An influential Texas A&M University System regent appointed by Gov. Rick Perry was caught on tape saying that system officials might jettison a controversial teaching award program, once touted by the governor as a potential "solution" for higher education.
Phil Adams, the vice chairman of the A&M board of regents, referenced the Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence (SLATE) awards during Thursday's board of regents meeting. The program, which has been renamed since its initial creation, provides cash rewards to professors with high student evaluations. The SLATE awards were created in response to one of the controversial "seven breakthrough solutions" for higher education, which Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, have encouraged regents at public university systems to implement since 2008.
Adams, who is a TPPF board member, leaned over to regents chairman Richard Box and indicated that the regents could "throw that out." Then, with a nod to protesting faculty, Adams added, "We don't want them to think they did it."
Texas A&M University associate professor Jaime Grunlan had just delivered an energetic speech confronting the regents in which he repeatedly asked them to eliminate the program. Grunlan said the program offends the faculty and doesn’t serve the students well. He received a standing ovation from the many faculty that had come to hear his speech, and it was as the applause dragged on that Adams made his comments. A YouTube clip of the speech with the comments that follow is being widely shared in the A&M community.
While Box did not appear to react strongly to Adam's comment, he did tell reporters after the meeting, "We’ll take a look at the metrics of these programs and see what’s working and what’s not. If we feel like it’s beneficial for the university, then we’ll refine it or it will be something else.”
At that time, as he had in his opening remarks that preceded Grunlan's speech, Box referred to the "solutions" as a "distraction" and said it was time to "move on" and "change the conversation." How the conversation changes will likely be closely examined as the A&M System enters a transition period following the fast-approaching retirement of Chancellor Mike McKinney.
The TPPF also indicated an openness to reconsidering some aspects of their proposals. "As our '7 Breakthrough Solutions' have been further studied and implemented, we have gained insights that are causing us to refine those solutions and consider new approaches," TPPF President and CEO Brooke Rollins told the Tribune in an email.
As for Adams' remark, system spokesman Jason Cook told the Tribune, "I don’t think it’s fair to characterize this comment as anything other than an aside between individuals reacting to an outburst in the audience." He also noted that, following Grunlan's speech, Box had invited the professor to meet with him personally to discuss the issues raised.
Here is Grunlan's speech with the conversation between Adams and Box that followed (shortly after the 12:00 mark), which is difficult to make out entirely over the applause:
Additionally, here are remarks regarding a need to improve productivity delivered by Adams following Grunlan's speech: