Burka: McKinney out because of McKinney, not Gov. Perry or Sandefers
Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka says he doesn’t believe that Texas A&M University Chancellor Mike McKinney is resigning because he held back on implementing reforms advocated by Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Jeff Sandefer to reform higher education, the theory that many in the media have been discussing. Burka also said he doesn’t think the move was directed by Gov. Rick Perry, a Sandefer ally.
“Rather than seeing this as a sign of political interference, I believe it was an encouraging sign that the leadership at A&M understands that the Sandefer/TPPF reforms are problematic and that they are getting in the way of A&M’s growth in areas like a new biotech corridor. In short, McKinney has become a distraction.”
Sandefer is the chief architect of the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” ideas about reforming higher education in Texas that include putting less emphasis on research, judging professors by the revenue they bring in and treating students as customers. Recent e-mails obtained and published by reporters have shown Sandefer and his father, Jakie Sandefer, also an oilman and Perry contributor, were heavily involved in pushing the reforms at A&M. But Burka thinks that McKinney’s own track record led to his resignation announcement last week. He writes:
“When Robert Berdahl, the president of the American Association of Universities, the umbrella organization for the nation’s elite research universities, wrote McKinney, warning him that A&M’s use of the Sandefer reforms could result in A&M’s losing its membership, McKinney bragged that he had thrown Berdahl’s letter in the trash can and fired back an intemperate response.”
“This put A&M’s greatest academic achievement, AAU membership, at risk. Earlier, he had fired A&M president Elsa Murano after writing a demeaning and over-the-top review of her job performance that became public knowledge. I did not see, but I did hear reports from A&M sources, that McKinney’s appearance before House Appropriations this year did not go well. I think his term as chancellor came to an end for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and A&M will be better off with new leadership.”
Burka also walked back his earlier prediction that Phil Gramm or Jeff Wentworth were top candidates to be chancellor, instead betting on current A&M president R. Bowen Loftin to take McKinney’s spot.
But other news outlets link McKinney’s resignation to pressure from the Sandefers and Perry.
According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, ten months before McKinney announced his retirement, Jakie Sandefer wrote of the chancellor: “I think it is time to give Mike a deadline and meet with him either every two weeks or once a month to get a progress report, He needs to be told that these things are going to get done either with him or without him.”
The e-mail was sent to Phil Adams, who is a Bryan businessman, A&M regent, TPPF board member and major Perry contributor.
In a July 23 e-mail, Sandefer told Adams about a meeting he had with McKinney the day before, according to the Eagle. “When I told him that the cost of an education had gone up 800%, he said everything had gone up, like I am an idiot.”
Jakie Sandefer also was disturbed at McKinney’s version of the “Academic Financial Data Analysis,” the spreadsheet that assigned a red and black number to faculty members to determine their market “worth,” the Eagle Reports.
The initial reform involved dividing the faculty members’ salary by the number of students taught, but the e-mails said McKinney advocated including more information to create a more nuanced picture of faculty performance.
“He flat out said he was not going to figure the cost per student taught and that is the number one thing in Reform #1,” Jakie Sandefer wrote. He said that after a meeting “Jeff and I were walking down the hall and he said this whole deal was a waste of his time. There are more regents interested in this than I thought — [Jim] Schwertner, [Gene] Stallings and several others,” he wrote. “The problem is that they get told a bunch of excuses, just like we do, why these things can’t be done.”
[Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time on May 21 to correct an error indicated by commenter TX reader.]
“ten months after McKinney announced his retirement..”
What are you smoking there?
That would be in the future!