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Move over NC, Texas Gov wants to scrap research at universities

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Hey, North Carolina, we’re raising the ante on claim to the title of State Most Shamefully Committed to the Stupid Political Ruination of Science – except we’re not that shameful about it. Instead, we’re putting our boisterous Texas spin on it.

We’ve been most impressive with your attempt to legislate away sea level rise and stop counting votes and removing scientists from scientific commissions. But, we the Lone Star State, are not giving up without a fight.

You’re well aware of Representative Lamar Smith’s efforts to introduce the long lost step of the scientific method: passing political muster. But, that’s not all. Texas oil man Jeff Sanderfer and our Dear Leader (pictured bove) want to do away with the more trivial functions of first-class universities like, you know, research and writing books.

Because, really, what do research and books offer society?

The reform efforts (air quotes) would turn universities into what Wade Goodwin of NPR calls “superstar community colleges” that are paid by how much money they bring into the university and how many students they serve. That’s a great idea, because that 500-person chemistry class I took freshmen year of college was awesome.

The reform started at Governor Perry’s alma mater, Texas A&M, by ranking faculty on how much money they bring in. The torches and pitchforks are now at UT Austin’s doorstep, where faculty have again been rated and binned into categories such as “coasters, dodgers, sherpas, pioneers, and stars”. It’s the higher education equivalent of The Bobs coming into Inetech to clean house and asking: “so what is it exactly that you do here? Research? Umm, yeahhhh.”

Nevermind that universities like The University of Texas at Austin are home to some of the biggest innovators of modern times, folks like John Goodenough (inventor of the lithium-ion battery, seen here receiving the National Medal of Science from the President) and Bob Metcalfe (inventor of Ethernet), among many others.

Making higher education more effective and efficient is a noble goal, but doing so at the expense of research is misguided, as Paul Begala (UT Austin alum and Democratic politico) writes for The Daily Beast:

“The main cause of rising tuition costs is not research—research was vibrant when I was a student at the University of Texas in the 1980s and tuition was $4 a credit. Rather, tuition has gone up as state support has gone down. Where once the great state of Texas paid for more than half the cost of its children’s college educations, today the level of support has dropped to just 13 percent. And even with a state surplus of $8.8 billion, the genius politicians in Austin are calling for another $300 million in cuts to Texas higher education. No wonder tuition has gone up—it’s the only way a supposedly state-supported university can continue to keep the doors open.”

Anyways, we’ll probably continue touting how great our state is because we’re attracting businesses left and right. The jokes on us all, though, because at this rate, there won’t be an educated and trained workforce in the coming decades.

If you think this is a crappy idea, you can visit WakeUpLonghorns and all of that.

Photo credit: Texas Tribune

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. drafter 4:04 pm 05/9/2013

    Where did they say Research wasn’t going to be allowed at these universities?

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  2. 2. geojellyroll 5:08 pm 05/9/2013

    No idea what the headline has to do with this political article.

    SA, please keep to science and out of politics.

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  3. 3. N a g n o s t i c 7:40 pm 05/9/2013

    A scientific article about, rather than infused with, politics might be very interesting, should it honestly examine the unproved notions propagated by both sides of the aisle.

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  4. 4. khill 10:40 am 05/10/2013

    I am confused, research is usually the most profitable aspect of a University. If you really feel strongly, at least make the article clear and convincing. At only $4-5,000/semester fees for a student, you’d need to do some math to convince me that people who pay 50% + institutional overhead on grants and generate lots of money through patents are the money sinks at UT. And even then you have to sell a convincing story as to why this number should be ignored.

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  5. 5. sault 10:59 am 05/10/2013

    Well, when politicians muddle with the progress of science, like they are trying to do in the U.S. House, North Carolina and Texas (among other places), you CANNOT ignore the connection between politics and science. This is an informative article for people who support the advancement of science so they are more informed when they go into the voting booth.

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  6. 6. squidboy6 12:58 pm 05/10/2013

    I couldn’t help but laugh at this, next thing you know Perry will declare the explosion an act of god and not allow anybody to collect the $1 million in liability insurance.

    Universities in Texas will be in danger of losing their accreditation next. Some of my former clients in neuroscience made some great strides there. They’d have to look very carefully to find any intelligence in the state now.

    “The South shall rise again!” but not until it crashes and burns first!

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  7. 7. arbutis 2:07 pm 05/10/2013

    I encountered this anti-science rhetoric with a family member. As best I could tell his objection was that scientists inhibited the free flow of business with their scare tactics that generate unnecessary and costly regulations. Never let facts get in the way of profits.

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  8. 8. Mendrys 4:51 pm 05/10/2013


    Perhaps if politicians like Rick Perry weren’t attempting to mold higher education to fit their political agenda articles like this wouldn’t be necessary. The political right has had something against basic research for some time now because it doesn’t immediately generate high corporate profits, as seen by the Fox and Friends diatribe against government funded research into *gasp* fruitflies of all things. Durng an argument recently about the worth of basic research I brought up the jellyfish research by Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura, and Roger Y. Tsien. The immediate reaction was that it was stupid to fund research into something so trivial as jellyfish.

    This is the kind of research that is in the crosshairs of the political right and this is why the wish to destroy the idea of public funded universities conducting basic research.

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  9. 9. Mendrys 4:55 pm 05/10/2013

    This is a blog, not a science paper. Editorial content is perfectly fine here and has always been a part of Scientific American’s publications.

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