Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 15, 2014.
High hopes for a Texan-proposed border initiative
Gov. Rick Perry visited the border last week and President Obama, who visited Texas, didn't. Perry came away with two memorable photo ops - shaking hands Wednesday with Obama in North Texas and riding the Rio Grande Thursday in an armed patrol boat with politically compatible talk show host Sean Hannity.
The first image suggests that Perry and Obama will work together to solve this border crisis of unaccompanied children streaming here by the thousands from Central America. It's unlikely, but it would help.
The second image suggests that Texas is the unfriendliest republic on Earth. What happened to "Open for business"?
Nevertheless, refugee children continue to arrive, fleeing conditions at home that make Perry in a gunboat look like Perry on a pink parade float.
A 2008 law with the noble intention of protecting victims of sex trafficking triggered the onslaught. The law guarantees an immigration hearing to children from countries other than Canada and Mexico, allowing them to stay in the meantime. Pointing out that President George W. Bush signed it into law is becoming tedious for its implications that he, not Obama, is to blame for the current crisis. Bush should be considered blameless in the current crisis and the law should be considered an act of humanity.
Nor did Obama cause the crisis through his policy of backing off deportation of young adults brought to the U.S. as small children. They are an apple-orange comparison.
The new arrivals, many of whom surrender to the first official they can find so the hearing process can be started, have backlogged the immigration courts predictably. U.S. resources for taking care of the children are strained accordingly.
Obama critics continue to insist that the border be secured before meaningful reform of our immigration laws can be considered. Their insistence overlooks two realities:
1. Deputizing or conscripting every able-bodied U.S. citizen is no guarantee of filling every hole in the southern border (and what about the northern one?).
2. Immigration reform is the horse that needs to be before the cart. Reform will lead to border security. Putting it off endangers border security.
Obama's proposed $3.7 billion stopgap to remedy the immediate crisis would provide much of what his critics say is lacking. It includes funding for security, emergency hires of immigration judges, and adequate accommodations for the children in the meantime. But Obama's critics balk at the cost. Apparently the irony that the things he didn't do are too expensive is lost on them.
The 2008 law is, like we said, a noble idea. But it needs revision - bipartisan revision. Normally, we'd say that pretty much dooms it.
But on Monday, two Texans, Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, surprised us with the hope that such a thing could be achieved. They announced their intent to introduce the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act.
The proposal would get rid of the Canada/Mexico exception, hire the judges included in the Obama plan, give the children a seven-day deadline after their Health and Human Services screening to seek asylum, and give judges a 72-hour deadline to decide.
Cornyn and Cuellar didn't say what it would cost. Also it runs the risk of robbing Perry and other photogenic opportunists of photo ops. But it's what needs to be done. It's fitting that two Texans proposed it. And it has a catchy name.
An expeditious return of these children to deplorable conditions at home doesn't sound humane. But neither does a policy that encourages them to make such a dangerous journey, only to be warehoused for long periods until they can be sent back. As cruel as it sounds, we can't take them all in. But U.S. authorities need to return large numbers of these children to their homelands and - very important - be seen doing it. That - not Rick Perry in a gunboat - would be an effective deterrent.
The Dallas Morning News. July 15, 2014.
Thwarting the migrant smugglers
Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, both from Texas, presented a bill Tuesday to address the most urgent aspect of the immigration crisis: finding a mechanism to return unaccompanied Central American minors to their countries as quickly as possible. Lawmakers should give this bill serious consideration.
Congress must place the highest priority on stanching the immigration flow by telling would-be immigrants that they won't succeed in attempts to flood our borders and remain here illegally. The message they're currently receiving from smuggling organizations is that they are sheltered from immediate deportation because of a 2008 U.S. law designed to combat child sex trafficking.
"It shows how creative the criminal mind can be," Cornyn said of the smugglers, who reap millions in profits from migrants and pass the proceeds to the Mexican drug cartels that control access to the border.
Cornyn correctly notes that the current crisis is not a border-security problem. These youths are not evading capture. In fact, they're surrendering immediately, having been told by smugglers that U.S. detention is just a temporary obstacle.
Given the high levels of poverty and violence back home in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the incentive is high for children to attempt the dangerous run for the U.S. border. They need the strongest possible signal - planeloads of deportees returning home in defeat - to understand that this is not a route to success.
