Academic freedom vs. ‘accountability’: Which will win?

Perry, who has donated proceeds from his Washington-bashing book “Fed Up!” to the think tank, dismissed the controversy as overblown. In an editorial last month, he called university research the “lifeblood of our state’s innovation” and trumpeted the hundreds of millions of dollars the state has put toward technology and cancer research. But he said universities should be more efficient with resources, noting that fewer than three in 10 students graduate in four years. Meanwhile, the average semester cost for students has climbed 72 percent since 2003.

Perry broadly endorsed the “seven solutions” at a meeting of state university leaders in 2008, and while he has not publicly pushed for specific measures, Perry has called for more accountability.

“These efforts to protect taxpayers and get more results from our schools are not universally welcomed in academia,” he said. “The attitude of some in the university world is that students and taxpayers should send more and more money, and then just butt out.”

Among the foundation’s “solutions” are rewarding professors with bonuses based on student feedback. Another recommends compiling data to calculate professors’ efficiency. Splitting teaching and research budgets, to make clearer how money is spent, also was suggested.

Professors grumble it’s the Seven Deadly Sins.

At the University of Texas at Austin, one of the nation’s largest campuses with 50,000-plus students, in-state tuition averaged $8,000 last year. The national average at four-year public universities was $7,605 per year, according to the nonprofit College Board. Perry has called on universities to come up with a way to offer $10,000 bachelor’s degree programs.

For anyone who thinks research on Texas barbecue isn’t worth taxpayer dollars, UT professor Elizabeth Engelhardt begs to differ. She wrote “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond The Brisket,” a history that started as a graduate student project. She said her book, which has sold 2,100 copies, views the state’s famous dish through an academic lens, weaving in histories of railroads and refrigeration.

The university said Engelhardt’s research cost her department less than $750. Engelhardt maintains Texas taxpayers benefit by better understanding their culture.

Jaime Grunlan, a mechanical engineering professor at Texas A&M University, quantifies the value of his research another way: $1.3 million, which he said is how much his work in nanotechnology has generated for the university in the past two years. Grunlan is the face of faculty opposition—and it’s not one of a bookish, gray-haired professor. Square-jawed and 6-foot-8, Grunlan is a former college defensive tackle who delivered a defiant, stop-meddling demand to Texas A&M regents last week. The clip drew more than 4,300 views on YouTube in four days, which is practically a ratings grab for a low-quality feed from a dry board meeting.