Higher Ed

Confirming the New UT Regents

May 21, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

UPDATE: The Nominations Committee has approved all three nominees the UT System Board of Regents. The full Senate will take up nominations next. I walked in the east door of the Capitol yesterday with Senator John Whitmire. He asked if I was going to nominations. I said I…

The Battle for UT Is Far From Over

Apr 17, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

In October 2012, I wrote a cover story about the battle over UT. That battle, which matched regents appointed by Rick Perry against the leadership of UT-Austin, has not abated. I’m going to discuss portions of Brian Sweany’s recent interview with regent Wallace Hall as well…

Sauce for the Gander

Mar 19, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Today was the long-awaited meeting of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance. This was strictly an organizational meeting, and no members of the UT Board of Regents were present. But it was another front in the increasingly tense battle between the UT System Board of Regents and UT…

Taxes for UT?

Oct 16, 2012 By Paul Burka

The university says that it cannot build and operate its proposed new medical school without a permanent source of funding. It is seeking an increase in local property taxes (amounting to $107.40 per homeowner for the average home), the revenue from which would help fund the medical school. Austin historically…

A response to Michael Quinn Sullivan

Jun 29, 2011 By Paul Burka

Michael Quinn Sullivan has a bone to pick with me. I am the subject of a blog post by Sullivan published on the Empower Texans web site yesterday under the headline, “Texas Monthly: Disclosure-Free Zone.” Sullivan objects to the fact that in an April column about higher ed reforms, I did not disclose that I have taught at UT from time to time. Here are some pertinent paragraphs: Paul Burka, the “senior executive editor” at Texas Monthly has taken to defending the higher education status quo – skyrocketing tuition and a lack of transparency. He follows the administrative bureaucracy party line by deriding reformers, disparaging them and calling motivations into question. Couldn’t be because he has a financial interest in the status quo, could it? Mr. Burka received $10,159 in compensation ($9,295 in salary) for teaching 13 students. (NOTE: the numbers are from UT’s own data, which the institution says may or may not be valid or accurate.) He hasn’t disclosed in any recent writings supporting the higher-ed establishment that he is a “visiting lecturer” for the University of Texas, teaching a three credit-hour class – ironically titled “Right And Wrong In Politics.” Mr. Sullivan has a point, though he overplays it to a ridiculous extreme, as is his custom. I should have included a parenthetical statement in that April column saying that I had taught at UT on various occasions in the past (though I was not teaching there or receiving compensation at the time that I wrote the column). But it is far-fetched to suggest that I have any permanent attachment to UT, or a financial motivation to defend the university. I am not an academic, I am a journalist. Over the past twenty years or so, I have been fortunate enough to teach courses at UT (and also at St. Edwards). During that time, I have written several editorial columns about the university. One was supportive of tuition deregulation; one was critical of a watered-down degree program I referred to as “B.A. Lite” (this one, alas, is not yet available online). I have not tried to hide the fact that I teach at UT; in 2001, for example, I wrote about volunteering to evaluate applications for admission to the Plan II honors program, as I was eligible to do as an instructor. I have also written a skeptical column about the athletic department’s efforts to find a home for the Longhorns after the breakup of the Big XII conference. In short, I choose subjects that Texas Monthly believes are important, and I try to call ‘em as I see ‘em. I leave it to readers to judge for themselves whether they believe that my reporting on UT is influenced by what Mr. Sullivan refers to as my “financial interest in the status quo,” or whether it reflects my strongly held personal belief in the importance of allowing state universities to pursue excellence free of political interference.

Shapleigh: “In my view you miss the point.”

