Naked City

How to Raise Tuition 101

Meet Charles Miller, chairman of Meridian Advisors Ltd. He's a major donor to George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and Texans for a Republican Majority. He chairs the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that, among other favorite right-wing causes, advocates privatizing public education. He is also the chairman of the board of regents of the University of Texas System – the state's largest public institution of higher education.

Last spring, Miller was a dedicated supporter of tuition deregulation, i.e., of giving regents the power to set the tuition rates at UT institutions. During the legislative session, Miller got his way – and did so while university administrators winked at state laws barring lobbying by state agencies. What did UT, under Miller, do to get tuition deregulation passed? In a report entitled "Public Institution, Private Agenda," UT Watch, a student research and watchdog group, recounts the following:

UT administrators drafted tuition deregulation and other legislation (when they didn't like proposed bills, they had them rewritten).

UT officials, including Chancellor Mark Yudof, met with legislators regularly.

Regents, including Miller, made contributions to key supporters of deregulation, before and after the legislative session.

UT Watch records UT big shots hustling, pushing, schmoozing, and apparently even lining campaign coffers in order to get "dereg" passed. They just didn't call it "lobbying." For example, on March 14, Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, introduced HB 3015, an early version of tuition deregulation. An internal e-mail in the office of governmental relations summed up UT's take on the bill, which would have limited UT's ability to raise tuition: "Geanie Morrison filed the tuition dereg bill this morning. Oh my God ... it's not at all what we were expecting," writes Carlos Martinez of the UT vice-chancellor's staff. Within days, their agendas show that Miller, Yudof, UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner, and UT's vice-chancellor for governmental relations had all met with Morrison to straighten things out. Three weeks later, HB 3015 was amended to UT's liking and passed in the House.

That's only a selection from a flood of e-mails, itineraries, and public records of political donations uncovered by UT Watch. From dinners at Jeffrey's to vice-chancellors trolling through the Capitol, the records demonstrate a concerted, time-consuming, and costly effort to rustle up support for a controversial bill that almost didn't make it.

At the last moment, Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst used arm-twisting and horse-trading to revive UT's desired version of complete tuition deregulation, which had been gutted by the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education. Analyzing campaign donations, the UT Watch report notes that these three men received from UT regents (primarily Miller, Woody Hunt, and Rita Clements) a combined $52,500 before the session and $87,392 after it.

The students of UT Watch themselves lobbied against tuition deregulation, as did students from around the state, pleading with legislators to not cede their authority over tuition to the appointed and unaccountable regents. Students were completely overwhelmed by the "legislative activities" of a state agency that is nominally prohibited from "lobbying" – and "Public Institution, Private Agenda" amply documents that the battle was rigged from the start.

For more info, see the UT Watch Web site at www.utwatch.org/lobby.pdf. The full report will be available Feb. 15.

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