Senate to Universities: Be Careful What You Wish For
Fri May 4, 2007 6:50 pm

University of Texas honchos almost got more than they bargained for today when the Texas Senate debated Florence Shapiro's SB 101, which caps "top ten percent" admissions at 50 percent of a university's freshman class. Floor Amendment Number 8 added a painful twist: universities choosing to take advantage of the new admissions policy would have to submit to a tuition freeze. Ouch!

For this bit of legislative creativity, we give Tommy Williams our first "Carl Parker Amendment Award." The former senator from Port Arthur penned many, many wicked amendments in his day, including one regarding Eddie Lucio's failed attempt to fund as a state school a fledgling Valley law school with less-than-stellar academic credentials. Parker's amendment required any lawmaker who voted for the law school, and subsquently was indicted, to hire as defense counsel a graduate of said law school. (Thanks to David Sibley for reminding me this week of this bit of legislative genius.)

Faced with Williams' amendment, a sympathetic Shapiro, who has worked all session to craft a compromise with Royce West for her bill, urged her fellow senators not to use her bill to take out their frustrations at certain Boards of Regents. Alas, her motion to table failed, 17 to 10 (in the chamber; I'm told the number of senators voting "no" jumped to 21 after the vote was announced.) After heart-felt pleas from Shapiro and West, Williams, who has been b*tching about tuition deregulation all session, pulled down his amendment. Afterwards, he said he decided against forcing a tough vote on his colleagues when he knew it would die in the House.

Shapiro's bill gives the University of Texas the breathing room it needs for admissions: Without it, the University's entire freshman class would be filled with top ten percenters, with no wiggle room for exceptionally talented kids who fall short of top ten percent.

Other interesting amendments prompted good debates: Dan Patrick wanted to cut in half the number of out-of-state students admitted to state universities. Since out-of-state students account for about 8 percent of each entering class, Patrick's amendment would have capped out-of-state students at 4 percent of an entering freshman class. Kip Averitt wanted to know: will that cover all our athletes? But Rodney Ellis' question was more serious: How will this affect UT's standing in U.S. News and World Reports (and other) college rankings? "I don't know and I don't care. I care about Texas kids first," Patrick replied. Ellis replied, "When you are talking about something that will impact the ranking of Texas institutions, you ought to know and you ought to care." Ellis's point was all Texas kids suffered if Texas universities fell in prestige because of parochial admissions policies.

Steve Ogden added an amendment offering partial scholarships to all high schoolers in the top ten percent of their graduating class; it's written in such a way that provides incentive through formulas to those colleges that do the best job of recruiting the high-ranked students.

West, as part of his compromise, sunsets the bill in 2015. When asked how he chose that year, West was candid: "It's the best deal I could get."

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