Phi Beta Cons

All Eyes on Texas

Last fall, Texas A&M alarmed the higher-education establishment by measuring the costs of its academic departments — it compared faculty salaries with the revenues earned from student tuition and research grants. By making the costs explicit, the university broke the unwritten rule that students, parents, and taxpayers should simply trust American universities (the “envy of the world”) to spend state money efficiently.

In the Lone Star State, it looks as though that was just the beginning. According to Paul Burka of the Texas Monthly, Texas governor Rick Perry is “waging an undeclared war on higher education.” Burka reports that Perry has engaged the Texas Public Policy Foundation to write a “blueprint” for overhauling higher education: “The objectives are accountability, transparency, and productivity.”

Burka is shocked. He’s a solid reporter (also a solid liberal), but he must have been covering other beats than higher education. The idea of imposing “accountability, transparency, and productivity” strikes him as a sucker punch. After all, he considers the University of Texas close to perfection. I kid you not. He writes:

It would come as news to many Texans that UT and A&M are in need of dramatic reforms. Both are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the nation’s most exclusive academic club, where membership is reserved for Tier One research institutions. In a recent U.S. News & World Report list of the best American universities, UT ranked forty-fifth (very high for a public university) and A&M sixty-third. If one applies the normal measures, these two schools rank among the best in the nation, public or private.

I’m not holding up US News as a reliable guide, but by most accounts, a ranking of 45th would be viewed as a little weak. Rankings aside, the thought that our public universities are untouchable should be out the window by now, even in Austin. Yet Burka thinks that Perry is just  “playing ideological politics with the state’s great learning institutions.”

We will see.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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