Abbott’s higher education goals take important first step, must be holistic going forward

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the University Research Initiative on June 4, a priority of his administration that expands public universities' access to government funds, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The passage earmarked more than $8 billion to this end with the intent of furthering Texas public universities’ national standing in top-tier academia.

Abbott spoke ambitiously of a forthcoming golden age of Texas higher education while campaigning and upon entering office. An alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin, Abbott has pledged to make the state of Texas home to half of the nation’s top-10 public universities, a feat only California has currently accomplished.

Signing this bill, which considerably augments the amount of money in the coffers of this University and its neighbors, is a great first step toward increasing the standings of Texas’s public universities. State Sen. Judith Zaffrini (D-Laredo), a longtime advocate for Texas's higher education system — especially the UT system — and occasional partisan adversary of Abbott, extended high praise to our governor by suggesting that he was the state's best chief executive on educational issues in half a century.

As students at a public university that could always use more fiscal assistance, we are happy to see our University gain support for future innovations. Despite the excellence of Abbott’s aim, this editorial board would be remiss if we did not note the state’s want of perspective in only financially supporting programs in the STEM disciplines. This University and all of Texas's esteemed public universities are about more than just engineers, scientists and mathematicians. Texas institutions also train academics, writers, artists and journalists, whose work should not be forgotten and marginalized by state funding.

Obviously, the departments that produce alumni who make the most money can often receive the most money back in donations. The scientific and engineering fields, with their lucrative employment opportunities, understandably outpace the humanities.

But the beauty of a complex and cosmopolitan university, such as UT, is that the two tracks are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they complement one another. UT’s mingled environment allows mutual exchange and benefit between the humanities and sciences, which is a major factor in the University’s success.

We appreciate Abbott's ambition to improve our standing and believe he truly accomplished yeoman's work this session in beginning to achieve that goal. Although there is always more to be done, this bill is a great piece of legislation that will improve our University's standing in the long run. While the recent legislative package is a generous and enormously helpful gift, the University as a whole can improve with the STEM fields if future contributions adopt a wider breadth of distribution.