Education coalition to safeguard universities’ research

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A new coalition of education advocates seeks to counter efforts by Gov. Rick Perry and state boards of regents that members say could dilute the quality of education in Texas.

A press release Wednesday announced the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which has 200 founding members. Student Government President Natalie Butler serves on the group’s 20-member executive committee. Other prominent figures include former lieutenant governors Bill Ratliff and Bill Hobby, former UT System Chancellor Dan Burck, former University President Peter Flawn and former regents such as H. Scott Caven, according to the press release.

“We are concerned by some ideas of the governor, Board of the Regents and Texas Public Policy Foundation,” Butler said.

Those entities have put forth suggestions to reduce research funding so that only self-supported research would be allowed at universities, she said. Reports also talk about doubling class sizes to halve tuition, which would significantly undermine the value of education for students, Butler said.

“We are going to share our vision of higher education that is at odds with some of the things being discussed,” she said. “The group will be working to put out accurate information about things that the University is doing.”

Jenifer Sarver, the group’s spokeswoman, said it is a grassroots effort to bring positive ideas forward, but that the Coalition doesn’t have a formal structure or organization.

“We do not have a blueprint of what it looks like [yet],” Sarver said.

It is important to realize that this is a group of senior individuals with experience and expertise to make right decisions for higher education and they are committed to making this a priority regardless of their political affiliations, she said.

“I think it’s a real testament when people from both political parties can come together,” said UT Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty.

Gene Powell, the chairman for the UT System Board of Regents, said he strongly encourages groups and organizations to present positive ideas for the 15 UT System universities and medical institutions. The Board welcomes people to express opinions concerning higher education within the UT System and the institutions it serves, he said in a statement to The Daily Texan.

“The Board looks forward to hearing this new group and working with them in the areas of quality, access, accountability and transparency, which are important to all of us,” Powell said.