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The Brief: April 20, 2011

One of the most controversial figures in Texas higher education no longer works for the state's largest university system.

Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

The Big Conversation:

One of the most controversial figures in Texas higher education no longer works for the state's largest university system.

The Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reported Tuesday that Rick O'Donnell, whose hiring earlier this year set off a firestorm of controversy surrounding the direction of higher education in the state, is no longer employed by the University of Texas System.

O'Donnell's hiring initially drew criticism for his $200,000 salary but was soon dwarfed by concerns over his views on the value of academic research, as outlined in papers he wrote for a conservative think tank.

"While it was not my choice to depart at this time, I am hopeful that the commitment to improving the productivity of the U.T. System will continue for the sake of taxpayers and the sake of students," O'Donnell said in a statement Tuesday.

The system wouldn't comment on whether the move was related to an internal letter O'Donnell sent to a regent on Monday accusing university and system officials of suppressing data he'd requested on the use of taxpayer dollars and tuition money. "We were met with what some have called a well-orchestrated public relations campaign of breathless alarms," he wrote.

In a statement, UT-Austin and the system responded to the allegations. "The notion that the UT System and UT Austin are purposefully suppressing such data is inaccurate. The UT System and its institutions have been and are committed to being transparent in all of their endeavors."

Culled:

  • The Senate Finance Committee, on a hunt for more revenue to soften the sweeping budget cuts proposed by the House, on Tuesday unveiled a list of what amounts to cash-flow tricks — delaying payments, speeding up tax collections — that senators say could save the state about $5 billion.
  • The House Redistricting Committee on Tuesday approved a plan that would create 30 Latino opportunity districts, an increase from the amount proposed last week by committee chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton.
  • Texas Monthly brought together a group of education and policy experts to discuss the fateful question hanging over the state as lawmakers consider cutting billions of dollars in funding: Is public education in Texas doomed?

"This certainly isn't going to help her. But I don't think people are going to get excited enough about it to throw her out."Royal Masset, a former Texas Republican political director, on the political future of Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office mistakenly leaked the personal information of about 3.5 million Texans. On Tuesday, the state attorney general warned of a phone scam linked to the data exposure.

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