Texas Reform, the Compromise

According to The American Independent, Francisco Cigarroa, Chancellor of the University of Texas, presented a vision to reform the UT system in a speech given to the University of Texas Board of Regents on Thursday.

The nine point plan, formulated to integrate the systems’ bureaucracies, foster accountability, and expand statewide science and medical educational programs, is entitled The Framework Action Plan. A flexible, decentralized initiative designed to increase both enrollment and the graduation rate, Cigarroa’s plan has been praised by groups who have found themselves on opposing sides of education reform previously.

“One size does not fit all,” the chancellor said in his speech.

Its nine points include a plan to disclose the full estimated cost of receiving a degree; a plan to encourage the retention of high quality professors through the system’s Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention program (STARS), and an initiative that would foster technology resource sharing amongst schools and create a standard operating system in the UT system.

The plan was presented as an alternative to a plan that had previously been dominating the education reform discourse. That initiative, known informally as “seven breakthrough solutions”, was written by Jeff Sandefer (who The American Independent described as an “oilman”) for an Austin think tank called the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). “Seven breakthrough solutions” was championed by Governor Rick Perry (Sandefer donated to Perry’s campaign), starting in 2008.

It proved to be somewhat controversial. The University of Texas published a report claiming that “seven breakthrough solutions” would undermine research, teaching and ruin a plan to increase graduation rates. Denouncing the plan as being too corporate, the report remarked that “the campus is not a marketplace.”

“The higher education experience is not akin to shopping on iTunes or visiting Banana Republic,” it argued.

The plan introduced by Chancellor Cigarroa , however, has had more broad appeal. Not only has the TPPF endorsed The Framework Action Plan, so has The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education; an institution that lambasted TPPF’s take on reform.

“Chancellor Cigarroa’s plan is in direct contrast to the simplistic, ill-conceived, and untested so-called ‘solutions’ being promoted by outside interest groups,” the Coalition said in a not-so-veiled criticism of TPPF.

Politicians on opposite sides of the aisle, however, used far more diplomatic language in their praise of Cigarroa’s plan. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Democratic State Senator Judith Zaffirini described the plan as “a unifying force that looks beyond yesterday’s controversies.” Republican State Representative Dan Branch also had kind words for the plan. “I look forward to observing the Chancellor’s implementation and seeing the results,” he was quoted by The American Independent as saying.

But the real story here may not be the plan itself. That Cigarroa managed to formulate a plan with bipartisan appeal in today’s political climate is rather noteworthy. Is this Thomas Friedman’s dreamboat presidential candidate?

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.