Posts Tagged ‘texas A&M system’

Texas A&M students form group to oppose outsourcing at the university

Posted on: April 12th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Texas A&M University (Photo: Flickr/sarowen)

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is looking to save money through outsourcing, and a group of Texas A&M University students plan to rally the student body in opposition.

The Texas Tribune reports that Sharp is seeking bidders to outsource food services, janitorial services, building maintenance and landscaping. Those four services currently comprise 1,880 employees with an annual budget of $92.3 million.

This has caused a stir among faculty and staff. According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Texas A&M Faculty Senate is in unanimous opposition to the plan. The body passed a resolution that states the senate opposes “the move to outsource Texas A&M services without the due diligence of shared governance.” During a town hall meeting with Sharp, staff members shared their concerns about the possibility of losing their jobs.

“There hasn’t been a strong student voice in the matter,” said Valery Owen, one of the organizers of the student protest. “These are services that directly affect the students, and we should have a say in what happens. In addition, one of the main reasons given for the potential outsourcing is to help the students by keeping tuition low, so the students should certainly have a say in what is decided.”

The group says that the university administration has pursued the changes under the guise of keeping tuition low for students, but they take issue with using students as an excuse to make changes they say will have negative impacts. “Human beings are not expendable,” said Owen. “The people whose jobs are being jeopardized are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Although we believe that keeping tuition low should be a priority, it should not be at the expense of loyal employees, many of which are making relatively low wages.”

“One major goal of the student protest is to show the administration that there are plenty of students who oppose outsourcing,” said Owen. The group hopes that it raises awareness and support among students who may not have known about this situation otherwise. “We also want the people whose jobs are being affected by the potential outsourcing to know that there are students who stand behind them and care more about human beings than money.”

Using social media and other online tools has been part of the group’s strategy to raise awareness. A Facebook event page has been created to inform students of the protest, and 74 people have confirmed their plans to attend a protest today. The group will meet at the Sul Ross statue in Academic Plaza at 4:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to bring signs. An online petition at Change.org has attracted more than 170 signatures from those who oppose the administration’s outsourcing plan. “No matter what the turnout is like, the petition and protest together is evidence that the students are not unanimously supportive of outsourcing,” said Owen. “We are hoping media coverage will make even more people aware of outsourcing, and the effect it would have on so many people’s lives.”

Terrance Edmond, a student senator, told the Texas Independent that the long term effects of outsourcing will be an excessive turnover rate for employees working under contractual terms. “While numerically, outsourcing may allow the A&M system to shift cost, high turnover rate among potential employees will inevitably reduce quality,” said Edmond.

”Most employees that have worked for Texas A&M University for ten plus years have not done so for their salary,” said Edmond. “Many of the employees maintain job stability for the sake of organizational connection, benefits, and the assurance of working for a public institution. Even if these very benefits were mirror imaged into the private companies’ plan, the conditions by which the benefits are executed will change due to operational differences. Long-term, you will have a Texas A&M University that is no longer an institution, but an operation.”

To back up their claims, the group points to a report by the Association of College Unions International that examines how outsourcing affects the university culture as a whole. According to the report, potential downsides of outsourcing include “loss of institutional control of the outsourced area, human resource problems, and campus exposure to additional risks such as bankruptcy or the sale of a company.” The report concludes that “Outsourcing is not conclusively helpful or harmful to campus climate.”

Top Stories Photo Credit: Flickr/oneservant2go

Education level of Texas regents essentially the same as in 1999

Posted on: June 21st, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments

Previously, the Texas Independent reported that, on average, regents of Texas university systems are less-educated than their counterparts in other large states. Further analysis shows that the average number of academic degrees held by Texas university system regents has not changed significantly since 1999, the year before then-Gov. George W. Bush was elected President.

Additionally, the number of degrees held by regents of the Texas A&M University and University of Texas systems has not changed significantly since 1989, during the second term of GOP Gov. William P. Clements.

Looking at all six university systems in Texas, the 54 current regents hold 76 university degrees (an average of 1.4 per regent), including 25 at the master’s level or higher.

In 1999, for 52 regents whose academic credentials could be found online, the group held 74 university degrees (also an average of 1.4 per regent), including 22 degrees at the master’s level or higher.

