Pejovich-led task force presents update to UT regents
University of Texas System Regents received an update on the task force for “University Excellence and Productivity” led by UT Regent Brenda Pejovich. While a full report is not expected until August, Pejovich summed up the group’s progress over its six meetings since forming in February.
The update followed the presentation of a framework to increase accountability and transparency at the UT System’s institutions, introduced by Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, who received a unanimous show of support from regents.
Pejovich, a board member of conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said her task force focused on furthering research and teaching missions, identifying ‘best practices,’ and implementing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s ‘cost efficiency’ report – seven key actions spurred by a 2009 directive from Gov. Rick Perry.
After campus visits and outreach, the task force found “general consensus” from university leaders in the areas of promotion of technology, improvement of graduate retention and reducing degree completion time. Pejovich, appointed by Perry to the Board of Regents last year after serving on THECB, referred to a survey sent to college presidents about the THECB measures. She did not draw attention to her involvement on the 20-member THECB advisory committee. As the Texas Independent reported in March, Pejovich not only sat on the board but, with THECB chair Fred W. Heldenfels IV and input from Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes and staff, helped pick the committee members.
Composed of education and business leaders – including heads of real estate, oil-and-gas and big-box retail companies – the committee also included two TPPF board members (Pejovich and Ernest Angelo Jr.) and 11 members who have donated more than $500,000 combined to the Perry campaign since 2000.
Some of the recommendations crafted by the THECB committee align with 2010-2011 legislative recommendations from TPPF. For instance, an outcome-based funding method that would partly allocate dollars to universities on the basis of degrees awarded parallels TPPF’s advice to lawmakers to, “change the funding process for public universities by switching from a university-centered approach to student-centered, graduation-focused funding. By doing so, Texas can create a market in higher education that incentivizes universities to minimize costs and maximize instructional quality by putting state appropriations in the hands of students who can choose from competing public, non-profit, and for-profit institutions.”
Further, TPPF advised legislators to “institute more reforms that tie university funding to student success results, such as number of degrees issued, student satisfaction, employment outcomes, and student assessments,” as well recommending improved accountability measures
TPPF’s recommendations also mirror the governor’s push for an outcomes-based funding model for universities. Perry has close ties to TPPF, donating proceeds of his recent book “Fed Up!” to the organization, while the 14 TPPF board members have donated nearly $1.5 million to Perry’s fund, the Texas Independent previously reported.
E-mail correspondence, obtained through a public information request, among UT System Regents and task force members shows a push to institute those cost-efficiency measures at full speed. In a letter to the task force from Pam Smith, assistant to the Regents’ general counsel, THECB recommendations are immediately directed toward university presidents:
“Rather than re-study all the issues the Coordinating Board spent time studying, the Task Force would like to focus attention on implementation and specifically hear from the presidents about what they plan to implement; what they may be willing to try; and what they believe do not necessarily make sense for their institution and why.”
Additionally, an opening speech given by Pejovich notes the THECB recommendations are a “starting point,” and will not be reviewed further but surveyed by university presidents:
“[W]e will use the Coordinating Board’s report on efficiencies as a starting point, but won’t re-study those issues or hear from the same experts they heard from less than a year ago. I would like to kick things off by hearing from our campus presidents. Specifically, we have sent them all a survey asking them to respond to the recommendations in the Coordinating Board’s efficiency task force report. We’ve asked what they’ve already started to implement or plan to, what they don’t believe they can or should implement, and why, and what they are willing to try. We will have the survey results back before our meeting and discussion with the presidents.”
Task force member UT Dallas President David Daniel expressed his approval of many of the ‘fresh ideas’ presented by the task force during the regents’ meeting, but warned against a one-size-fits-all approach, as well as the utility of the system’s involvement.
“We have to approach this with caution. We need to ask, will the UT System stepping in really add value to the campuses? Every institution is different,” Daniel said.
The six-member task force recently shed former ‘special advisor’ to the system Rick O’Donnell, a controversial figure who came under heavy criticism by UT alumni, donors and lawmakers for his writings on controversial higher education reforms. UT regents Alex Cranberg, who has strong ties to Colorado public education reform, and Robert L. Stillwell sit on the task force with Pejovich. Scott C. Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs serves as an ex-officio member of the group and was also a member THECB cost-efficiency committee.
The Texas Independent previously reported on the task force’s background reading list, featuring a presentation by a consulting group that is critical of traditional universities and supportive of for-profit colleges, and a book whose foreword was written by TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Acton School of Business and architect of TPPF’s seven “breakthrough solutions” for higher education.
The group was scheduled to give an update in mid-March during a specially called Regent meeting, but decided against it due to low attendance.