Letter to the Editor

The right and wrong of Rick Perry’s battle over college costs

Regarding the Aug. 4 front-page article “Gov. Perry wages war on Texas’s ivory tower”:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) certainly stirred a hornets’ nest by asking whether ever-higher tuition costs and taxpayer support of public universities were a function of smaller and smaller teaching loads by an expanding population of tenured professors. One recent study based on university data showed that 20 percent of the faculty were carrying as much as 57 percent of the teaching load while many faculty members did little research and even less teaching. This comes as no surprise to most undergraduates.

Would-be reformer Jeff Sandefer’s background was barely mentioned in this article, but it bears note. He is a hugely successful business executive and an educator with more than 20 years’ experience on the board of Harvard’s School of Business, at Rice University, the University of Texas and the highly acclaimed Acton Academy, which he founded. He has said that his “Seven Solutions” were not meant to be the “last word” on college reform but a means to stir debate about the real cost of declining productivity at colleges. They certainly have.

That Mr. Perry would take on academia in search of lower-cost degrees and reducing the crushing debt burden now carried by students and families shows that his loyalties are with average people, not powerful institutions indignant that anyone would even dare to ask, “Can’t we do better?”

Ken Hoagland, Arlington

The article on Gov. Rick Perry’s challenge to Texas’s state universities to lower their cost to students left out the fact that the main reason public universities in Texas and across the nation have increased their tuition is that state support has declined dramatically.

In 1984-85, state appropriations covered 47 percent of the University of Texas at Austin’s budget. By 2010, that number had declined to 14 percent. This situation recalls a comment made in 2001 by James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, who quipped that Michigan had evolved from a “state-supported” to a “state-
assisted” to a “state-related” to a “state-located” university. Funding in virtually all states has only declined further since then.

Barbara E. Taylor, Arlington

The writer works as a management consultant to nonprofit organizations, including colleges and universities.

 
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