Fired UT System Advisor Disavows ‘Seven Solutions’

Former UT System advisor Rick O’Donnell publicly distanced himself today from the controversial “breakthrough solutions” in what he says is an effort to find common ground in the higher education debate.

Writing in the Austin American-Statesman this morning, O’Donnell accepted the value of teaching and research in the mission of higher education, stating unequivocally “that teaching and research must continue to be linked for excellence, including for faculty vitality and student learning.”

O’Donnell has until now been seen as an advocate of de-emphaszing research.

“It is time for everyone to move beyond arguments over “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” for higher education that a think tank proposed several years ago,” writes O’Donnell, a former fellow of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Let us instead focus on areas of common ground that will advance our universities in their core mission of student learning and research discovery.”

The occasion for O’Donnell’s change of heart, however, appears to have been a meeting five months ago, back when he was still employed by the UT System as a special advisor. He has since been fired. Two weeks ago, he wrote an acrimonious paper labeling nearly half of UT-Austin faculty as “coasters” or “dodgers.”

O’Donnell mentions a speech by Al Gillman, former dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, to a regents task force on productivity in March. In the speech, O’Donnell says, Gillman told the task force there is a lot of money spent on marginal research, that peer review needs to be better, and that universities must be more selective on what research is funded.

Whether Gillman was talking about medical schools or UT-Austin specifically is unclear. But according to O’Donnell, UT president Bill Powers agreed that senior faculty need to do more teaching, something Powers has never said publicly. Powers declined to comment.

“If we are able to agree on the goal,” O’Donnell writes, “then we may have honest discussions on the best way to achieve it without continued acrimony.”


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