The Cornyn-Cuellar bill would dramatically speed up removals by adding 40 more immigration court judges and reducing wait times for youths to appear for removal hearings. Under the 2008 law, unaccompanied minors are guaranteed a hearing to determine whether they would face persecution or exploitation if returned to their countries. The court process can take months, during which time they are released to live with family members or caregivers. Nearly half never return for their hearing.
When word of this process reaches back home, thousands more migrants follow. Cornyn wants to cut the wait time to within seven days of an initial screening and potentially get them on a plane back home shortly thereafter.
This bill wouldn't address the estimated 57,000 children who already have entered since October and are protected by the 2008 provisions. It would, however, handle the additional tens of thousands almost certain to arrive in coming months. Cornyn didn't have a cost figure for this plan but expects it to be a fraction of the $3.7 billion White House plan to address the broader immigration crisis.
Members of Congress, of course, can politicize and debate this proposal into oblivion. But voters want solutions now, not more stalemates. And Central Americans need to receive an immediate, unequivocal message: Stay home and don't risk your lives or money on a fruitless journey.
Houston Chronicle. July 10, 2014.
A wise decision: UT-Austin president now will have chance to continue working on many vital projects.
That wasn't so hard, was it?
After the Forty Acres sturm und drang that University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa ignited last week with his ultimatum to UT-Austin President Bill Powers that he resign immediately or face firing, the chancellor Wednesday accepted Powers' proposal that he stay on as president until June 2, 2015. Although we're left to wonder why Cigarroa had to go through what seemed to be a fit of pique unbecoming to a high-level administrator, we are pleased with the result.
Powers, who by most accounts has been a superb president and who enjoys the support of students, faculty and alumni, now will have an opportunity to continue working on many of the vital projects he began: concluding the university's record-setting capital campaign, continuing to move forward with the new Dell Medical School, launching construction of a $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center and guiding the university through what is likely to be a rancorous legislative session. That "smooth transition to new leadership," borrowing Cigarroa's phrase, allows the board of regents to begin an exhaustive national search process without the cloud of rancor and uncertainty that would have accompanied Powers' dismissal.
One more thing: By staying in his fourth-floor office in UT's Main Building for another year, Powers allows his successor to take over at a time when there'll be a new occupant of the Governor's Mansion a few blocks away. The new resident, whoever he or she may be, owes Powers a "Hook-'em-Horns" for that favor.
Austin American-Statesman. July 10, 2014.
Bill Powers may be out, but battle over UT is far from over
Given the announcement that University of Texas President Bill Powers intends to resign in June 2015, one might be tempted to believe that this melodrama at the UT System flagship is nearly over.
It is not. Far from it.
The past three years have been laser-focused on the huge personalities: Powers, Gov. Rick Perry, UT System Regent Wallace Hall and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. But don't forget for a minute that this dispute has its origins in a philosophical debate over the purpose of higher education. And the tides of change on that front are not necessarily on UT's side.
Perry, and his adviser Jeff Sandefer, have been pushing both UT and Texas A&M for years to "increase efficiency" - emphasizing teaching over research, treating students more like customers and slashing spending. Predictably, higher education has fought back, along with business leaders (less predictably) and the vast alumni network that is Longhorn Nation.
In 2011, similar campaigns were being waged in other states, as if simply issuing more degrees at a lower cost would correct the nation's overall economic woes and widening income disparities. The national drumbeat was particularly loud two years ago, when Powers was fighting to hold on to his presidency and the president at the University of Virginia was forced out - only to be reinstated after faculty and student protests.
Cigarroa attempted to bridge the gap with his vaunted "Framework for Advancing Excellence," which was met with skepticism from the academic community as something more akin to a Trojan Horse than a path forward, despite broad political support and the endorsement of the state's editorial writers.
The relative détente in the national higher education debates since then is as much attributable to the advance of online education as it is to political winds. The rapid advance of free online courses by powerhouses like Coursera and edX gave higher education critics a sense that if they couldn't win politically, then the economics of free courses to the masses would force the changes they advocated. Of course, despite the New York Times declaring 2012 the Year of the MOOC, or massive open online courses, the courses have continued to have greater appeal to foreign students than the American public. Universities, including those in the UT System, have invested heavily in the technologies but continue to grapple with how to offer large online-only courses for credit.
In the next year all the personalities in the Texas version of this conflict will have moved off center stage: Powers will retire after the 2015 legislative session; Cigarroa will return to surgery after a new chancellor is found; Perry will move on to the next stage of wherever his political fortunes lie; and a new governor and lieutenant governor will preside. Three new regents will be appointed by the next governor.
