Lindsay, from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says lower-income students get grants, and high-income kids can afford to pay. But ‘‘it’s the middle class that’s being squeezed.’’ He adds, ‘‘none of us wants to compromise one bit’’ on UT’s research mission. But he doesn’t think making some faculty teach one extra class does so.
‘‘To somehow say if we do that, we’re somehow not going to discover a cure for cancer, I think they get a little hyperbolic about it,’’ Lindsay said.
In an e-mailed statement, Josh Havens, the governor’s spokesman, said Perry appreciates the value of research for the state economy and that ‘‘(f)alse claims that university research is under attack damage our schools and Texas as a whole.’’
Asked if Perry thought Powers was the right person for the job, he said that was up to the regents.
Regents chairman Powell passionately recounts his own upbringing in the disadvantaged Rio Grande Valley. He won’t apologize for championing Texas students who could be priced out of the route to a better life that a UT education offers.
‘‘We have a duty to be an elite institution,’’ he said. ‘‘But we also have a duty to be accessible and affordable.’’
The Atlantic magazine recently named Powell one of 21 ‘‘Brave Thinkers of 2012’’ for taking on college costs.
But it was Powers, the UT-Austin president, whose name was floated in the Dallas Morning News for Texan of the Year.
In an interview in his library-like office, Powers speaks carefully, emphasizing how seriously he takes cost-cutting and efficiency. He rattles off recent money-saving reforms and undergraduate teaching initiatives.
But while ‘‘productivity’’ is important, it can’t mean the same thing here as in a factory. A great university’s ‘‘outputs’’ must include research, he said. As for cost, he wants to make a UT-Austin education ‘‘as affordable as we can, consistent with it being a high-quality education.’’
He and Powell clearly want to lower the temperature. Powell emphasized it would be up to UT-Austin whether to offer a $10,000 degree (three UT regional campuses have started such programs). Despite denying UT-Austin’s tuition request, Powell says the board has directed other new resources there. Meanwhile, he and UT system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa talked up a ‘‘Framework for Advancing Excellence’’ that the board and campuses agreed to in 2011 for cost-cutting and improving outcomes.
But asked if he agreed the framework showed everybody was now on the same page, Powers was laconic.
‘‘We've complied and (are) following the framework,’’ Powers said. ‘‘We’re doing that stuff. That'd be my thought on it.’’
Meanwhile, Republican governors in Florida and Wisconsin have also pushed the $10,000 degree Perry first proposed (every Florida college offering a bachelor’s degree now offers at least one such program).
Florida Gov. Rick Scott also has Florida faculty alarmed over a ‘‘job corps’’ approach to public universities, questioning whether the state should subsidize liberal arts degrees he contends often don’t lead to jobs. This week, North Carolina’s new governor, Republican Patrick McGrory, made similar points in announcing legislation to fund universities based on job placement (he was speaking to conservative talk show host William Bennett, who has a doctorate in philosophy from UT-Austin).
‘‘It’s clear that other governors are watching what Gov. Perry is doing,’’ said Rawlings of the American Association of Universities, who calls such approaches ‘‘misbegotten.’’
‘‘It seems just out of whack to ask the university to be something other than what it is,’’ he said.
The most contentious word in this clash of campus cultures may be ‘‘elite’’ — and the different takes on it here are revealing.
Powers says he doesn’t like the word. He prefers to see higher education as an ecosystem, with different institutions playing different parts, but a distinctive role for the likes of UT-Austin.
‘‘Maybe it’s an OK term,’’ he later allowed, asked if UT-Austin should really shy away from calling itself elite. But he doesn’t want to imply ‘‘other educational needs are somehow not important.’’
Powell says UT-Austin ‘‘absolutely’’ should aspire to be elite, ‘‘if by elite you mean providing an excellent education to all students at a reasonable cost.’’
‘‘If you’re talking about elite in the terms of, say, Harvard or Yale or Stanford, maybe that’s different,’’ he said.
Flawn, the emeritus president relieved of any duty to diplomacy, says the word is no cause for apology.
‘‘Universities are by their very nature elite,’’ he said. ‘‘Their job is to separate the sheep from the goats and the goat-sheep from the sheep-goats, and try to produce people who are knowledgeable and can reason, think and solve problems. As much as you would like everybody to be intellectually equal, they’re not.’’Continued...