A new fight over higher education is brewing in Texas, where a decline in contributions from the state government has prompted the University of Texas’ flagship Austin campus to propose a tuition hike on in-state students that would push tuition above $10,000 per year. The school’s president, William Powers, Jr., has been leading the push for tuition increases, and the faculty has given him their support, unanimously voting last week to back the proposal, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plan is meeting resistance, however, from the Board of Regents, as well as Governor Rick Perry, who has issued a challenge to UT schools to look at ways to cut costs and offer a bachelors degrees to Texas residents for only $10,000 (total, not per year).
Now the fight is on. Although some schools in the University of Texas system have responded favorably to Governor Perry’s request, faculty at the Austin campus have raised concerns that a tuition freeze of any sort could make it difficult for the school to remain competitive with other top schools around the country. Perhaps more surprisingly, many students are joining the faculty in protest of the freeze, citing concerns about quality of education.
You can always make a case for more revenue, and even with the higher tuition proposed under the plan, UT remains one of the great bargains in American education, but American universities need to lead by redesigning themselves to deliver a better product at a lower cost. Faculty senates know what faculties want—and it is almost always more resources to go on doing things the same way but in more comfort. But faculty senates are generally focused on protecting the rights and the privileges of the academic guild. Sometimes guild interests align with the public interest; often, they do not.
UT faculty by and large think that what Texas needs is a flagship public university which is a first class research university—as that concept was developed in the second half of the twentieth century. What the state actually needs is a first class twenty-first century university, and that is almost certainly something that delivers more education to more students at less cost per head than the universities of the last century. The nature of faculty appointments probably needs to change; tenure may not play the same role in the future as it has in the past; “research” may not play the same role in faculty responsibilities and compensation, especially outside of the natural sciences.
Faculty senates are going to fight all these changes tooth and nail; so will administrators who are products of the system and can’t imagine a great university in any other form.
Via Meadia doesn’t think the answer to our university problems is to go all Henry VIII on them, and close down the cloisters. But if universities don’t develop a greater capacity for self criticism and self reform, Henry VIII—perhaps in the form of Governor Perry or others like him—will be knocking at the door much sooner than they think.