Category Archives: education news

This petition is, um … tempting

I don’t sign petitions. A career in journalism precluded me from signing political documents that put my name into the public domain as a supporter or a foe of this or that politician or cause.

A petition, though, is making the rounds and it is providing a temptation I have to struggle to overcome.

It demands that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remove five Texas Tech University System regents for their no-confidence vote against Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan.

The targets of the petition are Rick Francis, Ronnie Hammonds, Christopher Huckabee, Mickey Long and John Steinmetz. These are the five individuals whose no-confidence declaration essentially forced Duncan to announce his retirement effective Aug. 31.

As others have noted, Duncan is a serious Boy Scout who toiled for years in a profession known to produce more villains than heroes. He served in the Texas Legislature before becoming chancellor four years ago; he also worked as chief of staff for Sen. John Montford, another legislator of renown who became a Tech chancellor.

If there is a blemish on Duncan’s exemplary public service record, then someone will have to ask him to show to us, because no one has found one.

The planned Tech college of veterinary medicine appears to be at or near the center of this tempest. Tech wants to build a vet school in Amarillo, but is getting serious pushback from Texas A&M University, whose chancellor, John Sharp, has been leading the fight against Tech’s vet school plans. A&M operates the state’s only veterinary medicine school and doesn’t want Tech to meddle in what had been A&M’s exclusive educational domain.

So now Bob Duncan has been caught in that undertow. Shameful, I’m tellin’ ya.

Meanwhile, I am hereby renewing my demand for the regents who want Duncan out to explain in detail why they cast their vote to boot out the Boy Scout.

Why did you want Duncan to go, regents? Come clean!

I have to hand it to the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey: The man knows how to lay political injustice out there in the great wide open for all to see.

Ramsey thinks Texas Tech University System Chancellor Bob Duncan got hosed by the university’s board of regents. They voted — possibly illegally in an executive session — to issue a no-confidence verdict on Duncan.

What does Ramsey think of Duncan? Get a load of this excerpt from the Texas Tribune: He has been solid gold the whole way: As a legislative staffer, a lawyer working for state Sen. John Montford, D-Lubbock; as a member of the Texas House and then a state senator; and finally, as the chancellor.

No scandals. No meaningful enemies (until now, anyway). His has been a stellar career. It’s what the optimists hope for and what the pessimists bet against. He’s straight out of a Frank Capra movie, or a civics textbook. Imagine a guy walking through a spaghetti factory in a white suit and leaving without a spot on him. Duncan is really something.

Which is why it’s a shame that the rest of the crabs pulled him back into the bucket. The regents at Texas Tech showed their mettle — demonstrating why they’re little fish and not big fish — when a more brazen academic institution bellowed about their plans to launch a veterinary school in the Panhandle. Texas A&M University, headed by former legislator, railroad commissioner and comptroller John Sharp, believes one vet school is enough.

Ramsey thinks that someone connected to the A&M System got to Gov. Greg Abbott, who might have told the Tech regents — who are appointed by the governor — to reel Duncan in.

What is galling to me is that regents haven’t yet given a hint of detail as to why they want Duncan to leave the post he has held for the past four years. By most observers’ reckoning, he was doing a bang-up job as the system’s chief administrator.

Regents have sought to cover their backsides by declaring their continued support for the school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. That’s great!

Read Ramsey’s excellent analysis here.

First things first. They need to explain to Tech’s constituents why they have pushed a “good guy,” as Ramsey described Duncan, over the proverbial cliff.

When does ‘informal’ allow for secrecy?

Lubbock, we might have a problem.

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents well might have violated a key provision in the Texas Open Meetings Law when it cast an “informal vote” in executive — or secret — session that gave Chancellor Bob Duncan a vote of no confidence.

The regents, meeting in Lubbock, voted 5-4 in delivering the no confidence declaration. Duncan, who’s been chancellor of the university for four years, then announced his retirement effective at the end of August.

The Open Meetings Law is pretty clear. It says that governing boards cannot cast votes in secret. They can deliberate out of public view, but must vote in the open.

It has been reported that regents voted “informally” in secret. As I understand the law, that’s a non-starter, folks.

Here is how AGN Media reported it: Duncan on Monday, a few days following that vote in executive session, announced his retirement after four years as chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.

For that matter, what in the name of transparency does an “informal” vote mean? Does it mean that the board can change its mind? Or that it really didn’t mean to deliver the no confidence vote in the first place? Or … that it’s all open to negotiation?

I seriously doubt the Open Meetings Law makes exceptions for “informal” votes.

As one with a keen interest in these sorts of matters, I would appreciate a thorough explanation. So would the rest of the Texas Tech University constituency.

I’m all ears.

Some answers, please, Texas Tech regents

So, now there appears to be a bit of suspicion associated with the announcement that Texas Tech University System Chancellor Bob Duncan is retiring at the end of the month.

The Tech Board of Regents voted 5-4 to seek “new leadership” in the chancellor’s office.

That hardly constitutes a consensus. Still, Duncan decided to go after regents completed an executive session.

Here is how AGN Media reported it.

