Texas A&M’s Politically Charged Selection of an Interim President

The Board of Regents at Texas A&M have selected Mark Hussey as Interim President of the University System. Hussey has served as a Vice Chancellor at the institution and as Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Governor Rick Perry, an alumnus of the Texas A&M, had expressed his preference for another candidate for the position–Guy Diedrich, the University’s Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and former President of the consulting firm Austin Technology Ventures.

So the choice was between someone who has spent his career in academia and someone who has come to academia from the private sector, with the faculty insisting that the position be filled by an academic and the governor and other political figures pressuring the regents to select someone with a corporate background and a more pointedly ideological perspective.

Indeed, according to the Associated Press, “since 2011, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin have been at the center of a struggle between change-minded politicians and academics who fear accountability and cost-cutting measures are being prioritized over scholarship.”

That tension has very recently been evident at the University of Texas at Austin, where the contract of President Bill Powers has been extended but with lukewarm support of some of that system’s Regents. Powers has not only publicly expressed concerns about some of Governor Perry’s initiatives and priorities, but he has also had a somewhat contentious relationship with Chancellor Francisco Ciggaroa.

It is significant that Hussey and Powers have had the support of a number of public-interest groups in the state, most notably the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.

The following paragraphs are taken from the group’s website:

Creating Leaders, Encouraging Innovation, Promoting Excellence

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education is a group of concerned citizens who believe strongly in the power of higher education to transform lives, build our economy and shape Texas’ future. We believe a great university is an incubator of knowledge and creativity. It fuels discovery, and marries research with enhanced classroom teaching, learning, and hands-on experience. It also serves as an economic engine bringing in millions in research and development dollars, new businesses and industries, creating jobs and economic opportunity throughout Texas.

“We believe we need to create high quality pathways to higher learning with partnerships linking the flagship universities with high schools, community colleges, technical schools and Tier One institutions, to ensure our educational system meets the diverse and growing needs of our population. In an increasingly global economy, future leaders must be challenged to think differently and consider the implications of diverse cultures, histories and traditions. Well-rounded and informed students are critical to keeping Texas and America competitive and attracting jobs and employers to our state.

Advocates for Texas’ Future

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education is a group of volunteer advocates who believe the pursuit of knowledge must be a state and national priority. At a time when America’s ability to compete and lead the world is at risk, the research conducted, innovations developed, and resulting improved teaching at Texas’ higher education institutions are more important than ever before. We hope to advance a thoughtful, constructive and transparent dialogue around these important issues for all Texans.

Our Call to Action

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education was necessitated by the strong belief that there is a right way to improve higher education and that there is a wrong way that could have long-term damaging effects on our institutions of higher learning, our state’s economy and on our future. Current recommendations being floated – from dramatically expanding enrollment while slashing tuition to separating research and teaching budgets, and seceding from a recognized and respected accreditation organization – are decidedly the wrong way. We believe our public university presidents and chancellors have earned our support with their ongoing commitment to a culture of excellence and continual innovation, while also working to cut operating costs and institute reforms. We also believe it is critical to regularly and openly evaluate the performance of our universities, and do so in a public and transparent way.

This website is intended to be a place for the latest news and information on the debate over high-quality higher education in Texas and for the exchange of open constructive dialogue about continued improvements.

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