Silicon Valley 2.0

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After a recent visit to California, Gov. Rick Perry came back to Texas an enlightened man.

While meeting with deans from Stanford University’s business and engineering schools, Perry had something of an epiphany: UT can help make Austin the next Silicon Valley.

“I can tell you there’s not been anything that I have done in my public life that I found more intriguing and more exciting than the potential of that becoming a reality,” Perry told the Austin American-Statesman on Thursday. “This has pumped me up as much as anything.”

There is one problem with Perry’s vision, however: Silicon Valley 2.0 would require research. Lots and lots of research.

This is a striking development from the recent handwringing over the excess of research at UT and the supposed dearth of teaching. It was only a few weeks ago that the Board of Regents hired a new special adviser and paid him an eye-popping, recession-defying salary of $200,000 to have him suggest that UT abandon its focus on academic research.

The adviser, Rick O’Donnell, outraged alumni everywhere and has since been “reassigned,” but for a moment there, it looked as though government bureaucrats wanted to turn UT into a degree factory.

Instead of addressing the issues brought up by O’Donnell’s appointment, Perry is distancing himself from research-gate, calling the whole fiasco a “distraction.”

O’Donnell’s appointment was more than a distraction — it was a profoundly disturbing development that showed a tremendous lack of judgment on behalf of the Board. Perry should, at the absolute least, acknowledge the philosophical missteps of the Board of Regents.

We’re fairly certain the deans at Stanford, who clearly don’t have a problem with tenured faculty teaching and conducting research, would do as much.

Perhaps even more frustrating, Perry is brushing off the concerns of President William Powers Jr. and scores of perturbed alumni.
“I’m not going to get in a rock-throwing contest with Bill Powers or the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association,” Perry told the Statesman. “It’s just not constructive.”

Rock-throwing contests aside, Perry absolutely does need to engage with Powers and address the concerns of alumni. If Perry has grand visions for UT, he needs to make sure they align with the visions of those who are the most invested in the academic quality of the University.

We would go further and suggest that Perry explicitly address how he views the role of research at UT as a whole. We have a feeling he’s not as keen on research that’s not as financially lucrative.

In his statements about biotechnology, Perry acknowledges the potential of research — albeit a very specific, capital-driven form — to benefit the University as well as the city. We hope he realizes the importance of all research fields at UT, even those fields which are not obvious financial boons. Silicon Valley was a locus of innovation because it operated within a culture of intellectual rigor and curiosity, a culture that UT should strive to maintain.