OVERVIEW: All the help we can get; More questions about Rick O’Donnell

All the help we can get

Last summer, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, authored an amendment to a higher-education bill stipulating that Gov. Rick Perry maintain state education funding levels for Texas to receive $830 million of federal education funds. Perry claimed Doggett’s amendment — which aimed to prevent the state from redirecting federal education funds to other areas — was unconstitutional, and the Department of Education subsequently denied Texas’ application for federal education funding.

Almost a year later, Texas may finally receive that $830 million without Doggett’s contingencies. Last Friday, the House of Representatives approved a measure by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, to invalidate Doggett’s amendment as part of the deal to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Doggett’s amendment was not intended to deprive Texas of education funding but rather to ensure that federal education funds went directly to Texas education. While we supported Doggett’s amendment and its intentions, we are nevertheless glad the state will receive the much-needed federal education money. As Republicans in the Legislature are planning to disproportionately cut state education funds to overcome the multibillion-dollar budget deficit they created, Texas education needs all the help it can get.

More questions about Rick O’Donnell

More questionable details are emerging about the hiring of anti-research regent adviser Rick O’Donnell.

According to emails obtained by the Houston Chronicle, O’Donnell met with regent officials to discuss the position the day before it was formally announced. Then, the day after the job description was posted online, a regent representative explicitly contacted O’Donnell to suggest he apply. The position was available online for about two weeks, during which time eight individuals expressed interest. But O’Donnell was the only applicant interviewed.

To make matters worse, the emails revealed that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was generally kept out of the loop throughout the entire process, despite the position’s high level of influence in the UT System — and his staggering $200,000 salary.
These revelations are just the most recent in a puzzling and disturbing saga involving O’Donnell, and they have dangerous implications regarding the future of the UT System. Hiring an outside consultant to analyze the financial efficiency of the system is a perfectly reasonable move, especially given the dire financial straits facing higher education in Texas. However, the lack of transparency throughout the hiring process, even between UT System officials (never mind the public), further cements perceptions that O’Donnell’s hiring had more to do with filling high level UT positions with those who support the anti-research agenda advocated by Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation than it did with saving money.

Fortunately, prominent figures in the UT community — such as respected professors, student leaders and the Texas Exes alumni group — brought attention to O’Donnell’s hiring, positions and salary and continue to pressure the Regents about the disturbing advances of the anti-research camp. But these emails reveal the mounting influence of anti-research proponents and the need for continued scrutiny of the regents and other UT decision makers to protect UT’s academic integrity.