Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Perry touts higher ed accountability, responds to rumors: Political attack on universities denied.
By Jennifer R. Lloyd | San Antonio Express-News
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Gov. Rick Perry, in town Tuesday to talk about accountability in higher education, found himself addressing questions about his influence and direction of higher education policy.
In prepared remarks before other education leaders at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the governor touted the second edition of the Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, a compilation of statistics — tuition and fees, enrollment, graduation rates and other details — that was released Tuesday.
Perry said the almanac will send a message to employers that Texas has a skilled workforce and will give young people the data they need to choose the right school and maximize their potential. The almanac is available online at www.thecb.state.tx.us/almanac.
But Perry had to veer off the topic when asked about recent controversies involving the University of Texas System Board of Regents and a comment made Monday by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who opined that higher education in Texas is under political attack.
A recent blog post from Paul Burka, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, stated that University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers could lose his job after opposing the regents' decision to impose a two-year freeze on undergraduate tuition for state residents there.
On Tuesday, Perry said he agreed with the regents' decision.
“I don't think it's any big secret that I'm for keeping the cost of education down, so my suspicion is that no one in Texas thinks that I'm for tuition growth,” Perry said. “It's a good message to send to the citizens of the state that we're not going to just have tuition ... increasing with no regard for what's happening economically for the citizens of the state.”
In the blog, Burka wrote that an unnamed source said UT Regents Chairman Gene Powell asked UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to recommend firing Powers, but that Cigarroa refused. The chancellor later responded with a statement saying Powell “has never directed me to fire anyone.”
Asked if he was satisfied with Powers' job performance at UT Austin, Perry responded, “That's for the Board of Regents to decide.” “I've got a state to oversee,” Perry continued. “I don't spend all my time focused on one institution of higher learning.”
Support for Powers has flowed in recent days from UT students and faculty. Michael Morton, a student and president of UT Austin's Senate of College Councils, said he believes the threat to Powers' job is real and continues.
“This is not the first time we've heard this rumor,” said Morton, who sent a letter supporting the president to regents Monday. “I don't think it's any coincidence that this happens at the end of the school year when students are either leaving the university or are consumed with finals.”
During Perry's visit to San Antonio, he also disagreed with Wolff's statement that there has been a coordinated attack on higher education in recent years.
Wolff's comment came during a San Antonio Express-News editorial board meeting in which he supported the University of Texas at San Antonio's campaign to become a major research university despite cuts in state funding.
Perry countered by saying, “There's been a coordinated focus on higher education” in a positive way. He said he couldn't recall a legislative session that left everyone satisfied with their funding and added, “I'm pretty sure that won't happen in 2013.”