“Our universities shouldn’t be forced to go out and beg for money and compete against each other with the same pool of donors to try to earn matching funds from a pot that is already $450 million dollars too small and dependent on the whims of legislators for more funding in two years,” Gilbert said. “Throwing $50 million dollars at seven universities who need at least three times that much per year each to sustain Tier One level research doesn’t come close to solving the problem. It is like telling the Texas Tech cheerleaders they need to hold a bake sale to pay for a new football stadium. It is a drop in the bucket.”
At first blush, this is not exactly what I had in mind when I went searching for a conservative Democratic candidate. I mean, seriously, adding $500 million to the biennial budget is a lot of money. And Texas universities aren’t exactly known for their efficient and transparent use of tax money. So it would be really easy to blow off the proposal and the candidate as just more of the same old same old from the Democratic Party.
But sometimes, you have to put aside conventional thinking and look at the issue from a cost/benefit point of view. And when you do that, it isn’t such a clear cut case of just say no.
Mr. Gilbert’s website provides a “fact sheet” about his proposal but there are much better resources out there. The best I’ve found have been produced by the University of Texas at Dallas’ president, David Daniels. Here is a link to a comprehensive report he gave to the Texas Senate earlier this year and here is a link to the same information in a presentation style format. The bottom line of most of the reports available is that a Tier 1 university’s economic impact to the community where it is located is positive.
Obviously that doesn’t address the philosophical implications of spending tax money on research; many conservatives and all libertarians would say that research should be handled by the private sector. And in a purely capitalistic society, I would agree with them. But let’s face the truth: we are a long, long way from a purely capitalistic society. And with that fundamental truth, we then need to ask, would spending this amount of money be beneficial to all Texans?
Before you say no, and yes, I know that most of the people reading this are libertarian leaning conservatives, take a look at the future of Texas. We are exploding in population. We currently have a negative flow of the best and brightest students leaving the state (see the Dr. Daniels’ report for citation). Will we be successful in the future if we do not make these types of investments in higher education?
It is enlightening to look at the recent session of the Texas Legislature for their thoughts. They unanimously passed HB51, which is the funding mechanism for HJR14 should it pass. We are talking unanimous. Such stalwarts as rhetorical conservative Sen. Dan Patrick touted his yes vote for it in a press release on accomplishments from the 81st session, saying:
I and a number of my colleagues believe we need to bring tier 1 status to more universities in our state. I worked this bill to help bring Tier One University status locally to the University of Houston, but it will also help other universities where our kids attend school. The bill will create a framework to reward performance by the state’s public universities, an incentive program to create more tier-one level universities.
Now, if Sen. Dan Patrick is for it, you know it is conservative. Right? But he isn’t the only one. Another conservative stalwart, Gov. Rick Perry held a Texas sized signing session to show his support for it.
As you know, people keep score in life and many have been concerned that we do not have as many Tier 1 universities as some other states. I have shared that concern, and have pushed innovative approaches to funding facilities and staffing groundbreaking research, with initiatives like our Emerging Technology and Texas Enterprise Funds.
Of course, in typical rhetorical conservative fashion, they are for it but didn’t fund it properly. That is where Mr. Gilbert’s proposal picks up, right where the conservatives left off. Interesting but typical when dealing with rhetorical politicians versus people wanting to make a difference.
So rather than dismiss Mr. Gilbert’s proposal as just another liberal spending spree, perhaps we should all take a deep breath and look again. There just might be something to it.
(Photo snagged from Hank Gilbert’s website and used for editorial purposes. His Flickr page has a restricted copyright on the photos, for which I’ve sent multiple emails for permission to use with no reply. I also wanted to inform them that his fact sheet is in error, listing Senate Bill 51 as the funding mechanism for the constitutional amendment when it is in fact House Bill 51. Again, no reply. Hard to help a guy…)