Disdain for the feds clouds regents’ minds

Travis Knoll

Sequestration, the buzzword for the automatic federal budget cuts triggered by Congress’s failure to pass a deficit reduction deal, was signed into law March 1. The cuts will come into full effect in April. President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to put pressure on their Republican opponents by tying reductions in unemployment payments to sharp, across-the-board defense cuts, both of which are blind to the efficiency or inefficiency of the programs in question. Republicans have considered it to be a necessary evil, accepting steep defense cuts to prevent an Obama “victory” akin to that of the tax compromise. According to The New York Times, furloughs will be given to defense employees by April 6th. As is always the case, large cuts affect us all.

According to a story that ran in February in the San Antonio Express-News, the UT System stands to lose $78 million in federal research money with the sequestration. Patricia Hurn, vice chancellor for research and innovation, pointed out that, although the federal government provides less of the University’s funds than in the past, the University would be harmed by the cuts because it is still “strongly dependent on federal funding.” For this reason, according to The Washington Post, representatives of universities across the nation were in Washington to lobby against the cuts in March.

One UT System official searched for a silver lining. Regent Alex Cranberg speculated that perhaps a cut in federal funding would be advantageous for professors because, when they get such money, they spend most of their time “in administrative and compliance activities.” He asked, “Might this shift be good news for us for our children not having to fund this exorbitant federal deficit and for our researchers to be able to spend more time actually doing research?” Hurn disagrees. She says that researchers go through the same hoops for state and privately-funded research compliance.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s assume that Cranberg is right and that without federal funding researchers could work without the onerous oversight by the federal government. If researchers have significant reductions in funding, what money will pay for their research? Cranberg’s argument is akin to saying, “If you’re fired from your job, you won’t have to clock in, fill out W-2 forms, or pay Social Security taxes!” I agree with Cranberg that room exists to streamline researchers’ federal compliance obligations. Anyone who has filled out a lengthy Institutional Review Board application to do a simple class survey can attest to the weightiness of regulations. However, once again, Cranberg seems to have signed onto the notion that government is not an entity to be reformed, but a nuisance to be eliminated.

He’s not alone in those sentiments among the UT System Board of Regents. In November, the Texan ran a three-part piece on UT officials’ political donations. There was one important commonality among the regents: Every member, except for Steven Hicks, had donated to the presidential campaign of Gov. Rick Perry  —  Perry, the same candidate who famously wished to eliminate the departments of Commerce, Education and Energy and said that “all three branches [of government]” contributed to “the demise of America.”

Cranberg, following the philosophical line of Gov. Perry’s inner circle, denigrates the contributions of the federal government and believes that business would do better without government oversight. He, along with the now-departed Rick O’Donnell, former adviser to the UT System, has brought UT into that ideological debate by pushing the “university as business” model. But don’t fall for it. We are not independent. Half of our money comes from federal funds, and, as Hurn rightly points out, cheering the suicidal actions of our federal government is not good for the University. Cranberg has every right to be politically conservative. But as a regent, he should not let his disdain for the federal government blur his vision about the stark realities facing this University.

His comments should give Texans pause as to whether Cranberg and Perry are really serving in the best interests of the University.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.