UT Chancellor Fransisco Cigarroa’s “framework” gesture was good. He stated very general higher ed reform goals, gave a target date for finding specifics, and gave a much later target date for implementation. Overall, it is a welcome gesture.
However, from a higher ed establishment standpoint, this gesture calls off the dogs at a time when reformers are still building popular support for their effort.
Also, until now there’s been almost no indication from the higher ed establishment that the reformers even have a point. Mostly the reformers have been denounced in the strongest terms.
It makes this about-face both sudden and surprisingly accommodating. After all, the framework uses nearly all of the reformer talking points. (On the other hand, it includes a $30 million pork project to south Texas, in Cigarroa’s sphere of influence, and commits $250 million to implementing a reform project largely rooted in curbing a worsening higher ed spending habit.)
Additionally, this “framework” doesn’t exactly have teeth. There are no real consequences for pushing deadlines, missing them, deleting goals, or dropping the project entirely.
Of course, it’s just a statement of intent. It can’t really have “teeth”.
But as such, reformers shouldn’t act as if binding steps have been taken. For all we know, the rio grande valley pork and “transition money” could be the only things in this framework that make it to the long-off end.
In short, this gesture isn’t totally unlike an abusive husband saying to the wife, after she finally says she’s leaving, “Baby, I swear I’ll change.”
Sometimes he means it, and we genuinely hope this is one of those times.
In this case, the “abuse” is an unaccountable higher ed establishment that charges more every year for the same product with no expectation of improvement, and there is reason to keep a close eye on things.
Melinda Hill Perrin, a member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, formed to oppose the higher ed reformers, said “We have experienced unprecedented times and been deeply troubled,” but the framework gives her, “hope that, just perhaps, we have an opportunity to turn a corner.”
If the higher ed establishment was “deeply troubled” by the reformers, and Cigarroa’s framework, which largely promises reformers what they wanted, represents a step towards “crisis averted” for the higher ed establishment, a dose of skepticism toward the framework endgame is probably healthy.
Admitting a problem and a desire to try to fix it is good and commendable, but it will take diligence on the part of everyone to turn this “framework” into meaningful reform.