UTexas Chair Speaks on O’Donnell Lazy Faculty Controversy

Gene Powell, chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, has spoken out in response to consultant Rick O’Donnell’s remarks after being fired, writes the MySanAntonio Blog.

O’Donnell, the controversial consultant Powell hired earlier this year to facilitate task forces on productivity and online learning, was fired after a mere six weeks on the job, and afterward released his own analysis that labeled most faculty at UT Austin as “dodgers” and “coasters” and claims they do not do enough research or teaching to justify their paychecks.

“That’s terrible. We should never use those words about anyone, much less our valued faculty,” Powell said in an editorial board meeting at the San Antonio Express-News. “I think the entire board was chagrined over that.”

Patricia Kilday Hart reported at the Austin Bureau in March that Powell had controversially hired O’Donnell for $200,000 per year during a hiring freeze.

“The hiring process was completely flawed,” said State Sen. Judith Zaffirini.

“There was no vote of the board, no approval by the chancellor. With a $200,000 salary at a time when there is a hiring freeze at UT, how in the world can you justify this?”

O’Donnell was a former fellow at the conservative Austin think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation. One of the foundation’s biggest issues was that universities focus too much on research and not enough on teaching; O’Donnell had written a paper for the TPPF in 2008 that dismissed much academic research as a waste of time and money.

The day before he was fired, O’Donnell wrote to Regent Wallace Hall complaining that top leaders blocked his requests for data about faculty productivity and orchestrated a PR campaign to divert attention from the efficiency issue, writes Ludwig.

At Thursday’s editorial board meeting, Powell and UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said they share common goals, and that Cigarroa has developed an accountability framework to measure productivity over time. Regents will now sit back and let him work, Powell said.

“When we handed off to him, we truly handed off to him,” Powell said.