Which leaves the fundamental question for Texas: What is the role of higher education?
Removing the underpinnings of the research university bodes ill for the state's economy and our state's leaders. We have great problems to solve: cancer, water scarcity, alcoholism, PTSD, sustainable economies, clean energy creation and conservation, achievement gaps in public education and more. Some of those discoveries may be right around the corner; others may be decades away.
Finding those solutions will depend on not only equipping undergraduates in the classroom, but also on faculty time in the lab, in clinics, in the field and in their offices. Is cost an issue? Of course. Do we want to be sure that those hard-earned diplomas have value? Absolutely.
But making a political example of our state's flagship research universities is not the answer. More than 1.5 million Texas students are enrolled in higher education institutions in the state, less than half at four-year institutions. UT-Austin has its issues, including a current investigation into its admissions process and reframing its financial model to accommodate a cost-cutting Legislature with little appetite for tuition increases.
Powers survived eight years as president at UT because he was essentially a homegrown leader. Every committee he served on, every task force he led, every donor he visited, every legislative session he navigated has accrued relationships to survive situations that would have toppled most politicians or corporate leaders. The skills that made him a successful president ensured that he had the political backing from students, alumni, faculty and staff to stay until he decided that he was finished. Given the way the politics have played out, it's unclear whether the next president will have such deep ties to the Forty Acres.
Powers' departure clears the way to recruit a chancellor to replace Cigarroa, who will now have the assurance that he or she will not be undone by the political quagmire spawned by the board's poisoned relationship with Powers. But the higher education debate is just getting started in Texas in earnest.
The challenge will be to channel the energy from students, faculty, alumni and policymakers who rallied to save Bill Powers to the larger goal of saving Texas higher education, so that it will remain something worth fighting for.
The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. July 13, 2014.
A&M, UT seeking to restore their missions
The damage Gov. Rick Perry and his appointed minions have done to the state's two top-tier university systems is incalculable and will take years after Perry leaves office in January to undo.
Thankfully, the Texas A&M System's Board of Regents has begun to stand up to the governor - and A&M, both the flagship university and the system, are the better for it. In January, the regents unanimously appointed Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as interim president while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement for Bowen Loftin, who stepped down reportedly under some pressure from above.
We urge the search for the new president be thorough, open and free from gubernatorial interference.
Hussey was A&M Chancellor John Sharp's choice, and it is a good one for A&M's faculty and students, as well as re-emphasizing the school's mission of teaching and research.
Perry had favored Guy Diedrich, the system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, who was opposed by many of the A&M faculty.
For years, the governor has been heavy-handed and obvious in his efforts to control A&M, his alma mater. His efforts to downplay research and to change the way faculty teach and are evaluated has been a stumbling block in A&M's stretch toward world-class status.
But Perry wasn't content just to mess with A&M. He also tried to change the way The University of Texas at Austin is run. UT Austin President Bill Powers has been under fire for refusing to buckle to demands to implement the noxious seven "solutions" promoted by the ill-informed Texas Public Policy Foundation. Among the so-called solutions is de-emphasizing research that isn't lucrative in the near term and evaluating faculty by the tuition they generate.
Powers, who has been UT Austin president since 2006 and is highly regarded in the academic community, clashed particularly with UT Regent Wallace Hall.
Hall filed a never-ending series of open records requests for information from Powers' office for which he had no use. So blatant was his misuse of the state's open government laws that in May, a panel of the Texas House of Representatives recommended that Hall be impeached.
Then, last week, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa ordered Powers either to resign at once or be fired by the UT regents when they met at week's end. Powers wisely and correctly refused to step down immediately. Good for him - and good for UT and, indeed, higher education throughout Texas.
Powers and Cigarroa worked out an agreement by which Powers will remain as UT Austin president through the spring semester of 2015, allowing him to represent the school in next year's legislative session, as well as complete UT's $3 billion capital campaign.
After 14 years in office, during which he has filled every appointed position in Texas, some more than once, Perry has less than sixth months left as governor. We hope that whoever replaces him as governor will not be as heavily involved in the operations of Texas A&M, The University of Texas or any of the other fine colleges and universities in the state.
It is time that A&M and UT be allowed to heal and return to the job Texans expect - and demand - of them.
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