Texas’ universities have a dirty little secret: they don’t want taxpayers, parents or students looking too closely at their books. And they certainly don’t want to answer questions about performance.

It would seem the high priests of academia — the faculty senates, the administrators, the ivory tower crowd — are intractably opposed to releasing meaningful information about how dollars are spent and to what effect.

Despite being public institutions, underwritten by taxpayers, students and parents, and enjoying the sovereign status as entities of the state, transparency is all but nonexistent once dollars enter the hallowed grounds of our major universities.

That must change.

It seems the universities don’t even like it when regents start asking questions about the institutions for which they have a constitutional obligation — and sworn oath — to manage.

It’s being reported around the state that University of Texas System administrators — you know, some of the highest-paid state employees who routinely make in excess of $200,000 — have raised their hackles in opposition to requests for information from the regents about the management of the schools and how the students are being educated.

It’s rumored that State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas), who chairs the Texas House Higher Education Committee, is going to call the Texas A&M and University of Texas board of regents chairman before his committee. Hopefully he will thank them for promoting transparency and accountability.

After all, what the regents are doing is called good stewardship. While respected in the real world, it is apparently something leaders of higher ed institutions are expected to oppose.

At a minimum, the higher ed establishment is exuding a nasty form of elitism that has little place in the body politic. For example, State Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) recently slammed Gov. Rick Perry for wanting more transparency and accountability brought to bear in higher education.

“Rick Perry doesn’t understand higher education,” she said in a published interview. “He doesn’t have a graduate degree, and he graduated a long time ago with a major in something like agriculture. I have a PhD, so I understand the value of research and teaching. He just doesn’t understand it.”

That’s elitism defined. Since more than half of taxpayers don’t even have a bachelors’ degree, Sen. Zaffirini would obviously be even more dismissive of the public’s right to know how their dollars are being utilized.

When it’s being done on or with the taxpayers’ dime, we should have very strict accountability and transparency. We should know how much professors are making, how many students they are educating, and what value the research they pursue provides. Frankly, “just-pay-the-bill-and-shut-up” is not a very attractive public policy, but one all too often embraced by the ivory tower crowd.

Sen. Zaffirini went on to said that the biggest problem with people seeking reforms to higher education is that “[t]hey haven’t taken time to understand what the status quo is; they just want to change it.”

Of course, the universities won’t allow anyone to ask questions so they can better understand the system.

It’s ironic that the “status quo” of Texas’ universities can only be defended by universities hiding data (even from regent), prohibiting questions, and dismissing those who seek more complete information… All of that should be proof enough that the higher education establishment is in need real reform, real fast.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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