UT – A Conversation with Loftin and Powers – Research, Teaching and Reforms

By Reeve Hamilton Texas Tribune

Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune is sitting down with Texas A_M University President R. Bowen Loftin and University of Texas President William Powers, Jr.

R. Bowen Loftin was named the 24th president of Texas A_M on February 12, 2010. He had served as interim president since June 2009. Prior to that, he spent four years as vice president and chief executive officer of the university’s marine-oriented branch campus, Texas A_M University at Galveston, where he also was professor of maritime systems engineering.

William Powers Jr. is the 28th president of the University of Texas at Austin. Before taking office on February 1, 2006, he served as dean of the university’s School of Law, where he won recognition for recruiting a world-class faculty and attracting diverse and talented students.

In recent months, as the top research universities in Texas, UT and A_M have been at the center of a tense debate about the productivity and accountability of the work done at such institutions.

Liveblog

7:56 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan is taking the stage, and we’re about to get started.
8:04 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Loftin and Powers are on the stage. We start with a nod to the ongoing controversy surrounding higher ed in Texas. Evan notes, “The gods of timing have smiled on me.”
8:04 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan: Do you dispute the need for reform in higher education?Powers goes first. “Absolutely there’s a need for higher ed reform in Texas,” he says. He says that’s been a priority of his from the get go, and they have been redesigning courses and budgets. The cost and funding structure is not sustainable.Loftin says he completely agrees.
8:08 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan asks Powers about accusations that UT is overly defensive when it comes to reform. Powers counters that the accusations are that his administration has been suppressing data — which he says is not true.”We are absolutely in favor of reform,” Powers says. And he says they’ve been doing it for the last six years and an accelerated way in the last two.Powers says the key question is “What are the outputs we’re looking for?”There’s a certain kind of education that UT and A_M institutions engage in, he says, which integrates research into education. It’s not the only model, he says, but it’s integral to the state.

8:08 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan asks Powers about accusations that UT is overly defensive when it comes to reform. Powers counters that the accusations are that his administration has been suppressing data — which he says is not true.”We are absolutely in favor of reform,” Powers says. And he says they’ve been doing it for the last six years and an accelerated way in the last two.Powers says the key question is “What are the outputs we’re looking for?”There’s a certain kind of education that UT and A_M institutions engage in, he says, which integrates research into education. It’s not the only model, he says, but it’s integral to the state.

8:11 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan asks Loftin if, at A_M, they’ve been too compliant when it comes to reform directives coming from Austin.Loftin says, of the reforms proposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin that has seven proposed “breakthrough solutions” for higher ed, only five can be addressed at the university level.Many of them are very noble things. Rewarding teaching is a good thing, but the question is, “How do you get there?”
8:13 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Loftin notes that A_M has hundreds of teaching awards that have been refined over the years.Powers says that teaching ought to be a part of the salary structure, but he says, “We are also a research university.” He says the key is getting the right balance in your outputs. He says, research is a critical part of what the university does, including at the teaching level.
8:18 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Regarding teaching and research, Loftin says he and Powers are on the same page. Loftin says that only a very narrow portion of faculty are only good at research or teaching. So, the others should not be made to choose between them.
8:20 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan asks Loftin about A_M System‘s “red and black report.” Read about it by following this link:http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/am-system-examines-professors-revenue-generation/Bowen says he wouldn’t say it was a good thing in the way it was done. His problems: It was a snapshot in time. Also, there was no indication of the sort of salary, when many professors get funding from multiple places.
8:23 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Powers says his concern about a “red and black report” to determine the revenue generation of faculty is “more fundamental.” In short, it’s an evaluation exercise not just a data exercise.He says the outputs chosen to determine represents “a statement about what our value system is.” What is left out, he says, is the social value of the research.In such a report, Powers notes, professors would be penalized for teaching small freshman seminars, which at UT they call “signature courses.”
8:24 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Now Evan is asking Loftin about the letter admonishing the A_M System for its red and black report.Read about that here:http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/aau-to-am-resist-ill-conceived-reforms/
8:27 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Loftin notes that “brands matter.” He says their long-term vision is maintained by their membership in AAU, and they’d like to keep it.AAU, by the way, stands for Association of American Universities, an elite group of research universities and the gatekeepers of tier one status.
8:27 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan: Should guns be allowed on campus?Powers: “No.”Audience: Applause.
8:28 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

“Friday night comes once a week,” Powers says. Young people, alcohol, and guns do not make a good mix, he says.
8:29 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Loftin: “Bill and I agree on this very much.”He says law enforcement have told him that it’s hard to tell who a good person or a bad person is and they don’t want to make a mistake. Loftin also says that most of the students on his campus are against allowing concealed handguns on campus
8:33 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Regarding budget cuts, Powers says that the state appropriations represents the money that’s used to pay the history teachers and physics professors. “It’s the sand being put in the oyster around which the pearl grows.” Even though state money makes up about 14 percent of UT’s budget, Powers says losing a percentage of that percentage will be harmful. “We are already very lean,” he says.
8:34 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Loftin says that professors will become less accessible as budgets shrink and A_M tries to do more with less.
8:36 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Evan: Is it ok that at the best public universities, we only graduate about half of the students in four years?Loftin says that programs are different and take different amounts of time. Also, students change majors. “We are committed to getting more students through quicker,” he says.
8:42 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Regarding $10,000 degrees, Powers says that 23 percent of UT students already pay about $2,500 per year with the help of financial aid, grants, and other savings measures.
8:42 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

The interview is over, but the live-blog is not. Audience Q_A has begun!
8:45 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

The first question is about what guns on campus might mean for expenses at the universities.
Powers and Loftin indicate that it might mean an increase because of increased training for personnel. Loftin says it’s unclear what it would or wouldn’t do to insurance rates.
8:45 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Question 2: What are you trying to do to push students through the university in four years?Powers: “Let me say, we’re trying to pull students through the university in four years.”
8:51 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Powers responding to a question about budget cuts says that the humanities and the social sciences are of particular concern because they don’t have the same funding opportunities. If you look at the data, he says, the choice of major has a “very tiny” determination of a student’s post-grad path.Loftin says they are redoubling their efforts on private funding. The answer “has to be” additional private support.
8:58 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton
Question: What is your assessment of your colleges of education?Loftin says he’s very happy with A_M’s. “We think we do very well,” he says.Powers says a lot of the research done at the College of Education is critically important. Though, he says, “Teaching is one of those areas, frankly like many areas, where book learning alone isn’t enough.”
9 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

Final question: What other bills are you focusing on this session?Loftin: Legislation that will allow more flexibility, such as those that ease reporting requirements.Powers agrees. He says principal investigators on National Science Foundation grants — something like 20 or 25 years ago — 10 percent of their time administering regulatory structure. Now it’s up to 40 percent.
9:01 a.m. by Reeve Hamilton

That’s all, folks!

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