I am going to say a good word or two about the chancellor.

First, he has done well by the university he has attended and represented in the Texas Legislature — and then led as its chancellor for the past four years. I am a big fan and supporter of this man who, while serving in the Texas Senate, emerged almost every legislation session as one of Texas Monthly’s top legislators.

He has been an adamant proponent of the proposed Tech college of veterinary medicine planned for Amarillo. That’s a big deal, man!

There reportedly have been reports of financial impropriety. Tech regents and administrators have pushed back on those reports. They say there’s nothing wrong.

Still, the regents want “new leadership.” I believe the public deserves a more complete explanation of what they want, of what they expect and where Duncan fell short.

They’ll need to make the case that the university needs a new man at the top of the administrative totem pole.

I will continue to wish Chancellor Duncan all the very best and I’ll offer him, yet again, a word of thanks for the leadership he gave to a major Texas institution of higher education.

Memo to Tech: Keep the vet school moving ahead

If I had a chance to ask the candidates who seek to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System a single question …

It would go like this: Will you ensure that Texas Tech continues to proceed full force with establishing a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo?

Whoever seeks the office that Bob Duncan is vacating with his retirement at the end of this month had better answer it the right way. That would be an emphatic “heck, yeah!”

Duncan, who built a stellar career in law, then in the Texas Legislature and then as Texas Tech’s chancellor, has decided to go on down the road. He turns 65. He wants to scale it back.

The chancellor has done very well for the school where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. The school’s endowment has grown to more than $1 billion under Duncan’s tenure as chancellor, which speaks to the success he enjoyed as a fundraiser for the university.

Back to my original point.

Duncan has become an articulate champion for Tech’s next great system addition, the vet school in Amarillo. This project, which has the full backing of the Amarillo City Council and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, will be a boon to veterinary medicine in Texas, not to mention to the Texas Panhandle, which will benefit greatly by delivering a top-quality education to students who want to serve their communities.

The vet school holds tremendous promise for large-animal veterinary care. Given the Panhandle’s reliance on livestock and horses, that is — as one might think — a very … big … deal.

The vet school is gaining valuable momentum, much of it pushed forward by Chancellor Bob Duncan.

The next chancellor, whoever he or she is, must carry that momentum forward.

As for Chancellor Duncan, I want to join the chorus of those who thank him for his service to the state, to his beloved university and to the Texas Panhandle.

Godspeed, sir.

Texas Tech preparing to enlarge its Panhandle footprint

Texas Tech University really wants to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. For that the entire Panhandle should be grateful to the Lubbock-based university system.

Two committees comprising Tech regents have approved a degree plan for the school and a design for the way they want it to look.

It’s going to be erected near Tech’s health sciences center in west Amarillo. It’s going to cost more than $80 million over five years to operate; construction will cost around $89 million. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, with the blessing of the Amarillo City Council, has committed around $69 million in public money to lure the veterinary medicine school to Amarillo.

The school isn’t a done deal just yet. Tech’s regents, along with Chancellor Bob Duncan, are acting as if it is.

That’s fine. The Texas Legislature will be able to weigh in next year.

However, Tech has made the case for a new school of veterinary medicine. It wants to build it in Amarillo, cementing its commitment to the Panhandle.

Read the Amarillo Globe-News story here.

Tech will build this school over the objection of the Texas A&M University System, which has the heretofore only vet school in Texas. A&M officials don’t want Tech to build the school. The reasons why escape me, given that the state is large enough to field enough students for both veterinary medicine schools.

The Tech vet school is going to specialize in large animal veterinary medical care.

This is a huge boon to the Panhandle. My perch from some distance away doesn’t lessen my own support for this worthwhile and stunning advance in the region’s economic well-being.

Get set for another key court decision on being gay

Step up, Stacy Bailey. I think you’re about to become a national celebrity and a lightning rod for a highly emotional talking point.

Bailey once taught in an elementary school in the Mansfield (Texas) Independent School District in Arlington. Then she got suspended by the school system. Why? Because she showed her students a picture of her wife.

The Mansfield ISD is empowered to suspend or even fire employees based on their sexual orientation. Oh, brother. This needs to be litigated and the courts need to do what it did for the issue of gay marriage, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 of our United States.

Texas is one of 28 states that allows employers to take such punitive action.

As Fox News reported: The school district released a statement saying they are and have always been “an inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades.” Action was taken against Bailey, they say, because allegedly “her actions in the classroom changed.”

Bailey was removed from the classroom after a parent complained that she showed a picture of her and her then-girlfriend and now-wife to her students.

Read the entire Fox story here.

I am unaware of how the MISD defines how her “actions in the classroom changed.” If the “change” involves merely showing students a picture of the teacher and her wife, then I believe the Mansfield district has a serious problem on its hands.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause stated in the U.S. Constitution. To my way of thinking, “equal protection” applies to Stacey Bailey. She and her spouse are entitled to be married and to live together just like all Americans.

How in the world does that affect her ability to teach children?

Fox News reported this about the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The statute says, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

“The questions is whether ‘sex’ covers sexual orientation and gender identity issues,” attorney Sandra Mayerson told Fox News.

