Amid a torrent of grim news for higher education during the past legislative session, state lawmakers affirmed their commitment to creating more tier one research universities in Texas.
The Texas Research Initiative Program, created in 2009, seeks to encourage private donations to certain “emerging research universities” — the University of North Texas, the University of Houston, Texas Tech, UT-Dallas, UT-San Antonio, UT-El Paso and UT-Arlington — across the state by matching private donations to research programs with state money. The Legislature allocates money to the fund, which is then used to match qualifying donations. To date, the state has matched almost $50 million.
Texas Tech and UT-Dallas have received the most from the fund, and the University of Houston has not been far behind, according to The Texas Tribune.
State lawmakers rightly kept this fund solvent during the recent budget debate. Original budget drafts did not refill the fund, but the final version allocated almost $34 million to new donations made from 2012-13. Only three Texas universities, UT, Rice and Texas A&M, are recognized as tier one research campuses today. California boasts 12 such universities.
The Texas Research Initiative Program has been successful in promoting a public-private partnership to build Texas’ national research presence. The money used from the fund will help these emerging universities build their research operations, stimulate the Texas economy and prepare more Texans for the future.
After months of controversy surrounding the hiring of Rick O’Donnell, former director of Colorado’s higher education department, as a special adviser to the UT Board of Regents, the UT System reached a settlement with O’Donnell to avoid a lawsuit against it, according to The Daily Texan.
Soon after the System hired O’Donnell in February at a $200,000 salary, concern grew regarding the hiring process, O’Donnell’s salary and his views on academic research. O’Donnell’s employment was terminated in April.
As part of the settlement agreement, the System sent O’Donnell a glowing letter signed by Regents Chairman Gene Powell and has agreed to pay him $70,000. Neither the System nor O’Donnell has admitted fault.
But the situation could have been almost entirely avoided had the System been more transparent in its hiring process. O’Donnell’s radical views on research and his affiliation with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit conservative think tank, understandably drew considerable controversy. Additionally, why the System agreed to pay O’Donnell an exorbitant six-figure salary amid significant budget cuts and hiring freezes is bewildering.
Now the System is paying $70,000 to erase its mistake. Where will the money come from? After repeated unreturned calls to UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, we still don’t know. We just hope taxpayers aren’t footing the bill.
The Daily Texan is competing with Texas A&M’s Battalion to see which paper can get more Facebook followers by Aug. 1. The Texan currently has 2,405 followers, compared to The Battalion’s 2,198. Check the front page of the Texan every Monday for updates, and be sure to “like” us on Facebook if you haven’t already!
And it’s goodbye to A&M!