On the eve of a meeting of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, with major issues before them, chairman Richard Box issued a systemwide, tone-setting memo.
In many ways, the system is approaching a fork in the road. Chancellor Mike McKinney is stepping down on July 1st and debate is swirling in the higher education arena around how regents intend to procede with a controversial set of changes that they have been encouraged to implement by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, and Gov. Rick Perry.
Last week, a group of faculty members from the system's flagship campus, Texas A&M University, sent a note to Box expressing concern about his intended direction for the A&M system, which has appeared more amenable to the TPPF's proposals than other university systems, and asking for increased candor from the system leadership.
Yesterday, he responded specifically to that group with a letter that hits many of the same points, and is identical in some instances, to the memo he issued today. In both, he expresses his pride with A&M's current standing but is wary about the future.
"I am, however, concerned about the future of higher education in our state and across the country as costs continue to escalate and a first-class education may be moving out of reach for more and more students," he writes in both dispatches. "If we are to continue to lead, we must, in the best tradition of higher education, be ready to face the challenges of the more competitive education environment that technology and economic realities are bringing."
In today's system-wide communication, Box reiterated his message to the concerned faculty that any major policy decisions would be made "collaboratively with the faculty, students, administration and staff."
As for the search for a new chancellor, Box asked for the patience and trust of the faculty and staff. He says the board is in the beginning stages of the process and will discuss their intentions at Thursday's meeting. "Determining a strong choice to provide the necessary leadership and understanding of higher education's dynamics to oversee one of the nation's top university systems will be no small task," he wrote.
Here's the full text of Box's memo:
To Faculty and Staff of The Texas A&M University System:
I want to personally thank each of you for your ongoing commitment to the highest educational standards and your passion for the mission of The Texas A&M University System. Your service to both our students and the state of Texas is much appreciated.
I have been a member of the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M System for more than two years, and in March I was honored to become the chairman. As chairman, I intend to communicate directly to you from time to time and keep you informed about system initiatives, goals and changes.
As most of you are aware, Chancellor Mike McKinney has announced his retirement from the Texas A&M System, effective July 1. All of us on the board are very proud of the work Chancellor McKinney has done and for all the accomplishments achieved during his tenure. Both research expenditures and enrollment increased significantly under his leadership, and many outstanding scholars have joined our prestigious faculty. Additionally, the A&M System opened two new campuses in San Antonio and Killeen during his tenure – an accomplishment that cannot be overstated. We thank Chancellor McKinney for his dedication to our students, faculty and staff across our 19 member institutions. The most important next step now will be to find our next chancellor – a person who will continue to lead our great system to even greater heights.
The board is beginning this process, and we will discuss the framework for identifying a new chancellor at our meeting on Thursday. Determining a strong choice to provide the necessary leadership and understanding of higher education’s dynamics to oversee one of the nation’s top university systems will be no small task. On behalf of the board, I ask for your patience and trust as we work toward accomplishing this goal.
Much has been made as of late regarding higher education “reforms” being discussed across the state of Texas. This is the reality: in today’s global economic environment costs are rising, revenues are declining, and as funding sources become more and more scarce, we must ensure that our system remains competitive. We are proud to be widely recognized for our value, and for being among the most sought-after partners in research and academia. I am, however, concerned about the future of higher education in our state and across the country as costs continue to escalate and a first-class education may be moving out of reach for more and more students. If we are to continue to lead, we must, in the best tradition of higher education, be ready to face the challenges of the more competitive education environment that technology and economic realities are bringing.
To maintain our world-class standing, we must explore a variety of ideas and methods. If we believe these ideas will help us maintain our competitiveness, then as a collective institution we should discuss and consider them – but we will do so collaboratively with the faculty, students, administration and staff. I have every faith and confidence in our talented, highly capable and knowledgeable presidents and CEOs leading us through these challenging times.
You may rest assured that your Board of Regents is 100 percent committed to working cooperatively with you to cultivate the higher education and research environment for which the A&M System is so highly respected. Thank you again for your passion and commitment to the A&M System. I share your love for our institutions and would ask that you share my optimism for the road ahead. We are all in this together, and I am confident that we will continue to lead higher education in Texas and the nation.
Richard A. Box ’61
Chairman, The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents