It posted a 265-page spreadsheet on the Internet that calculated faculty salaries against their teaching loads and the research funding they brought in. Individual professors were labeled “black” if they were generating more than they cost and “red” if they were not.
Some faculty began referring to themselves as the “red brigade.” The complaints grew so loud that the university took the spreadsheet off the Web, saying it was a preliminary draft.
That and other moves drew a blistering letter last fall from Robert M. Berdahl, who was the president of the Association of American Universities. He also sent copies to UT officials.
Berdahl urged McKinney to “resist these ill-conceived calls for ‘reform’ ” and issued a none-too-veiled warning that A&M’s hard-won membership in the elite organization of 61 top universities could be on the line.
McKinney said in an interview that he considered the letter “completely out of line on Dr. Berdahl’s part. First off, my phone works.” He threw it in the trash.
The since-retired Berdahl — a former president of the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a former chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley — said he “wasn’t too surprised” by McKinney’s reaction to his letter.
“It’s just a crazy set of proposals, as far as I’m concerned,” he added.
McKinney abruptly announced his resignation in May, reportedly because the regents had grown frustrated by his missteps. He left the position on July 1.
The former chancellor explained his decision this way to The Washington Post: “You have a shelf life as the chancellor, if you’re going to do things — and I do things.”
Yet e-mails obtained in April by news organizations suggest that McKinney had not been moving quickly enough to satisfy those who were most eager for “Seven Breakthrough Solutions.”
In one, reported by the Houston Chronicle, Sandefer’s father, J.D. “Jakie” Sandefer, wrote A&M regent Jim Schwertner: “Jeff cannot understand why A&M has not gone ahead and completed Reform Number One [which would compile data on the ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ of individual faculty members]. . . . I think I told you that Jeff had lost interest because nothing has been done, but I told him about the enthusiasm of the A&M regents and they were . . . sure going to get something done.”
Schwertner replied: “Just tell Jeff to saddle up. We are doing a lot more than staff knows about.”
In the interview, McKinney confirmed that several A&M regents had been pushing him to move more aggressively and in ways he thought were unwise.
“The principles that underlie those — accountability, and hard work, and taxpayers’ return on investment — are great,” the former chancellor said. “But the details — I thought they got off on things they really didn’t know about. They were simplistic requests. . . . Higher education is not perfect. It’s also not broken.”
Meanwhile, some of Perry’s higher-education ideas could be catching on elsewhere. In Florida, they have attracted the attention of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Last week, Scott told the News Service of Florida that when he interviews candidates for Florida university and college boards of trustees, he gives them a copy of “Seven Breakthrough Solutions.”
“I send them a copy of [the proposals] and say, ‘What do you think?’ . . . It starts the conversation,” Scott told the news service.
If Texas’s experience is any indication, it is going to start a lot of arguments, too.
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.