Supporters of the Perry education reforms–or, to put it another way, critics of Texas’s flagship universities–have tried to denigrate the University of Texas’s academic stature by pointing out that UT ranks “only” 45th on the U.S. News & World Report‘s list of the nation’s top fifty universities. (Texas A&M ranks 63rd). Here is what the critics overlook: The first 21 schools on the list are all high-profile private universities (including Rice, my alma mater). In these days of diminishing support from state governments, no public university is going to crack the top twenty. If you want to compare apples to apples, sixteen public universities appear on the top-fifty list. These schools are: U.C. Berkeley UCLA University of Virginia University of Michigan University of North Carolina William & Mary Georgia Tech U.C. San Diego U.C. Davis U.C. Santa Barbara U.C. Irvine Washington University of Texas Wisconsin Penn State Illinois The true picture of where UT ranks nationally is that it is the thirteenth-best public university in the country. That is a signal achievement, and it should be recognized as such. As for being #45 in the top fifty, that too is a signal achievement. Those who sneer at it display their own ignorance. To the best of my knowledge, it is the highest ranking UT has ever achieved in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Well over half of the schools UT is competing with are private schools with significant endowments and sky-high tuition. (UT-Austin has a significant endowment as well, the Permanent University Fund, but it must be shared with other institutions, including other UT System schools and Texas A&M.) UT is never going to be Harvard, and we shouldn’t want it to be Harvard, but it can be a public Ivy, if only the politicians will leave it alone.
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