Patrick’s proposals threaten higher education in Texas

G. Elliott Morris

At this year’s Texas Tribune Festival, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reared his familiar face at the first few panels on Texas’ 85th Legislature. There, he laid out more ideas than policy on issues that are the new normal in Lone Star conservatism, such as local control, transgender bathrooms and property taxes. On funding higher education, Patrick said he would end tuition set-asides and cut tenure for professors who, he said, can “work 20 hours a week and get paid $150,000 for writing a novel about William Shakespeare’s love interests.” These cuts, both being independently hurtful to students and faculty, could be crippling when combined.

The Dallas Morning News estimates that cutting tuition set-asides would cost families earning less than $10,000 per year about 50,000 grants. This has the potential of putting 31,000 students out in the cold without a way to fund the remainder of their education. An estimated 70,000 from families earning less than $60,000 per year could also be booted from Texas schools. At UT, this aid comes out to a whopping $34 million dollars.

Patrick also asserted that cutting tuition set-asides could cut student costs by 20 percent — a far cry bigger than the 15 percent actually mandated by Texas law. Even then, the cost of tuition may not actually decrease, as the aforementioned law (Chapter 56, Sec. 56.011 of the Texas Education Code) has no requirement to decrease or increase tuition if repealed. There’s no guarantee that ending tuition set-asides would actually translate to decreased tuition.

On top of this, middle income families were recently presented with a new $15 million aid commitment by UT President Gregory Fenves, so the $722 per semester they would save from cutting tuition set-asides is likely to come anyway.

Of course, I would be amiss to not address the obvious, real factor in these cuts: So called “government overreach.” It is no secret that Patrick has long campaigned for state and federal government to leave Texans alone. Cutting tuition set-asides is just another form of telling middle and upper class college students that conservatives on Capitol Hill will not let financial aid for poor students get in the way of “freedom from government.”

A good assumption is that cutting tenure funding and protections for tenured professors will be bad for recruiting professors to Texas universities. Indeed, at the University of Madison-Wisconsin nearly $750,000 in raises and $8.2 million in research grants were required to keep current faculty on campus. This bailout was required after Gov. Scott Walker passed a budget decreasing tenure funding and allowing the 18-member board of regents to fire professors for budget cuts or program redirection.

The future of low-income students at Texas universities has been threatened by Lt. Gov. Patrick. Professors and future pron Texas may soon be looking to uproot their families and move states for safe teaching and research jobs. Texas officials really need to gain distance from politics and ask themselves whether a couple thousand votes back home are really worth losing hundreds of thousands of low-income students and countless professors. When those officials see that they’re only saving families an average of $1,500 (at most), I’d imagine they’ll decline the Lt. Governor’s offer to cripple Texas higher education.

Morris is a government junior from Port Aransas. Follow him on Twitter @Gelliottmorris