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No crisis in higher ed, says departing A&M chancellor

By Melissa Ludwig mludwig@express-news.net Updated 01:12 a.m., Thursday, June 30, 2011 In his last week on the job as chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, Mike McKinney said he disagrees with some ideas being floated to give higher education in Texas a dramatic makeover, particularly an idea to drastically lower tuition while increasing enrollment.

“You shouldn't even think about doing that at Texas A&M University,” McKinney said. “You change the whole nature of the campus if you get larger. It dilutes the expertise of the faculty and it dilutes the Aggie spirit, if that is possible.”

William Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, had a similar reaction when the idea came to light in a memo circulated by Gene Powell, chairman of the UT Board of Regents. The memo suggested cutting tuition in half at UT Austin while increasing enrollment by 10 percent per year.

Powell is among a group of conservative university regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry who are pushing for changes they believe would lower the cost of college and boost faculty productivity and the quality of teaching. Some of the ideas have sparked widespread opposition among faculty, alumni and donors, particularly a list of “seven breakthrough solutions” written by Jeff Sandefer, a wealthy Austin entrepreneur who has Perry's ear.

McKinney, who is retiring on Friday, denies he was pushed out of his job by Richard Box, chairman of the A&M Board of Regents, for resisting reforms, as has been reported. Emails have shown that Sandefer and his father complained to A&M regents that McKinney was not moving quickly enough to enact the seven solutions and was “overcomplicating” things.

“Box and I never had a cross word,” McKinney said. “The seven solutions were never a point of contention.”

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