For the state’s two largest university systems, the 18 current A&M and UT regents together hold 25 university degrees at the bachelor’s level and higher (about 1.4 degrees per regent), including seven degrees at the master’s level or higher. In 1999, the 18 A&M and UT regents held 27 university degrees (about 1.5 degrees per regent), including 10 degrees at the master’s level or higher. In 1989, the 18 A&M and UT regents held 26 university degrees (about 1.4 degrees per regent), including eight at the master’s level or higher.

(Note: Two UT regents in 1989 had attended three or more years of school at UT but left before graduating. One — Dr. Mario Ramirez — left to enroll early in medical school, where he earned his M.D.)

Currently, UT regents have an average of 1.4 degrees per person, and A&M regents have an average of 1.3 per person. In 1999, UT regents had an average of 1.8 degrees per person, and A&M regents had an average of 1.2 per person. In 1989, the average number of degrees for a UT regent was 1.3, and for A&M it was 1.6.

Funding source opaque for group promoting university transparency, accountability

Posted on: June 7th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel 2 Comments

It’s not entirely clear who’s funding a group that has been targeting Texas university professors in the name of transparency, accountability and efficiency.

In late May, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) produced an analysis of data on University of Texas at Austin faculty that created more ripples in the already agitated waters of the state’s higher education, which have been stirred up by the so-called “seven solutions” posed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). The fact that one of the authors of the analysis, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, is a senior fellow at TPPF did little to calm the controversy.

Although CCAP intends to produce more reports on professors in the UT System and Texas A&M University System — and Vedder has vocally insisted that that faculty members’ differing workloads have lead to economic inefficiencies, both at UT and A&M (letters via the Austin American-Statesman) — there is no evidence that TPPF is bankrolling those efforts by Vedder or CCAP. Exactly who is, however, is difficult to see, at least according to Internal Revenue Service documents.

The entity behind CCAP is an Arlington, Va.-based organization called Donors Trust Inc., a nonprofit that, acting as a conduit and steward, specializes in funding conservative causes based on the intent of donors, who remain one step removed from the recipients of their donations.

Progressive blog Crooks and Liars spotlighted Donors Trust in April, calling it “a tax-deductible slush fund. If a donor or foundation wants to put money toward a project and doesn’t want it to be a direct gift reportable to the IRS, all they do is give it to Donors Trust.”

The blogger summarizes information from the group’s 2009 IRS filing, including mentioning that CCAP is one of three projects Donors Trust runs.

In 2009, Donors Trust reported spending about $520,000 on CCAP, offset by $320,000 in revenue. That’s a fraction of the activities of the organization, which brought in $19.9 million in receipts that year and spend $12.6 million on scores of conservative causes. In 2008, Donors Trust reported spending $380,000 on CCAP, and bringing in $510,000 in revenue for the program. In 2007, the group spent $165,000 on CCAP, which was founded in 2006.

Meanwhile, Donors Trust paid Vedder — as an independent contractor — in the amounts of $150,000 in 2009 and about $82,000 in 2007. Vedder does not appear on Donors Trust’s 2008 IRS form, which had a threshold of $100,000 to identify independent contractors. (In 2009, Vedder earned nearly as much from Donors Trust as the group’s President & CEO Whitney L. Ball, who made about $160,000.)

In 2007, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (a Wisconsin-based entity that Crooks and Liars links to “union-busting initiative there) gave $25,000 to CCAP via Donors Trust.

Professors from smaller campuses also concerned about ‘seven solutions’

Posted on: June 3rd, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant 1 Comment

Image by: Matt MahurinWhile professors at Texas A&M University have expressed anger over controversial proposals for higher education, professors at smaller universities throughout the state are also concerned that the reforms — intended to affect all universities, not just the state’s tier-one schools — will be detrimental to their campuses. (more…)

Eagle: A&M’s teaching award program based on OU’s, which was proposed by Sandefer

Posted on: June 2nd, 2011 by Patrick Brendel 1 Comment

The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports on a chicken-or-egg situation regarding Texas A&M University’s “Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence,” and whether A&M based its controversial faculty teaching awards on a now-defunct program at the University of Oklahoma, or else on a proposal by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Meanwhile, documents show that during Gov. Rick Perry’s now-infamous May 2008 higher education summit, regents were pitched the “seven solutions” at the same time they were given a copy of a proposal to implement “Teaching Excellence Awards” at OU.

