Chair Neikirk said he had hoped to be able to say that improvement had been made for the faculty during his term as chair of the Council, but he wasn’t sure that was true due to developments that had occurred or gained traction during the past nine months. He reported the release of the faculty productivity data and predicted that reports utilizing the data would be forthcoming. He encouraged faculty members to go online to learn about the Western Governors University if they were not already knowledgeable about this higher education entity. Two states—Indiana and Washington—have created new state universities within their systems called the Indiana Western Governors University and the Washington Western Governors University, respectively. Chair Neikirk said there had been speculation in the press that Texas is looking at this model, although he added that he had no actual knowledge that this was true or likely to occur. He said he perceived this type of institution as the most likely to provide the “cheap degree” being discussed in recent news articles here in Texas if that were indeed what the state decided to do. In the Western Governors University online model, he believed students paid their tuition and fees every six months, regardless of their academic progress, attended no formal classes, took exams whenever they perceived they were adequately prepared, and were allowed to receive life experience credit. He estimated that the institution’s degrees cost approximately $15,000 in total if students progressed as quickly as possible.
Chair Neikirk said he had read about a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that featured a panel discussion regarding the future of higher education. Although he had not had time to check the qualifications of the panel members from business, government, and education, he said the consensus was that higher education should cost less. He said the panel of experts had also indicated that higher education should focus more on short-term goals and increase efforts to produce outputs that are more commercially viable than it currently does.
In concluding his report, Chair Neikirk said recent news headlines had left him concerned about the loss of general interest in and regard for the public good. He said the lack of discussion about the value and need for students to receive a broad-based, liberal education greatly bothered him, and he thought President Powers’ speech earlier that day indicated that the president was well aware of these important issues facing higher education and definitely was on the side of the faculty in emphasizing the importance of providing students with broad-based educational experiences while at UT Austin.