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Coalition still monitoring higher ed developments in wake of controversy

By Vimal Patel

The fight last year over a conservative think tank’s ideas to reform higher education led to acrimony between university regents and faculty members, the convening of a special Legislative committee and the creation of an interest group its members say is meant to defend the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, the state’s two public research universities.

A year old now, the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education is composed of some 400 members, mostly former UT students but also around 25 to 30 former A&M students.

The battle over the reforms pushed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation — known as the “seven breakthrough solutions” for reforming higher education — has faded as Gov. Rick Perry’s appointed regents to the two university systems have at least publicly abandoned advocating for the ideas.

“We feel confident we have altered the battle,” said Jon Hagler, a major donor to Texas A&M and a member of the coalition’s executive committee, “that we have shifted the dimensions of the battle. But I don’t think we feel confident that the threat is over. The proponents of the seven solutions are still urging them on.”

Texas A&M University had already implemented some ideas rooted in the reforms, including a plan to offer cash awards to faculty members based on anonymous student evaluations — which former A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney infamously called “customer satisfaction” — and a much-lampooned effort to rank faculty members by their financial value by subtracting the cost of their employment from revenue they brought in to produce a number in red or black.

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