Legislative hypocrisy on higher education was on full display as the week ended. Questions about college affordability, accessibility and transparency are decried by legislators as “micro-management,” but legislators have reversed themselves by scheduling a hearing about Texas A&M’s possible move to the SEC.
Texas A&M’s Board of Regents are now scheduled to meet Monday to consider aligning themselves with the SEC, an athletic powerhouse. (Disclosure: I’m a graduate of Texas A&M.) Regents had originally planned a Wednesday meeting, but when lawmakers decided to play political games, the regents threw a flag on that play by moving their agenda forward.
When pressure has been on from taxpayers, parents and students to bring greater transparency and accountability to higher education, legislators have been less than helpful. Either all-out blocking, as in the case of Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), or some half-hearted interference, in the case of Rep. Dan Branch (R-Highland Park). They chair the higher education committees in the Senate and House, respectively.
You’ll recall that just a few months ago, Mr. Branch said in a House Higher Education committee hearing that it would be inappropriate for the Legislature to involve itself with the University of Texas decision to enter into a deal with sports network ESPN.
“I do not think this legislature ought to penalize people that are going on and being successful in maximizing their assets and getting a higher return and finding revenues that are not a tax base,” said Mr. Branch.
It is generally recognized that moving to the SEC would greatly maximize A&M’s non-tax-base revenues. But Mr. Branch is suddenly signing a different tune, with the prospect of A&M leaving the Longhorns in the faltering Big-12 conference. He has called a committee hearing for Tuesday.
On Friday Mr. Branch was quoted as saying: “Ultimately, these are public institutions… The Legislature is responsible for funding and directing the ultimate policy of our public institutions.”
Apparently he is now less concerned with each university maximizing “revenues” that come from something other than the “tax base.” Mr. Branch is now concerned with “consequences to the University of Texas or Texas Tech University and even our private schools like Baylor – what effect it could have on them?”
The governing hypocrisy of his Senate counterpart, Mrs. Zaffirini, is even more ripe. She is also a graduate of UT and is reportedly considering a hearing of her own.
The senator has opposed transparency in higher education, and she has stood against efforts to make college more affordable and accessible. She has attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry for asking questions about performance measures in the state’s universities. The senator takes the position that administrators and professors at public institutions shouldn’t need to justify their spending priorities to those holding elected office.
While she won’t work to make college more affordable or the spending more transparent, apparently Sen. Zaffirini and other legislators believe they should micro-manage the decisions of colege athletic departments.
Rather than meddling in football schedules, Texas legislators should use their time to move the ball forward on substantive policy reforms that will improve affordability and accessibility in our public colleges and universities.