If the court system doesn’t rule in Bailey’s favor eventually, my hope then rests with Congress and whether our nation’s lawmakers will have the courage to insert the words “sexual orientation” into the Civil Rights Act.

It’s only right.

Teachers aren’t ‘militia’

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s juxtaposition of “teachers” with “militia” got me thinking a bit today.

So, I looked up the term “militia.” Here is what I found:

A military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency; a military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities, typically in opposition to a regular army; all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service.

This morning, Patrick — a conservative Republican — said on ABC News’s “This Week” that “teachers are part of a well-run militia.”

Actually, the way I read the definition that I found, they are nothing of the kind. They aren’t military, or paramilitary.

Patrick’s statement was in response to questions about the Santa Fe High School massacre that killed 10 people — eight of whom were students. Patrick wants school teachers to be armed. That is a wrong-headed answer to the scourge of gun violence in our public schools.

The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment speaks of a “well-regulated militia.” I cannot find — no matter how hard I look — any link whatsoever between the founders’ intent in crafting that clause to the idea that militia includes public school teachers.

Teachers are hired to educate. They aren’t hired to take up arms, even in an emergency. We “regulate” militias because we ask our military reservists, for example, to perform functions for which they are trained. Do we train teachers to set up perimeters around our schools and then stand guard with loaded weapons?

No. Teachers enter their profession exclusively to be positive influences on our children, to educate and occasionally nurture them.

So, let’s stop this loose talk about arming teachers. And for crying out loud, let’s also implore at least one high-profile Texas politician — Lt. Gov. Patrick — to stop equating teachers with militia.

Time to ‘harden’ our schools?

It turns out that Santa Fe (Texas) High School had an award-winning safety program … that didn’t prevent a gunman from killing 10 people and injuring 10 others.

As the Texas Tribune reports: The school district had an active-shooter plan, and two armed police officers walked the halls of the high school. School district leaders had even agreed last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program, one of the country’s most aggressive and controversial policies intended to get more guns into classrooms.

They thought they were a hardened target, part of what’s expected today of the American public high school in an age when school shootings occur with alarming frequency. And so a death toll of 10 was a tragic sign of failure and needing to do more, but also a sign, to some, that it could have been much worse.

The school district hadn’t yet put guns in teachers’ hands.

All of this has provoked some thought.

We put entrants into county courthouses through security scanners. Same with airports.

I’m wondering now whether it’s time to place the same level of protection around our students and teachers that we do around county employees and airport staff and passengers.

Yes, it will cost lots of money. Each state in this nation, not to mention the federal government, should dig deep into pockets to find it. So should school districts.

I see this as part of a comprehensive plan to curb gun violence. I still believe there’s a legislative solution out there to be discovered that pass constitutional muster. That, too, must be found. I no longer am going to accept the idea that any legislative remedy is going to violate the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to “keep and bear arms.”

That’s not enough. If we’re going to send our children to school where they are supposed to learn in a safe environment, then it is time for government at several levels to step up. We need to protect them — and not with additional guns hidden in teachers’ drawers in the classroom!

We need more cops patrolling these schools, state-of-the-art security technology and detection systems that can spot a firearm a mile away.

Our children need the protection they deserve. They are our treasure. Our future. If we love them, then we need to demonstrate it. Now!

Vet school plan ‘coming together’

The late actor George Peppard once portrayed a TV character, Hannibal Smith, on the series “The A-Team,” who was fond of saying he loved it “when a plan comes together.”

Well, ladies and gents, a Texas Tech University plan is coming together for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Texas Tech Board of Regents has authorized Tech President Lawrence Schovanec to execute an agreement with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation sets aside as much as $69 million to help finance construction of a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

Is that cool? Or what? Of course it is!

AEDC delivered a monumental pledge to Texas Tech to help move the vet school program forward. Tech is planning to build a vet school in Amarillo that will cost an estimated $90 million. It will be located near Tech’s existing campuses near the medical center complex in west Amarillo.

This is huge deal for Amarillo. And for Tech. And for the future of large-animal veterinary medicine in the Texas Panhandle.

The project ran into some resistance from another university system, Texas A&M, where its leaders didn’t want Tech to proceed. A&M has the state’s only school of veterinary medicine and I suppose they wanted to keep its monopoly on that form of higher education.

Texas, though, is a large and diverse enough state to accommodate more than a single school of veterinary medicine. Thus, Tech’s plan is a good fit for Texas, not to mention for the Panhandle.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported about the May 8 decision by the Amarillo City Council to proceed with the project: “This investment by the EDC ensures the vet school will happen and also challenges industry and community partners to join in the success of making this vet school happen,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said at the time. “The timing of Amarillo’s investment before the legislative appropriations request will increase the momentum of private fundraising and hopefully assist the legislative funding request. Funding for the project will come from annual tax revenues, which is sales tax, recognized by the EDC. The estimated annual economic impact for the veterinary school of medicine will be $76 million annually to Amarillo.”

Yep, a huge plan is coming together. Hannibal Smith would be proud.