U. TexasPresident William Powers told the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Finance at a hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday that the designation of a third, tier-one public university in Texas was essential but should not come at the expense of U. Texas and Texas A&M University.
These schools are a marriage of top undergraduate education and research capabilities, which makes them the state's two public tier-one universities, Powers said in his hour-long testimony.
At its hearing, the subcommittee discussed the allocation of research funds for higher education in the state and what other Texas universities may become tier-one schools, thus requiring the same level of state funding and emphasis on research and teaching that UT and A&M receive, according to Powers and other leaders of Texas public universities.
Leaders from seven regional Texas universities, including the University of Houston, the University of North Texas and Texas Tech University, presented reasons for why they should receive the state resources to become the next tier-one school in the state, which Texas university leaders and lawmakers have said is necessary to keep Texas competitive against other states that have more tier-one schools.
The discussion was complicated by the inability of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to provide a clear definition of a tier-one university.
A university designated a tier-one school would receive significantly more funding than normally allotted from the state to attract higher-quality research faculty, but Powers said regional universities would still have an essential role to play in the state.
"We will never close the gaps and educate all of the people in this state if we have to rely on national research universities," Powers said.
Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, wanted to know how much of the research funds given to universities are tied to undergraduate education. He said the coordinating board's own statistics suggested research was pulling professors away from the class.
"A parent assumes that their student is being taught by professors who are tenured - the best and the brightest," Patrick said. "We need some more transparency and full disclosure."
Patrick's suggestion that the coordinating board require a minimum number of classroom hours for professors was met with skepticism by fellow subcommittee member Republican Sen. Robert Duncan, of Lubbock.
"If you prescribe such rigid requirements from a legislative perspective, you impact the ability of universities to recruit and retain faculty in this state," Duncan said.
Texas professors are spending time teaching students even if they are not in the classroom, said Kambra Bolch, associate vice provost for undergraduate programs and policy at Texas Tech.
"For the most part, you won't find many faculty members who don't have contact with students," Bolch said.
She recommended that other universities implement research programs that would pay students on a scale similar to an off-campus job and develop communication and collaboration between academic departments.