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Austin “Sabbatical! Good lord, son, take that ten-letter obscenity and hide it where the sun don’t shine. Otherwise, it’s likely to get loose among our worldling children, and shortly enough they’ll be scrawling it on these hallowed halls alongside other provocatives such as ‘tenure’ and ‘the fine arts.’ Yessir, this here is the Texas Legislature, and we’ve got to keep our heads empty of anarchist notions and eggheaded prevarications. We know trouble when we hear it, and ‘sabbatical’ never did an honest day’s work nohow.” With these words the clock struck one, and the ghost of Texas past spurred his horse into dusty retreat. 1 clutched my bedpost and awaited the three horsemen of Texas present: House Speaker Gib Lewis, Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Rudd, and Ways and Means Chairman Stan Schlueter. “I’ll raid the education endowment bank,” shouted Lewis. “Golly, Jim, I wonder why we didn’t think of it earlier.” “Good idea, Gib,” answered Rudd. “I’ll untrack the tenure train. There’s a fat payroll coming down the line.” “Yahoo fellas,” cried Schlueter. “I’ll sit tight and ambush all relief efforts. We’re three tough hombres ain’t we?” A shot rang out. Someone shouted, “My foot!” And the clock struck two. “Why?” A child looked up to me. “Why?” The child repeated. “Why?” The ghost of Texas future was tugging at my leg. But the question was unintelligible, and there was no memory, no answer, in this strange realm. I could only stare back in dumb astonishment and learn from the child my first word: why? THREE STRIKES OF the clock and I am awake in Texas present, the daydream over, at a proceeding of the Texas Select Committee on Higher Education. Peter O’Donnell of Dallas \(“in the investGreg Moses is a freelance writer who lives in Austin. important question of the day. Rain taps the roofs of the Senate chamber. The afternoon light is dark gray through the high windows and the low clouds. Dr. Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences is a friendly witness for the committee. Watching Press blink and shift and talk produces an interesting kind of pleasure. One imagines that he conducts one hell of a seminar. O’Donnell is more student than interrogator as he asks Press what Texas needs to do now to build a great university system in ten years. Press, as usual, is both generous and informative. “Get good students,” Press begins. Then attract faculty. You do that by making Texas an attractive place to live and work. If faculty can’t take sabbaticals, or if they have to go through a complicated process to buy equipment well, explains Press, “they don’t have to put up with it.” The storm outside loses patience and thunder breaks into the room. The timing of this natural outburst tickles a few members of the committee, so they laugh and exchange knowing winks. Great seminars have such moments. Suddenly it is clear that the needs of great education have never been a mystery, but coordinating those needs with affairs of state has proved to be a problem of interminable complexity. The saga of the academy begins with the execution of Socrates, doesn’t it? Can Texans be expected to behave better than Athenians? The select committee began meeting about one year ago to study the future and make visionary recommendations for higher education. But the horizon of that vision has been closing in at such a rate since last Christmas, that by Christmas of 1986 we can expect education planners to be looking a full two weeks ahead. Once the legislature begins meeting, higher education will simply live from week to week. Theoretically, the select committee is supposed to proceed as if some things are only temporary: falling oil prices, budget cuts, and gubernatorial politics. In preparing its recommendations for the upcoming legislature, however, these temporary problems have become over riding concerns. Consequently, as the committee looked forward to its final meetings, it appeared that there were three options: put the SPEC cartel back together, rig the elections, or respectfully submit its collective resignation. Under the circumstances, 1986 is exactly the wrong year to seek visionary recommendations for higher education in Texas. To begin with, the select committee is constantly reminded that the future of the state of Texas belongs to an interdependent world. But interdependence, unfortunately, is a word which has lost its meaning. Oh yes, the dollar must be compared to the Yen, the Mark, and the Pound. But what else does interdependence mean to a Texan these days? As one watches the invisible hand smash farms, rob the needy, and divide collective interests, interdependence means only this: that the oil barons lately have not been interdependent enough. The resulting fall in the price of oil is the single concrete example of world interdependence shared by Texans today. And the timing of plummeting oil prices is not amusing to friends of higher education in Texas, because the actions of the recent special sessions suggest that when tough decisions have to be made in Texas, higher education is a marginal luxury. When you hear talk of education and interdependence, be advised it means only that Texas will continue to depend on other places for truly excellent models of education. Texas will continue to be on the receiving end, dependent on the fact that other professors from faraway schools can continue to spend their sabbaticals here, then return to report that Texas is indeed a fine place to visit, if not to live and work. And, yet, given the stacked deck they play with, select committee members have managed to draw some rather courageous hands in the name of reform. The Hackerman report, being drafted at the direction of the former Rice president, promises to make Texas a model state for research funding. Most state money for research is now under direct political control, with the merits of specific projects being debated at the capitol. Under such circumstances, alumni support and legislative clout are deciding which academic projects have the most merit. It is not difficult to imagine how such a process neglects the academic merits of competing projects. The Hackerman report puts the alumni and political clout behind research dollars, per se. Then, through several programs, the money is distrib Ghosts of Texas Past Can the Committee on Higher Education Face the Future? By Greg Moses 20 NOVEMBER 7, 1986