Thursday, March 31, 2011

UT controversy a distraction from its potential, Perry says

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz | Austin American-Statesman
Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry today brushed aside a controversy regarding the governance of the University of Texas as a “distraction” and said he’s instead focused on ramping up the university’s entrepreneurial environment to make Austin “the next Silicon Valley.”

Perry said in an interview with the American-Statesman that he was inspired about the possibility of Austin becoming a major center for high-tech, biotech and technology yet to be invented. He said he drew that inspiration from recent conversations with a venture capitalist who visited Austin and with the deans of business and engineering at Stanford University. The governor traveled to California in an effort to recruit companies to Texas.

“They agree that the University of Texas is right on the verge of being able to be the catalyst that makes Austin, Texas, the next Silicon Valley,” Perry said of the deans.

“I can tell you there’s not been anything that I have done in my public life that I found more intriguing and more exciting than the potential of that becoming a reality. This has pumped me up as much as anything.”

He said he hoped to work with UT to raise the level of collaboration at its business and engineering schools, and he said the city’s business leaders would need to be involved as well.

The governor downplayed the controversy regarding the direction of UT and its governing board.

The UT System Board of Regents has been criticized in recent weeks by lawmakers, alumni and others for hiring a special adviser who has written that much academic research lacks value and that schools would be better off with fewer tenured faculty members. Regents subsequently reassigned the adviser to a temporary position that will end by Aug. 31 and pledged support for research and tenured faculty.

Despite the regents’ efforts to tamp down the controversy, UT’s Ex-Students’ Association and UT President William Powers Jr. have expressed concern.

“I’m plenty game about politics,” Perry said. “Change and talking about change — a lot of times the rhetoric can get overheated. I suspect that’s what’s happened here. Let’s take a deep breath.”

He added, “I’m not going to get in a rock-throwing contest with Bill Powers or the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association. It’s just not constructive. They believe, I hope, that the University of Texas can be an even better, more competitive, stronger magnet to those young entrepreneurs, whether they’re in California or whether they’re in New York. Then let’s work together to find that structure.”

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