Higher education cuts could shut down association, officials say

Associated Press

HARLINGEN, Texas – History buffs are mobilizing against a proposed cut to the University of Texas' Center for Studies in Texas History, a cut that would gut the staff of the renowned Texas State Historical Association.

University officials said the center could be a casualty of higher-education cuts by the Legislature, which is now weighing a 4 to 5 percent reduction in university spending.

Founded in 1897, the association now has members in 50 states and abroad and more than 100 titles in print. It maintains the six-volume Handbook of Texas, as well as its online version, and publishes the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

Its directors and fellows have included Walter Prescott Webb, J. Frank Dobie and others, and its resources have been used by fiction writers Larry McMurtry, James Michener and Bill Wittliff. More than 300 libraries subscribe to its journal.

"We are the story of Texas," said center director Ron Tyler. "If we are an unintended consequence, then somebody better do something."

So far that has included letters to college administrators and lawmakers, as well as to Gov. Rick Perry.

"That we would wish to destroy the one organization that does more to promote and validate our history than any other institution in this state far exceeds just another bad idea," oil and gas magnate J.P. Bryan wrote in a May 22 letter to Mr. Perry. "It is consuming the seed corn that produces our historical bounty."

University officials told department members that a worst-case scenario would be elimination of the center.

"Basically we're engaged in a triage exercise to determine what's the most important thing we do – teaching," said Richard Lariviere, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. "The second-most important is researching. Everything else is on the chopping block."

Dr. Lariviere added that the center's $350,000 annual budget could pay the salaries of 10 teaching assistants who, he said, could be teaching 1,000 students.

He said he thought the Legislature would ultimately prevail, whether by restoring higher-education funds or enacting a tuition deregulation measure.

Opponents to the tuition deregulation measure say it would squeeze out middle-class students who do not qualify for financial aid and who are already struggling to afford the state school tuition.

State Sen. Royce West, chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on higher education, said Thursday that House and Senate members supported a revised tuition deregulation proposal that requires universities to prove that tuition increases do not make them inaccessible.