Perry Grabs for Power in Higher Ed

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Who should make the decision of what is best for state colleges and universities–the institutions and their leaders, or Rick Perry? Should state institutions have the freedom to advocate for their needs, or can the governor dictate that they embrace and advocate his policies, even when those policies are not in their best interests?

You know where Perry stands. L’etat, c’est moi.

Perry’s senior advisor for higher education, Wayne Roberts, sent the following memo–designated as “high importance–to chancellors and presidents of all state universities as well as selected regents:

After the first day of testimony in the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Higher Education I’d like to make a request. Please formally endorse the Governor’s proposals on incentive funding, financial aid, nursing innovations, and greater budget clarity in the appropriations bill patterns. We need your support in testimony at all of the committees and in behind-the-scenes conversations with members. The Governor is not a fan of special items. Discussing them at length and requesting new ones in lieu of addressing the statewide needs proposed by the Governor has caused some concern. Thanks in advance for your consideration of this request.

Wayne R. Roberts
Senior Advisor for Higher Education
Office of the Governor

Folks, this governor has gone power-crazy. This is not going to stop with executive orders; now he expects university presidents to fall in line. Never mind that they disagree with much of what the governor wants to do. Incentive funding, for example, was a major topic at the subcommittee meeting, which I attended. The idea is to make funding dependent upon improving graduation rates and lowering the time it takes for students to get a degree. The problem, as president after president pointed out, that schools that serve inner-city and border populations have many students who are not full-time, who have to work and may drop out of school and return several times before getting their degrees. Incentive funding will penalize them. In fact, if a student goes to, say, UT-Brownsville for a couple of years and then transfers to UT-Austin and graduates, neither institution gets credit for that graduation and UT-Brownsville is charged with a dropout. The committee was stunned to hear this. The universities also opposed Perry’s idea to attach requirements to financial aid, so that if a student doesn’t maintain a 3.0 grade point average and carry a full load, he will have to start repaying the loan. Standards make loan programs very unattractive to students, particularly Hispanics, who, the testimony showed, are debt-averse. “Greater budget clarity” means that the governor wants appropriations to appear in line items, so that he can veto them. This used to be the bill pattern before Bill Clements vetoed some line items; now, appropriations are lump sums. For universities to advocate Perry’s changes is totally against their interests. Similarly, all universities have “special items,” which range from museums to innovative programs. Perry doesn’t favor them and the memo seeks to prevent universities from advocating them.

The bigger picture here is that the governor thinks he has the right to tell university presidents what policies they can and can’t support. The implied threat is if they testify otherwise, Perry can have them fired by boards of regents he appointed. This is a bad situation. The governor has no business telling university presidents what they can and cannot testify about or demanding that they march in lockstep with his policies. This could take us back to the bad old days, when Pappy O’Daniel’s regents fired UT president Homer Rainey and the university was blacklisted by the American Association of University Proferssors.

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