Outgoing A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney told the Eagle that he proposed the SLATE awards, based on a similar program at OU called the Alumni Teaching Award. Both gave cash awards to faculty based on anonymous student evaluations. OU’s award, first proposed around 2006/2007, was discontinued after two years due to lack of funds, according to the Eagle.

TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer’s father “Jakie” Sandefer, who is a prominent OU alumnus, is credited with bringing the short-lived teaching awards to his alma mater.

“It’s no secret that he introduced the concept here,” an OU business professor charged with implementing the program told the Eagle.

The OU program was instituted before Perry’s May 2008 higher ed summit. A&M began SLATE in fall 2008.

According to the Eagle:

“So it’s possible that the awards program at Texas A&M University — initially called SLATE, or Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence — was conceived before the Texas Public Policy Foundation formalized its “solutions.”

“Regardless, before A&M, before Oklahoma, the idea came from Jeff Sandefer[...]“

In January 2009, the Eagle interviewed a TPPF spokesman, who said TPPF’s “breakthrough solution” on teaching awards arose from programs at OU and the Acton School of Business, founded by Jeff Sandefer.

The OU program is featured prominently in TPPF documents for Perry’s May 2008 higher ed summit. As backup information for “Breakthrough Solution #2,” there appears a proposal to implement the OU “Teaching Excellence Awards Pilot Program 2006-2007.”

According to the document, the proposed $360,000 pilot program for the business and engineering schools would be voluntary and funded through outside donations. The proposal includes tables breaking out “possible incentive effects” of implementing the awards and how to determine the amounts of awards for faculty.

“One of the most exciting possibilities of the Teaching Excellence Awards is how it could encourage teachers to improve their teaching effectiveness and teach more sections and students,” according to the proposal.

Right after the May 2008 summit, the Lone Star Report wrote an article on the event. According to LSR, “Regents spent a lot of time discussing an Oklahoma University pilot program to reward teaching excellence.”

Read “Breakthrough Solution #2″ and supporting documents, including the proposal for the OU program:

TPPF-May2008-HigherEdSummit-Solution2

A&M professors speaking out against ‘seven solutions’

Posted on: May 28th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments

More than 800 professors signed a letter presented during a dramatic board of regents meeting this week in which angry faculty spoke out against Texas A&M University being micromanaged by Rick Perry and allies at the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation.

But that’s not the only letter being sent by professors to regents, and professors say their e-mail list-servs are backed up with e-mails from professors expressing concern about the future of the university. Several different groups of prestigious A&M professors have written letters expressing dismay at political interference in A&M, one of the state’s two public flagship universities.

TPPF’s so-called “seven breakthrough solutions” include separating research and teaching budgets and giving faculty monetary awards according to student evaluations, suggestions that faculty say would be destructive to the university. E-mails show that TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer and his father Jakie, a wealthy oilman and Perry donor, have pushed A&M administrators to implement the “solutions.” There have been reports that A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney’s retirement announcement came about as a result of pressure from the Sandefers because McKinney was slow to implement the “solutions.”

A&M’s Executive Committee of Distinguished Professors wrote a resolution saying that “there has been an extraordinary level of political interference in the university, the extent and magnitude of which is unprecedented. We particularly fear…that some of the “seven breakthrough solutions that are in wide discussion have the potential to do significant and irrevocable damage…”

The group does not usually speak out.

“We view ourselves as an advisory body that normally offers counsel and  recommendations in private forums,” the group stated in the letter. “Only in response to extraordinarily critical situations […] are public positions taken.”

A&M’s Council of Principal Investigators, a group of elite research scientists, also has drafted a letter (.pdf) expressing concern about political influence on the university. The CPI is an elected body that represents more than 2,000 of A&M’s “principal investigators,” largely scientists who have received major outside grants. The letter was signed by Roger Rauchwerger, a computer science and engineering professor and by Terry Thomas, a biology professor, both officers in the organization.

