Phi Beta Cons

How to Keep the Lid On

Texas and Alabama legislatures want to put regents in their place.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley used a classic ploy to keep a tight lid on the city. When a problem arose, he created a blue-ribbon commission to look into it—getting himself off the hook and kicking the problem down the road.

Now, the legislatures of two states, Texas and Alabama, are trying another classic control technique: “training.” New laws (one is still pending) will require the states’ university governors to learn about their proper roles, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The author of the Texas bill is Senator Judith Zaffirini, who told IHE that the Texas regents need to know that they “have a limited role. An important and high-level role, but it is restricted to governance.” In other words, don’t micromanage our universities.

Texas universities have been in a turmoil ever since regents discovered that the law school dean was giving faculty secret forgivable loans; then, they learned that legislators using political clout to obtain university admissions for favored constituents, and gradually they forced out the president of UT-Austin. In Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham tried to eliminate its football team, but, under pressure from legislatures, rescinded its decision.

And who will do this training? It isn’t clear, but probably the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). In spite of its name, that is an association run by presidents of universities, who will tell trustees what they can and cannot do. Not so likely a choice is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which actually defends the role of trustees as the conscience of a public university.

Jane S. ShawJane 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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