Sen. Zaffirini disagrees with UT chairman’s ideas, proposal

Melissa Ayala

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, publicly disagreed with goals UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell proposed in an internal memorandum between the regents.

Powell suggested increasing University undergraduate enrollment by 10 percent each year for four years beginning in 2013 and reducing system-wide tuition by 50 percent, according to a draft obtained by the Austin American-Statesman.

The Senate Higher Education chairwoman’s main concern with the goals is that they come during a time when universities across the state are facing major budget cuts. The current proposed Senate budget cuts UT’s funding by more than $51 million.

“At a time when regents should be working with legislators to minimize dramatic funding cuts and the possibility of liquidating the Permanent Health Fund for Higher Education, Chair Powell instead apparently is proposing changes that are detrimental to the pursuit of excellence,” Zaffirini said in a statement. “They are, however, consistent with his earlier, equally controversial statement about pursuing a Chevy Bel Air education in lieu of a Cadillac.”

UT System Spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, who verified the authenticity of the memo to the Statesman, said the draft was only meant to be an internal document.

“The full Board is not scheduled to take action with regard to these suggestions. As such, it is inappropriate to offer public comment, unless there were to be a request that the draft goals be the subject of discussion with the Board,” de Bruyn said.

Other goals in the memo include boosting enrollment at the eight sister institutions in the system as well as adding a “high quality, low cost degree” to the current offerings.

Powell’s stated goals were followed by a call to make UT the country’s No. 1 public university.

Zaffirini said Powell’s proposal offers “detrimental” changes to the pursuit of excellence because he called for two “mutually exclusive” goals.

“We must eliminate distractions that are detrimental to the timely task at hand: trying to ensure that higher education is funded adequately and is offered relief from unfunded mandates,” Zaffirini said.

Zaffirini went on to say that Powell has extensively caused negative publicity through his actions in the last couple months.
“Since his election in February, he has caused a firestorm of negativity that is detrimental to UT-Austin, to the system, to higher education in general — and to his relationship with legislators,” Zaffirini said.