Monday’s higher education hearing featured a long-awaited public dialogue between Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, and the Legislature, which has been less than exuberant about the board’s behavior under the San Antonio-based businessman. Powell’s biggest critic, State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has made it no secret that the creation of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency was born out of a perceived threat to the direction and reputation of public universities in Texas.
Last spring featured widely-circulated rumors about the contentious state of Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s job. Powell, knowing that he would have to address the rumors, put on a display of brown-nosing-turned-brown-facing for the Legislature, plugging the brilliance and unanimous support of Cigarroa and his Framework for Advancing Excellence with the persistence that ESPN plugs The Longhorn Network.
Powell conceded some mistakes in the handling of the higher education controversy, including hiring Rick O’Donnell, a former senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
However, Powell — though he swore off metaphors after receiving backlash comparing degrees from various universities to different cars last spring — compared the debate to preparing Thanksgiving dinner. He implied that too many people focused on the messy and chaotic kitchen rather than the finished product.
What Powell fails to realize, however, is that the controversy was not born out of an aversion to the messy kitchen of healthy debate, but rather a fundamental mistrust of misguided and agenda-driven chefs.
We hope that the hearing serves as a reminder to our regents to act on the best interest of the students and universities. After all, we want a Cadillac-like turkey for Thanksgiving — not a Chevrolet Bel-Air-like quail.