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Former students, legislators converse over higher-ed funds

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 02:02

The sixth biennial Orange & Maroon Legislative Day was held on Tuesday in Austin, where The University of Texas alumni and Texas A&M former students met to discuss further investment in the future of the two Texas schools.

Texas legislators discussed how the two schools can keep competitive and affordable for current and future students.

UT alumni are hoping to restore the sharp general revenue cuts made in 2011 to invest in an Engineering Educations and Research Center, while A&M is hoping to attain funds for the creation of a biosafety research facility. Both schools are also encouraging legislators to restore funding for the Competitive Knowledge Fund, which helps hire and retain high-achieving faculty.

Michael O’Quinn, vice president for government relations for A&M, said the legislative day started with an agreement by both institutions’ presidents.

“There were a lot of faculty collaborations and our funding interests were the same,” he said. “Even though we were rivals, the academic side was something that we had in common.”

The two main areas that the universities focused on were enhanced-base funding and the Competitive Knowledge Fund. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are in charge of making decisions about funding for both of these interests.

“The Competitive Knowledge Fund rewards institutions for their work,” O’Quinn said. “[In the past] for every $10 million we generated from our research, we received $1 million. Now we receive $700,000.”

O’Quinn said the University wants more funding to expand research.

“We want the state to help us build a Bio Containment Facility to study zoonotic diseases that transfer from animals to humans that can only be researched in very secure facilities,” he said. “This is important from an economic sense and a homeland security sense.”

Phil Miner, Class of 1980, said approximately 180-190 UT and A&M former students were present.

“It was kind of a divide and conquer thing,” Miner said. “We essentially were broken up into teams with a mixture of Aggies and Longhorns. Each team was responsible for talking to approximately four legislators about these issues.”

After the 2011 budget cuts, UT lost $92 million and A&M lost $72 million in funding.

Students reacted positively to the news of the two universities teaming up for the betterment of the students and faculty.

“I’m glad that the two schools are working together in Austin,” Matthew Krebs, junior mechanical engineering major said. “Policymakers need to be reminded of how important these universities are to the state’s success.”

One of the main goals of the legislation day was to talk about funding to keep tuition costs down for students. Former students saw an overall positive response from the legislature after presenting their concerns.

“When I was enrolled in A&M, instruction-related costs were 94 percent [of tuition]. Today it only covers 50 percent,” Miner said. “Everybody got along really well; we were all focused around a common cause. It was great to see [A&M and UT] rally around these common issues, because we are linked.”


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