I try to limit the extent to which I dip into political matters on this column. It’s not becoming and most likely annoying to the reader. That being said, the current situation regarding President Powers truly alarms me.
The issue at hand involves the Board of Regents’ decision to freeze tuition for in-state undergraduates. After the Board of Regents made their decision, President Powers expressed his disappointment in their decision to reject the plan that his administration had proposed. About a week later, rumors abounded that a regent was working to remove President Powers from his position.
As an MPA, this entire course of events upsets me. The following are the reasons why, in order from most selfish to most principled:
First, this hits my pocket book hard, because some of the tuition discrepancy was made up for with larger-than-proposed raises to out-of-state and graduate students. Was it unreasonably huge? No, but seeing as how it effectively singles out MPAs, the solution seems less equitable. It is definitely not intentional, but if I were advocating for MPAs only, then this would certainly be an issue. Likewise, this is not attractive for out-of-state transfers into the program.
Second, President Powers may actually be correct. Taking money from this fund seems less sustainable in the long-run than does moderately increasing tuition. The tuition was expected to be raised by just under $300 per student. With rising expenses and decreasing funding from the state, compensating costs from the AUF appears like a more temporary quick-fix than a long-term solution. Any business student would tell you that. It also creates uncertainty with respect to programs you can initiate and maintain because it is unknown where the funding will come from in future years; you cannot operate in perpetuity and expect to compete with peer institutions if you are forced to shut down and restart such programs and initiatives. In other words, UT needs a sustainable and reliable source that can be relied on if it wants to keep its place amongst the top institutions in the nation.
As such, I would anticipate tuition increases will be more vehemently debated two years from now. At that point, it seems that in order to continue the programs that we have begun, tuition will have to make a more significant jump, at which point it will be a shock to students. It may sound callous, but in order for the University of Texas to remain competitive to other institutions, we need to pay. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the quality of education at UT to continue to improve, then we have to pay for it—whether it be through tuition or taxes levied upon us. Thinking that we can keep dipping into the earnings of a permanent fund, during an economic downturn, is a fantasy, and I cannot imagine that it can be repeated too many times.
This leads me to believe that some political motives may be involved. Telling the majority of UT students that their tuition is not going to change sounds very popular indeed. This statement is not to undermine the decision of the Board of Regents; however, I agree with President Powers that the adopted plan is unsustainable.
Why else, then, would this plan be adopted? This leads me to believe that the rumors about trying to remove President Powers hold some credence. While I am not in a position to confirm or deny these rumors, the fact that the Senate, GSA, and Faculty Council have prepared a joint resolution certainly gives these rumors enough credibility for them to be taken seriously.
Some who have talked to me over the past several years have probably heard me say that I feel we are in a state of quasi-mob rule. That is, the abundance of social programs has put excessive pressure on lawmakers, leading them to formulate laws accordingly to ensure citizens receive benefits instead of basing these decisions on what is sustainable and possible. In other words, the politician who can guarantee you get your welfare now gets elected in lieu of the politician who would state the state cannot afford such a program. I fear this may be the motive behind the rumors of the removal of President Powers, which leads to the last reason I find this situation disturbing.
I realize that there is usually a disconnect between theory and practice. However, it really bothers me that President Powers was threatened because he expressed dissatisfaction. To me, this is almost a constitutional threat. It is probably less on the edge than I am portraying it, but the situation is disconcerting.
The first amendment of the constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The speech that this amendment protects is political speech. As opposed to commercial speech—which explains why your company is allowed to tell you what you can and cannot say—political speech is protected as long as it does not introduce “clear and present danger” to the government, Schenck v. United States (1919). This explains why you have the freedom to say what you want, but you also can’t yell “Fire!” in a movie theater.
That all being said, the purpose of this amendment is to be a check on the government. In order to have freedom, you have to be able to express your satisfaction or disappointment with a government. Rather, how free are you if the government acts in a way you don’t approve, and you aren’t allowed to express it?
In my opinion, this is exactly what President Powers did, and this is why his leadership is being called into question. Dissatisfied, he expressed what he felt. Yet, especially as a high-ranking official, it is alarming that this is the reason being alleged for why he is wanted removed from office. Fathom that once again—President Powers exercised one of the most basic rights under the U.S. Constitution, and it caused his job to be questioned.
While it is usually not kosher to constantly question your boss, when dealing with taxpayer dollars, you have a duty to taxpayers to ensure those funds are being used accordingly. Thus, regardless of whether Powers or the Board of Regents is correct, both parties should be able to express their sentiments in order to ensure the free flow of information, and the completeness of information. This provides a check and balance on both sides. If a high-ranking official, like President Powers, has to operate in silence for fear of losing his job, then there is an unconscionable imbalance of power and an asymmetry of information being presented to the public.
And that’s why this situation bothers me—because although President Powers appears to be doing his job well, the fact that rumors began to unleash at his discontent seems to be an attack at the freedom of speech that provides checks and balances within the government.
As a result, regardless of the decision made by the Board of Regents or the proposal by the administration, I find myself supporting President Powers during this bizarre episode. While I do not anticipate anything will happen, the reasons set forth provide my concerns for the situation. In any respect, congratulations to all of us graduating this upcoming weekend. May this not distract from the accomplishments we have all worked for during the past five years.