A&M chancellor makes sensible cuts to maintain research status

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John Sharp | A&M Chancelor

After the first month at his new post, Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp laid out his vision of how A&M can continue its role as a leading Texas research university.

Sharp said academic productivity can be achieved by making cuts in the right places. He said within universities’ bureaucratic system, research and education should always be the core purposes, rather than administrators.

In a plan recently released by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, he also supports expanded research efforts at UT institutions, and calls for better academic efficiency through increased graduation rates.

“Anyone who claims A&M isn’t a research organization has got it all wrong — I think maybe the system just hasn’t done good at tooting its horn,” Sharp said.

He said administrative positions like his own and other divisions that detract from the universities’ core purposes should experience budget cuts first. This would contrast the budget cuts to faculty and research that have occurred and have yet to improve productivity, Sharp said.

“We should be watching administration growth like a hawk,” he said. “It would be much different if the instructors were more in control.”

In an interview with The Daily Texan in August, UT budget director Mary Knight said UT has kept this strategy in mind when absorbing the most recent round of $46 million per year cuts to state funding.

“We’re trying to maintain the academic and research missions as much as possible and make cuts in other areas,” Knight said.

Evan Smith, the CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, hosted Sharp as part of the Texas Tribune’s ongoing series of conversations at the Austin Club.

“I’ve noticed a trend with political figures serving as chancellors, and I was interested in inviting Sharp and in what is behind that relationship,” Smith said.

“He’s really got a gift for articulating the education system.”

Sharp served as a U.S. representative from 1978-1982, as a senator in the Texas Senate from 1982-1986, and as the Texas comptroller of Public Accounts from 1990-1998. During his years as comptroller, he established programs credited by many with saving taxpayer money as well as the Texas Tomorrow Fund, now known as the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan. The plan has secured college educations for individuals in approximately 110,000 families.

As a result of nationwide budget cuts, a large number of public universities have been forced to increase tuition rates. Government senior Paul Theobald said he was interested in what the chancellor, a long-time political player, could do to ease the trend towards increased tuition.

“Even as a senior on the GI Bill, it’s still sad to see a lot of smart and hardworking people out there deserving of a good education, but who can’t get it because of time and money,” Theobald said. “The more educated people we have, the better functioning everything would be.”  

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Texas A&M lays out vision for academic productivity