Ever since Gov. Greg Abbott set his eyes on the Governor’s Mansion nearly a decade ago, he’s been outspoken about wanting to see Texas’ public universities rise in national rankings.
“One of the areas that disturbs me is the fact that five of the top 10 public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas,” he said at a press conference in 2014.
Since then, many schools have made strides. According to U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 list, the University of Texas at Austin is tied for 10th in the nation; Texas A&M University is tied for 26th.
But another Texas university doesn’t appear again for nearly 50 spots.
In this year’s legislative session, with $33 billion in surplus state funds to potentially throw around, lawmakers say they’re determined to elevate the next tier of schools. They’re proposing a new multibillion-dollar funding stream to help the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, Texas State University and the University of North Texas better compete on the national stage as research powerhouses.
Yet as Texas lawmakers appear poised to make a historic financial investment in these schools, they are simultaneously advancing a slew of bills that would threaten faculty tenure and defund diversity programs — decisions that educators and students say would sabotage Texas’ lofty research goals and damage its reputation nationally.
“You cannot have it both ways,” said Brian Evans, vice president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors.
Organizations that represent faculty in the state say that if Texas weakens or eliminates tenure, research superstars won’t want to accept jobs in the state and doctoral students who help conduct vital research will enroll in programs elsewhere. And if diversity offices close, they add, some faculty and students might feel unwelcome, making it more difficult to attract and retain them.