Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Texas Higher Education reform: Regents are Key

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

TPPF's Thomas Lindsey speaks about three crises in higher education:

  • Affordability -- Student loan debt more than credit card debt.
  • Educational Outcomes -- 36% of students show no gain in academic performance over four years in college.
  • Anemic Board Governance -- Made the other two crises possible
    • Re Wallace Hall:  "The message to current regents and prospective regents across the state of Texas is pretty clear: If you ask tough questions, if you demand more transparency, you're going to face an impeachment and possibly a criminal prosecution."
  • Next session:
    • Increase $10,000 degrees.
    • Require collegiate learning assessment across Texas.
    • Honest Transcript Bill
    • Personal Note: Lindsey doesn't mention it here, repeal Tuition Deregulation....
TPPF has more:
Addressing this crisis requires strong leadership. Who can provide it? Senior administrators? Regents? Ideally, both. But former Harvard President Derek Bok, in his book Our Underachieving Colleges, finds presidents “often reluctant” to lead for fear of “faculty opposition,” which could “threaten their jobs.” College CEOs lack the power of their corporate counterparts. Facing a faculty no-confidence vote, few presidents possess the wherewithal to lay down their jobs.

Who, then, is empowered to implement reforms commensurate with our crisis? Benno Schmidt, former Yale president and current chairman of the CUNY board, answers, “Change in institutional strategy can only come from trustees.”

Such change is overdue: Higher education reached its crisis state with the acquiescence of trustees, who too often let boosterism trump their fiduciary duties. “Fiduciary” derives from the Latin fiducia, for “trust.” A trustee possesses the legal power and duty to act on behalf of others, both the school and the Texas citizenry, under conditions requiring both complete trust and complete openness.

The nonpartisan American Council of Trustees and Alumni describes the role of trustees as “responsible for both the fiscal well-being of the institution” and “the quality of the education it provides." Central to “fiduciary responsibility is transparency — and in the case of public colleges and universities, this is all the more appropriate and necessary, since taxpayers fund these institutions and have a right to know whether those funds are used effectively and responsibly.”

Yet, precisely when we need trustees to reclaim their fiduciary duties, some would constrain them further to avoid perceived “micromanagement.” Charles Miller, former chairman of the UT Board of Regents, disagrees, arguing that boards are already tightly regulated: "Regents are trustees with duties defined by constitutional, statute, regulation and common law, both state and federal.”


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