These pieces are not fun to put together. When finally assembled, the picture of Texas looks more than a little unsettling. In fact, it often looks pretty damned backwards. The reverse gear [...]
The Texas A&M Aggie graduate governor of Texas is trying to undermine University of Texas athletic programs to gain a political edge.
Read it again. Let it sink in. An Aggie governor is willing to screw with UT sports if it helps him achieve his political goals. He’s probably also getting a few private chuckles out the harm he is causing, too. And it’s pretty easy to prove his intentions.
Just for further political effect, Rick Perry also equated UT’s sports problems with Penn State’s pedophilia crimes.
On Super Bowl weekend, the UT board of regents called an emergency meeting to be conducted telephonically. They were supposedly discussing a four-year-old incident where assistant football coach Major Applewhite had a sexual indiscretion with a female team manager. Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, couldn’t understand why a meeting was necessary until her phone rang. Governor Perry’s chief of staff was calling. A crisis was being manufactured.
Ann Bishop explained the emergency with a very disturbing sentence. “The regents don’t want this to become another Penn State situation.”
The chief of staff of the governor of Texas had just compared consensual sex between two adults to rampant pedophilia. She, and the regents, all appointed by Perry, had come upon a clunky plan to smear UT athletics. Bishop never retracted her statement and neither she nor the governor apologized for its ignorance. They were just hoping a solid punch had landed. And UT sports would stagger.
Perry, who is always willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for political advantage, ditched Bishop, but not because of the inflammatory nature of her analysis. He dumped her because she inadvertently let out the governor’s political positioning strategy on UT. She was merely repeating what she’d probably heard in planning sessions. Bishop was new to that type of gutter politics. She had come over from the Employee’s Retirement System to run Perry’s office, and had been given a $160,000 bonus to make the transition. A few weeks after her moment of honesty, she was back in her old job, richer in political insight and money.
The Applewhite story, though, was clearly made public in response to UT’s firing of Bev Kearney, the women’s track coach who had acknowledged a relationship with one of her athletes. Perry and his political cronies were trying to take those two incidents and cleverly position UT athletics as a kind of Caligula of the NCAA.
This is where sports fans need to get a little political if they want to protect their university’s reputation. Here’s the simple answer to the question: Governor Perry does not like the president of the University of Texas and he is willing to kick around UT athletics to make President William C. Powers look like he doesn’t know how to run a major university. If Perry can make Powers look incompetent, he stands a better chance of getting rid of him. Powers has disagreed with the governor on key matters regarding the funding and operation of UT. And Powers is right, which is embarrassing Perry. Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds reports to the university president, consequently, Perry wants to stick UT sports failings on Powers.
The nasty dispute began over a philosophical difference on how to fund higher education. In 2003, the Aggie joke of a governor convinced the state legislature to deregulate college tuition by arguing that it would make universities compete for students and lower costs. His real reason for deregulation was a desire to cut funding to higher education, which was reduced the same year by 11 percent. In the last legislative session alone, UT was reduced $92 million by the state and began cannibalizing programs to cut corners. Colleges and universities that lost state funding had to make it up somewhere and the result was increased tuition rates. The state abdicated its responsibility to fund higher education under Perry’s leadership and, consequently, institutions were forced to raise tuition to make up for losses. College tuition in Texas is up 55% since Perry led the deregulation charge. (The state presently has a surplus estimated at more than $8 billion and the governor refuses to touch it for either public schools, which he reduced by $5.5 billion, or higher education.)
Even the intellectually numb Perry had come to the realization he had screwed up. But he was looking for a way out and began talking about promoting a $10,000 degree and more online education, a notion pushed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. This, of course, ignores the notion that the state’s constitution calls for the creation of a “university of the first class,” which means research and considerably more than just conferring degrees. But Perry had moved into political butt covering mode. Use a head fake to distract from the real problem. The 10k degree requires many college credit hours at the time of high school graduation, a couple of years in a community college, and then a very narrow choice of four year institutions to finish. The public was underwhelmed.
As was UT president William Powers.
The governor called for a four year freeze on tuition rates, even though he was the revival tent preacher who said absolution came from deregulation and a free market. Powers, though, looked at what was needed at the “university of the first class” and pushed for a tuition hike in the face of Perry’s idea of a Family Dollar store degree. The regents failed to approve a suggested 2.6 percent increase. But the Aggie-grad gov got upset, anyway. He called upon Powers to resign to avoid the embarrassment of being voted out of his job by the board of regents.
Perry has appointed all of the nine current regents but they will have a tough time making a case against Powers. He was recently named to a two-year post as vice-chair and then chairman of the American Association of Universities, the most prestigious higher education group in the country. He has also cut the recent UT budget by $46 million while raising the four-year graduation rate over the past six years from 48 to 52 percent.
Still, Perry won’t quit.
Perry appointees on the board of regents and some members of the legislature want to launch a $500,000 legal investigation into a law school deferred compensation program that was overseen by Powers. The program has already been investigated by the UT System’s vice chancellor and general counsel as well as the state attorney general’s office. Nothing improper was discovered but because Powers is a former dean of the law school and used the program to recruit and retain professors, Perry and his allies want another investigation. Let’s take a guess how many $500,000 investigations have ever returned a report that said, “Leave it alone. Everything’s fine.” It’s another Perry hit job.
Which is exactly what he is doing to the Longhorn sports programs. The governor wants to create a controversy where none exists. If he can make UT athletics look out of control, he can blame Powers. And that’s why his political strategists equated UT sports with Penn State’s pedophilia problems. The analogy is reprehensible and Perry owes an apology to a great university and the coaches and athletes that have strived to create a national reputation for excellence.
And then Perry needs to shut the hell up.