“The new chancellor must be above the ongoing political fray involving the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other ad hoc special interest groups,” the letter said. “These groups have no provenance with regard to Texas higher education and provide misinformation and simplistic ideas to “reform” higher education.”

The group requested that a CPI representative be placed on the search committee, but at the regents’ meeting yesterday, Chairman Richard Box announced that a committee of four regents would choose the next chancellor and that no faculty would be included on the committee.

Yet another A&M professor wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman. Kim Hill, a political science professor and president of the Southern Political Science Association, argued that free market principles cannot be applied to universities:

“But for free market principles to operate, those who provide goods and services must be as free to choose as those who purchase them. By that logic, colleges and universities should be freed from state regulations about which programs to provide, how to provide them, how much to charge and how to create and manage the programs and faculty they use in doing so. According to free market logic, then, and just like in the world of private business, universities would be motivated to be entrepreneurial in ways that would especially attract students.

“They could choose to develop their own educational niches as well. And market forces would reward the especially successful and spur those that are less successful to do better. So the policy solutions the governor’s advisers have advanced might be called only a “glass half full” of conservative principles.”

 

In op-ed, A&M professor makes case for drastic restructuring of Texas higher ed system

Posted on: May 25th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant 2 Comments

In an op-ed published in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Texas A&M University associate professor of history Jonathan Coopersmith argues for a radical restructuring of higher education in Texas to address bureaucratic overlap.

Coopersmith points out that the sudden and possibly involuntary resignation of Mike McKinney as the chancellor of the Texas A&M System “provides the opportunity to rethink the structure of public university education in Texas. The result could save taxpayers millions of dollars and produce better universities.”

The Texas A&M and University of Texas systems comprise 20 institutions (excluding medical centers, extension services and other agencies). Both the A&M and UT systems are dominated by their flagship, Tier 1 research universities.

College Station has 49,000 of the 115,000 A&M students, with Prairie View and Tarleton State next with 8,600 students each. Austin has 51,000 of the 198,000 UT students, with UT Arlington the next largest with 33,000 students.

Neither system is a true system, but rather a collection of universities that really are not connected. The system administrators, as administrators everywhere, have tried to impose a seeming orderliness and bureaucratic coherence from the top. But one size does not fit all.

A university of 49,000 students has a different structure and needs than one a 10th the size. The result is an expensive system bureaucracy that adds little value to the individual universities, but does demand a large number of administrators both within the system and at each university whose jobs are to create and coordinate regulations and rules.

Coopersmith makes the case that Texas should take a cue from California and group the state’s tier-one institutions (A&M and The University of Texas at Austin) together into a university system, then group the state’s smaller institutions into another system. The so-called “emerging research universities,” such as Texas Tech University, University of Houston and UT-Dallas, would join the A&M/UT-Austin system when they achieved tier-one status. He wrote:

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, we can learn from California, which has a three-tier system: the Universities of California, the California State Universities, and the community colleges. Similar schools with similar challenges share a system.

What would happen if UT and A&M, both retaining their justly proud heritage, formed the Tier 1 system, and the other universities formed a second system? Taxpayers and the universities would benefit from eliminating costly, duplicate administration and eliminating counterproductive regulations.

Coopersmith admits that restructuring the A&M and UT systems would be politically challenging.

“Which regents would remain with the flagships and which would remain with the other universities?” he asks. “Would former and current students accept a restructuring? The educational and financial benefits of restructuring, however, should outweigh the political upheaval.”

Read Coopersmith’s full piece here.

Further analyses forthcoming on UT, A&M faculty productivity

Posted on: May 23rd, 2011 by Patrick Brendel 3 Comments

Image by: Matt MahurinAuthors of an analysis of data on University of Texas at Austin faculty teaching and research said they intend to perform more studies on UT System and Texas A&M University System productivity — not because they’re picking on Texas professors, but because that depth of information simply isn’t available for institutions in other states. Richard Vedder and Jonathan Robe of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) also said initial criticisms of their preliminary analysis (.pdf) appear to stem from problems with the data itself, not with their interpretation of the numbers. (more…)