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Growing coalition opposes ‘breakthrough solutions’

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz | Thursday, June 30, 2011, 02:15 PM

A group of business, civic and education leaders is ramping up its efforts to fight controversial changes in higher education promoted by an Austin-based think tank with close ties to Gov. Rick Perry. The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education announced today that it had added 24 names to a list of founding members that already numbered more than 200.

Earlier this week, the coalition issued a statement criticizing an analysis of University of Texas faculty productivity data by a researcher with ties to the think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The new members of the coalition include Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines; Ben Barnes, a former Texas House speaker and lieutenant governor; William Mobley, a former president of Texas A&M University and a former chancellor of the A&M System; and Robert Rowling, a former UT System regent and former chairman of the regents’ investment arm.

“As former president of Texas A&M University and chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, I am deeply concerned about the future of our university and am pleased to join this effort to ensure that we preserve the integrity and continue to enhance the quality of not only Texas A&M but also all of our institutions of higher education in Texas,” Mobley said in a statement.

The coalition’s website says the group was established because of “the strong belief that there is a right way to improve higher education and that there is a wrong way that could have long-term damaging effects on our institutions of higher learning, our state’s economy and on our future. Current recommendations being floated — from dramatically expanding enrollment while slashing tuition to separating research and teaching budgets, and seceding from a recognized and respected accreditation organization — are decidedly the wrong way. We believe our public university presidents and chancellors have earned our support with their ongoing commitment to a culture of excellence and continual innovation, while also working to cut operating costs and institute reforms.”

The recommendations opposed by the coalition are being promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation as “breakthrough solutions.” The foundation also contends that university research is overemphasized to the detriment of teaching. Perry, who is donating proceeds from his book to the foundation, has urged university board regents — all of whom were appointed by him — to pursue many of the foundation’s recommendations. The coalition’s communications adviser is Karen Hughes, global vice chairwoman for the Burson-Marsteller public relations firm and a former counselor to President George W. Bush and undersecretary of state in the Bush administration.


Meanwhile, another organization critical of the breakthrough solutions renewed its support of UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. today. The UT Ex-Students’ Association, also known as the Texas Exes, said it was reaffirming its confidence in Powers “due to recent public attacks of him and his character.”

The Exes didn’t elaborate on the attacks.

Rick O’Donnell, a former adviser to the UT regents, said earlier this week that Powers had ginned up opposition to efforts to collect data on faculty productivity. Emails show that some regents have questioned Powers’ interest in offering online classes.

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