Thursday, August 30, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 1


 
 









 
Faculty Senate hears speech on legislative session, Tier I status

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

"In case any of you weren't already aware of it, Texas politics is a full-contact sport," UH System Vice Chancellor for Governmental
Relations Grover Campbell told members of the Faculty Senate Wednesday.

Campbell's remarks in the Kiva Room of Farish Hall were a blow-by-blow account of the last session of the Texas Legislature,
during which Campbell, UH President and UH System Chancellor Arthur K. Smith and others campaigned for the passage of a bill
that would help UH and other Texas universities achieve Tier I status.


Brian Viney/The Daily Cougar


Faculty Senate President H. Jerome Freiberg gives the opening remarks at the assembly's meeting Wednesday in the Kiva Room of Farish Hall.


Tier I is a ranking of the nation's most research-intensive schools. Currently, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M (both
funded by the Permanent University Fund) are the only universities in the state to hold that status.

In May, the Texas House and Senate both passed their respective versions of the bill, and Gov. Rick Perry signed the final version
into law in June. It takes effect Sept. 1.

Campbell, the UH System's point man in Austin, said the legislative session could be described as "historic, productive, and
probably the most litigious session, especially for higher education, in 30 years, or anyone's recent memory."

"We knew it was going to be a difficult session going in," Campbell said, noting that when it began in January, Texas had a new
governor and lieutenant governor. Several issues threatened to put higher education on the back burner, particularly the wrangling
over redistricting (the drawing of new political boundaries following the 2000 census). Also, legislators faced the problem of limited
financial resources, Campbell said.

"But I'm proud to say that UH and the UH System did very, very well," he said.

The main UH campus received a $20 million (or 8.5 percent) increase in general funding over the last biennium and a $4 million
(15.5 percent) increase in funding for special items.

The legislature also approved the continuation of an annual "stair-step" $3-per-semester-credit-hour tuition increase to offset
inflation, despite many legislators' concerns about the ability of students from lower-income families to afford college.

UH also received an authorization of $51 million for tuition revenue bonds, the largest of any project in the state, while the UH
System as a whole received over $100 million, Campbell said.

"But our number-one legislative priority was Tier I," he said.

"I'm very proud that this campus has been the one leading the way on this issue. Without our efforts, this would never have become
a statewide issue," he said.

Campbell said that UH officials had been working for over three years to persuade community members, newspaper editorial
boards, other university presidents and legislative leaders of the need for Texas to have more Tier I schools to compete in the
increasingly science- and technology-driven marketplace.

"Quite frankly, when we got into this process, we really thought it was going to take two or three legislative sessions to be
successful," he said.

"When we finally got our draft (of the bill) prepared, we allowed ourselves to become a little optimistic that this might actually be the
session."

The chief sponsors of the Tier I legislation were Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep.
Robert Junell (D-San Angelo), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. "This was the 'dream team' of the Texas Legislature,"
Campbell said.

"Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to the governor's desk," he said. "Our legislation lost its focus. Originally, our
intent had been to focus limited state resources to a few schools which had a proven track record of being research-intensive and
were on the cusp, ready to take that next step, or natural evolution, to Tier I status."

He said that officials from other schools began to see the two bills as "one more funding mechanism for all of higher education. And
predictably, other universities began saying 'How much can I get,' or 'How can I manipulate this?'

"The legislature, quite simply, began getting mixed signals from the higher education community. More specifically, the UT System
started engaging in a bit of legislative gamesmanship that I can only describe as 'Let's Break a Deal.'" 

He said that UT officials had, and subsequently broke, deals they made with Perry, Junell and others.

"Ultimately, with less than 36 hours left in the legislative session, a compromise was reached," Campbell said.

That compromise led to the establishment of two "Texas Education Funds," one to be divided by the two PUF universities and the
other for state universities which receive funding from the Higher Education Appropriations Fund.

"We believe there's an inherent inequity to it," Campbell said. "Our proposal, since day one, had been for one fund, with one set of
criteria, systematically applied across the state."

"But we're reminded that the process is evolutionary, not revolutionary. We have something in place."

Over the next biennium, UH will receive approximately $12 million in TEF funds.
 
 
 

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