The following is a op-ed piece written by Morris Foster, the chairman of the Texas A&M System Board of Regents:
Shared Governance and Shared Services
In the summer of 1963, my father, who had nothing more than a first-grade education, ordered me to drive to College Station and enroll in Texas A&M College. Our family was the definition of dirt poor. The idea of a kid like me going to college seemed unfathomable. Nonetheless, Texas A&M let me in, and my life changed dramatically because of it.
I am worried that a lot of young men and women in Texas won’t be afforded the same privilege of attending what is today a world-class institution. I’m not necessarily talking about the poorest of the poor, for whom financial aid is available, but an entire class of families that make too much to qualify for grants and loans, but not enough to afford the escalating cost of attending Texas A&M University.
As the new chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, I am determined to trim costs in order to keep our flagship university affordable. Since 2000, tuition and fees at Texas A&M have risen from a little more than $1,500 per semester for 15 hours to more than $3,900 for the same course load. Even if you factor in inflation, the cost has more than doubled for our families.
There is a price for excellence, but there must also be a greater sensitivity to the tough economic times families are enduring today. Texas A&M has added more than 300 faculty members since 2004 under the faculty reinvestment program – increasing faculty by about 30 percent compared to single-digit enrollment growth – and yet the professor-to-student ratio hardly has changed. Operational costs have gone up $238 million in just three years. Instructional costs have increased $132 million over the same period of time. We cannot sustain this trend if we want to continue to attract the best and brightest to Texas A&M.
The board has therefore empowered the chancellor to come up with a plan for a shared services initiative to eliminate redundancies in services provided by both the A&M System and the flagship campus a mere 10 minutes away. What can be performed by one entity on behalf of both the university and system will be shared and coordinated, saving millions of dollars and controlling the cost of education for our families. There is not a large corporation or leading institution in the world today that doesn’t integrate services and implement best practices around the globe. We must do the same.
When it comes to the direction of Texas A&M, I want to emphasize my commitment to the concept of shared governance. Students, faculty and administration have a great stake in the success of this world-class institution, and their opinions will be listened to by the Board of Regents. This applies, of course, to the selection of a new president over the course of the next several months.
I do think it is important to clear up a common misconception about the last search process. It has been alleged as fact that the search committee made a recommendation for three viable candidates to the board in 2007. This is simply not true. Though I am not at liberty to discuss those candidates for obvious confidentiality reasons, it should be pointed out that one candidate had withdrawn from the selection process, and a second didn’t even meet the search criteria. In essence, the board was given the choice of one candidate, which is not a choice. If the board is confined to choosing one candidate based on stakeholder input, it is the equivalent of conceding its governing authority. That we will not do.
The search process for the next president of Texas A&M will be carried out with a continuing commitment to shared governance. We will actively engage key members of the faculty, student body and former students, among others, in the process. Regents will consider that input and make a choice based on what we independently believe is best for the future of Texas A&M. Ultimately, that’s what this discussion needs to be about: pursuing excellence in the classroom through research and through service.
Whatever wounds have been created by recent acrimony over the resignation of the previous president, Dr. Elsa Murano, can only be healed if we unite together in charting the best future for the school we all dearly love – a school that gave a chance to a poor kid from Salado like me, and must continue to be open to Texans from all walks of life.