with thousands of students who utilize MyEdu to benefit their academic careers. Using words such as “indispensible” and “the best thing to come out since sliced bread,” these students are not simply looking for the “easiest” professors or for A’s. They rely on MyEdu to help navigate the bumpy path to earning a degree and overcome academic setbacks. Recent articles and commentary fail to see the big picture and facts surrounding MyEdu’s partnership with the UT System. Yes, education is in a crisis. Thankfully, the UT System Board of Regents recognizes that future success requires radical change. Kudos to the regents for stepping up to the plate and doing something about it. Time will tell, but we know they made the right choice. We are excited that our alma mater is a part of a system that is dedicated to helping students. It is an incredible advantage to be three of the few people who actually know how and why this start-up company formed. And there is something special about being a part of all the hard work and decisions that motivates us to fulfill our mission of improving students’ college journey in a revolutionary way.

April Bennett, Kristina Jakstas and Jeremy Rachel are MyEdu employees and UT alumni.