Reactions to Gene Powell's memo


Today's viewpoint centers on a memo authored by UT System Board of Regents chairman Gene Powell. Powell, who was elected in February, has already made quite a splash. In just a few months, he has hired a controversial adviser, endorsed the governor's call for a $10,000 bachelor's degree and compared different UT System universities to models of cars.

The Austin American-Statesman's Ralph Haurwitz wrote that:

Using a car analogy, he said a $10,000 degree would be more like a Chevrolet Bel Air, a midlevel vehicle from a generation ago, than a Cadillac. There's nothing wrong with a Bel Air-quality education, he said.

A few weeks later, Powell tried to clarify his remarks:

We may need to offer students the option of a solid, high-quality yet low-cost degree – a Bel Air rather than a Cadillac. This comment had nothing to do with U. T. Austin. Rather, I was talking about the cost of various four-year undergraduate degrees we offer across the System. Austin delivers a great Cadillac and needs to continue to do so as our flagship. Several of our universities deliver very good Olds 98s and Buick LeSabres. But for tens of thousands of students, many who are first-generation college students, we need to offer within the System an excellent no frills, low-cost undergraduate degree – or what I referred to as the basic Bel Air.

While we urge the esteemed chairman to choose his analogies carefully, we're relieved that he thinks this state's flagship university deserves better than "Bel Air" status. Unfortunately, Powell's most recent memo has caused many to question the regents' level of support, while others have expressed support for this new direction.

Mr. Haurwitz has compiled several quotes from individuals involved in the ongoing debate on the future of Texas higher education. Below are a few choice selections:

“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. They are, however, consistent with his earlier—equally controversial—statement about pursuing a Chevy Bel Air education in lieu of a Cadillac."

- State Sen. Judith Zaffirini,  D-Laredo

“While I’m interested in expanding access, I’m very concerned about maintaining quality. And I would have some concerns about capacity at UT-Austin. Having read the Commission of 125 report and their recommendations, I’m concerned that his draft suggestions are going a different direction. I think we’re all interested in looking for ways to expand access and keep tuition affordable, but ultimately quality and excellence are the most important attributes that I’m looking at."

- State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee

“Tuition costs and student debt loads are soaring at unsustainable rates. The cost bubble in higher education is about to burst and universities that do not reinvent themselves — and quickly — will be made irrelevant. Chairman Powell and his fellow regents deserve the gratitude of students and parents for making college affordability one of their top priorities."

- Texas Public Policy Foundation spokesman David Guenthner


As the semester winds down, we look forward to keeping up with the ongoing debate and voicing our opinions on decesions that could drastically reshape our University.

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