Nov 24, 2008 By Paul Burka

I am going to publish below an e-mail and corresponding op-ed that I received from Senator Eliot Shapleigh. It requires no explanation. # # # # This is Shapleigh's letter to me: I’ve read your recent pieces on major issues, including tuition. In my view you miss the point. After fifteen years of what the world now recognizes as the “Bush brand”, Texas is now firmly in “Grover’s Tub”. Your reporting misses the point because your world view can’t see over the Tub’s edge. For years now, Grover Norquist has been the ideological father of the Bush-Perry-Craddick school of governance. His ideology—‘shrink government so small that we can then drown it in a bathtub’—has run Texas since Bush was first elected Governor. Now, in agency after agency, tax cuts for the wealthy, incompetent leadership and irresponsible governance have created enormous challenges that will take Texans years to correct. The question you pose about tuition de-regulation is in fact far deeper. Take the whole package—the Grover package—that is the issue. Tax cuts over kids, crony contracts over competence, polluters over regulators, predatory lenders over consumer protections—ask the question about that package, then measure where we are in every agency—not just at UT with tuition deregulation. My response: I think everyone understands that Texas is a low-tax, low-services state. I don't think it is fair or accurate to ascribe this state of affairs to the last 14 years. Democrats governed Texas much as Republicans are now doing. They didn't pay much attention to environmental issues. They didn't rein in lenders; in fact, they lifted restrictions on usury. The special interests almost always get their way. That was true when the Democrats were in charge and it is true when the Republicans are in charge. At least the lobby had to fight for what they could get when the Democrats ran the state. Now the leadership just lavishes them with goodies. The one thing Democrats did do differently than Republicans was raise taxes when the going got tough. They raised the gasoline tax and the sales tax and the franchise tax, and the world did not come to an end, and the economy did just fine. I know that it suits Senator Shapleigh's purpose to lump Bush in with Perry and Craddick, but the truth is that Bush went along with Democratic spending priorities when he was governor. I don't recall that he ever vetoed a line item. Perry accurately, though unkindly, described him as a big spender. Texas government is the way that it is because this is a conservative state, and there is little movement for change. The Republicans are in trouble because they have overreached in areas like tuition deregulation. Senator Shapleigh writes as if he hasn't followed the election returns. The Republicans have paid dearly for their ideological zeal in the Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst years. Their brand is tarnished and they are losing ground in Texas. I admire Eliot Shapleigh, and I think it is important that he reminds us of the shortcomings of state government. But it didn't start with Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst, and state leaders through the years haven't needed a Grover Norquist to discipline them into keeping this a low-tax, low-service state. [Back to Shapleigh] Herein below is our recent OP ED piece on Texas Higher education. You should run it in your column. In our view, the real question is what price has Texas paid for fifteen years of Bush—Perry—Craddick? More importantly, what are Texans willing to do to change it? # # # # Let’s analyze core issues in higher ed. Take two plain vanilla Midwest America universities, each with 29,000+ students—call them Texas Tech and University of Iowa. Now, let’s look at state general revenue support over a decade. The difference between Iowa and Tech is $1.84B—that is billion--with a “B”. Basically, that’s why we have tuition deregulation. Here’s some history—in 2003, Craddick killed the inheritance tax, then he gave unelected regents (most of whom are millionaires and direct beneficiaries of Craddick’s tax cuts) the right to tax students. Dollar for dollar, revenue from a tax paid only by millionaires was replaced with tuition hikes paid by students—all outside the control of lawmakers so Craddick’s supporters could go back to districts and run again on ‘no new tax’ pledges. At UTEP tuition, fees, books and parking have risen 73% since 2003. Craddick and Company refuse to consider real revenue sources because long ago—they took Grover’s pledge and now refuse to engage in real governance. In agency after agency, Texans now face the same issue presented by tuition deregulation—not enough money to take care of basic needs and not enough courage and leadership to fund those needs in an effective way. Let’s do a quick tour: TXDOT is $86b in the hole. Craddick’s school finance plan has districts on the verge of Chapter 11. TCEQ is run by Baker Botts. At CPS, ½ the investigators quit every six months due to America’s lowest child investigator pay and highest investigator case loads; agency directors pay $4m fines to the feds rather than fund basic levels of investigators for kids. At HHS, more Texans sit on some waiting lists than actually get served. Hawkins has paid a billion for the basic software program to [implement--added by pb] HB 2292, and it still doesn’t work. Perry’s mansion burned down because cameras quit working and DPS cut staff. We are last in dropouts, first in air pollution; 48th in average SAT’s and 45th in home ownership. We are last in Texans who have health insurance. Seven Texas MSA’s rank among America’s top ten in volume of subprime second mortgages. Here, on the streets of El Paso, vendors hawk payday loans on street corners that carry 1100% per annum interest rates. More than one in three in my hometown no longer have any health insurance. In thirty years or so, Texas will be home to 50m Texans. Hispanics will long [have been] the majority. With current leadership and current values, ask your readers this question--are we even close to preparing for the next generation? Are we even close to taking care of Texas today? Is a tiny band from the far right now discredited everywhere but Austin, that has long valued tax cuts for the wealthy over good schools for kids responsible enough to continue governing Texas? That’s the question in Craddick’s race—and every race for the next few years. Senator Eliot Shapleigh