It was the early 1970s, and there was tension at the University of Texas at Austin, where the faculty and students found themselves publicly at odds with the intrusion of the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Kenneth Ashworth was the vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System. In that position, Ashworth, who later served as a commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, had a front row seat to the era of Frank Erwin, the strong-willed, well-connected chairman of the board of regents, who controversially implemented his own vision for the university the results of which can be seen today by tearing down anyone standing in his way.
In his new book, Horns of a Dilemma: Coping with Politics at the University of Texas, Ashworth chronicles that time, and he sees echoes of it today.
The current UT System board of regents appears to be in the process of positioning itself to implement reforms pushed by Gov. Rick Perry and his allies that have academics, alumni, and students rallying in opposition. Similar reforms already being implemented at Texas A&M University drew a scathing critique from outgoing president of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Robert Berdahl, a former UT president and also the author of the foreward in Ashworth's book.
Ashworth says the days of Erwin and the current activities under new chairman Gene Powell are similar, but different. In Erwin's day, the politics of the governor and the regents were not so intertwined. Frank Erwin and Preston Smith could not have been more at odds, he says. They were both Democrats, but if not enemies, they were at least opponents.
--Reeve Hamilton --The Texas Tribune (4/18/2011)
In the early 1970s, Frank Erwin dominated higher education in the public University of Texas System of colleges and universities. He was a key player for Gov. John Connally and a drinking buddy of state senators, corporate executives and President Lyndon Johnson. Behind the scenes, this deeply conservative, dictatorial, lonely and strangely forlorn man befriended a hidden liberal high in the university system, Kenneth Ashworth, and embosomed him with tales of his tyranny as if Ashworth were his Boswell. The result four decades later, Ashworth s Horns of a Dilemma, flourishes a set of revelations as to how this bull of a man ran higher education in about 20 Texas colleges and universities with 75,000 students, for a little better and for a lot worse. It s as if he set out to prove that raw political power trumps higher learning in Texas.
--Ronnie Dugger --The Texas Observer (6/27/2011)