Think tank director defends positions on higher education, research

Liz Farmer

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, hired Tom Lindsay as director for their Center for Higher Education.

The think tank has suggested that public universities measure teaching efficiency more systematically and has published policy statements that support splitting research and teaching budgets in order to place more scrutiny on research funding.

Before taking the new position, Lindsay served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Dallas from 1999 to 2004 and as president of Shimer College, a liberal arts college in Chicago, from 2008 to 2010. He was removed as president of Shimer by its governing board when he changed the school’s mission statement. Between his time at the two schools, Lindsay served as deputy director at the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he worked on a $75 million program to encourage the study of American history and culture.

The Daily Texan: Why did the Shimer College faculty unanimously oppose the change in mission statement?
Tom Lindsay: I rewrote the mission statement to stress the relationship between education and liberty and that didn’t go over well with some folks. I rewrote it to reflect the fact that education at the highest, aims to free the mind from unexamined assumptions or prejudices. Some among the faculty took the emphasis on freedom as ideological. It wasn’t political freedom that I was saying was the highest purpose, it was intellectual freedom.

DT: What is the main goal of the Texas Public Policy Foundation?
TL: It’s trying to increase affordability, accountability and transparency with the chief goal in mind to recommend measures to increase accessibility to a college education for students who can’t afford it. I think that’s the biggest issue the state is facing.

DT: What role should research play at Tier 1 universities like UT?
TL: I think that it should play a big role. I’m someone who’s been published for many years and I know the value of research and I want to see that continue.

DT: What is the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s stance about the role of research at universities?
TL: My understanding as I looked at the dialogue, TPPF has not been against research. It has been to recognize great researchers and great teachers. There are those gifted few who are excellent at both and you want to do what you can to support them.

DT: What do you think about the future of higher education in Texas?
TL: I’m very optimistic about the future of higher education in Texas. I’m very impressed coming in here from the outside with the seriousness with which the dialogue has progressed. I know that when you’re in the middle of it people focus on the heat, but I think a lot of light came from it.

DT: How should community colleges fit into higher education?
TL: We’re not going to be able to answer the call to increase college graduation rates without full use of our community colleges. We need to work as a state to create a smoother transition from community colleges to four-year colleges.  

Printed on Friday, October 14, 2011 as: Think tank director defends education, research ideas