Education
5:03 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

UT Student Groups Weigh In On Board of Regents Controversy

The University of Texas System should avoid separating research and teaching and should continue to fund "soft" research into cultural or opinion-based topics, according to a letter submitted to the Board of Regents today by three large UT student groups.

The presidents of UT's Senate of College Councils, UT Student Government, and UT's Graduate Student Assembly are wading into a controversial debate that has ratcheted up tensions between Governor Rick Perry and legions of UT supporters. At issue is how to lower costs and increase efficiency at public universities in Texas.

Austin American-Statesman higher education reporter Ralph Haurwitz provides some helpful background in today's paper.

[It] was Perry himself who planted the seeds of controversy. The governor called public university governing boards to a May 2008 summit in Austin where he and Sandefer promoted several "breakthrough solutions," including separation of research and teaching budgets and bonus pay for instructors based solely on student evaluations. The Texas Public Policy Foundation — Sandefer is a longtime board member and O'Donnell was a senior research fellow for the think tank at the time — helped organize the summit.

UT Regents last week fired a controversial education reformer, Rick O'Donnell, after just six weeks on the job. Regents faced increasing pressure from UT leadership and supporters who believed O'Donnell was brought in to reduce UT's focus on research in favor of enhanced efforts on teaching.

In their letter to the Board of Regents, the three student groups argued that UT-Austin students benefit by attending a college with a strong emphasis on research.

In fact, according to teaching load policies, many of our colleges and schools mandate tenure-track faculty to teach at least two undergraduate courses to meet student demand. Additionally, we understand that the value of our institution rests on its cutting edge research and world-class faculty.

You can read the complete letter here.