More Lobbying by Higher Education Administrators?

Pedro de la Torre III

Jim Spangler

On Monday's (03/07/2005) House Committee meeting on Higher Education, Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President of South Texas College, testified in favor of HB 993 and HB 994. HB 993 is a bill that would allow summer school students at Junior Colleges to pay their tuition bills in installments, while HB 994 is a bill that would allow junior colleges to charge a higher rate of tuition to students who take the same course more that twice.

President Reed did not just speak on her own behalf, but as the president of South Texas College, and on behalf of "its 17,000 students." Representative Goolsby warned her a few moments into her testimony that she should testify as neutral, since it was illegal for state agency personnel to lobby. Reed responded that South Texas College was not a state agency, but, rather, was a public institution of higher education. However, according to 556.001 (2)(B) of the Texas Government Code, a "state agency" includes "a university system or an institution of higher education," which extends to junior colleges.

It appears as if Vice-Chairman Goolsby was right; it is unacceptable under Texas Government Code 556.004 (c) for a "state officer or employee" to use their "official authority or influence... to achieve any other political purpose." A "state officer" is defined by 556.001 (4) as an "individual appointed to office by the Governor or another officer," while a "state employee" is defined by 556.001 (3) as an "individual who is employed by a state agency."

President Reed should be familiar with this law. According to 556.009, South Texas College should have provided President Reed with a copy of the law, and required her to sign a receipt upon delivery.

Unfortunately, lobbying is nothing new to administrators in Texas' institutions of higher education. The University of Texas, for example, effectively organized a campaign to ensure the passage of tuition deregulation during the 78th legislative session.

UT Watch does not believe that President Reed should get in legal trouble for what appears to be a direct, but minor infringement of Texas law. However, UT Watch would like to see an apology to the Texas people, as well as her "17,000 students," for whom their Student Government, rather than college president, has a right to speak. They also ask that she appear before the House Committee on Higher Education and explain that Vice-Chairman Goolsby was correct, and that she should not have testified in favor of the bill.

As a public servant, she has the obligation to provide reliable and unbiased information to representatives and the general public so that they can make informed decisions regarding public institutions. Texas Government Code 556.004 (c) helps to safeguard public control by preventing public institutions from advancing their own political agendas. When public servants employed by the state begin formulating public policy they, knowingly or unwittingly, also begin taking away the public's control over their own institutions.