In Higher Ed War, Regent Emails Show Worry Over Longhorns’ Perceptions

Remember when UT System Board of Regents chairman Gene Powell said it would be fine for more Texas students to get cheaper “Chevy Bel-Air”-type degrees, rather than the Cadillac model?

Well, he regretted it.

Emails obtained by the Austin American-Statesman show that regents have been concerned this spring about the growing public perception that they don’t understand the value of the state’s flagship institutions or support academic research.

“I promise everyone I will be much more careful with my metaphors in the future!!!!” Powell wrote in a March 9 email to various UT System officials after the Bel-Air quote went public.

Longhorns like Kenneth Jastrow (chair of UT’s ongoing capital campaign), Charles Tate (a UT Investment Management Co. board member), and Pamela Willeford (former Texas Exes president) then reached out. They urged Powell and the regents to make “meaningful statements” about the value of fundamental and applied research, of the dual mission of teaching and research, and of tenured faculty.

Such statements, they wrote in an April 1 letter, are vital to countering “the perception that actions are being taken that would hurt UT System schools, in particular UT-Austin.”

The regents have taken heat for moving toward seven proposals for overhauling higher education. The proposals have come from the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, which so happens to be headed by a former UT adjunct professor and billionaire oilman, Jeff Sandefer.

Sandefer had an ugly falling-out with his former employer in 2002 and has since gone on to form his own 27-student business school, the Acton School.

For more on Sandefer and the roots of the current war over higher education in Texas, read “Class Struggle” in the new issue of The Alcalde magazine.

Academic Assembly. Illustration by Ben Sargent.


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