Rick O’Donnell: The TT Interview
- On his ties to his former boss Jeff Sandefer, an Austin businessman, ally of Gov. Rick Perry, and the author of a controversial set of “seven breakthrough solutions” for higher education that Perry has encouraged university systems to implement: “I have my own thoughts about where higher ed needs to go,” O’Donnell says.
- On the scrutiny of a paper he wrote for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank of which Sandefer is a board member, questioning the value of academic research, he said, “I think the research issue was thrown up as a red herring”.
- On the errors later found in that paper, which led to an investigation by the System, O’Donnell says they were the result of a “production snafu” when TPPF staffer merged multiple drafts of the document. TPPF has accepted responsibility.
- On the topic of university leadership, he added that universities need to decide if they want to go the way of IBM or General Motors. As for undermining Cigarroa, he says, “That was not my intention, nor do I think it was the intention of these regents.”
- On Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, one of this most vocal critics, he says, “She’s been co-opted by the university. She’s more interested in defending administrators.”
- Regarding what the debate is really about, he said, “It’s not really about me. It’s about: Do the regents have the right and even the responsibility to govern their own institution?”
O’Donnell’s depature has not quieted the controversy. Zaffirini, who is now a co-chair of a newly created Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency, says, “I don’t understand the rationale for this settlement, especially because of the circumstances under which O’Donnell was hired questionably and fired justifiably. What’s more, it has stirred the controversy anew, with the fire being fueled by O’Donnell.” She described the settlement and the writing of the letter as “another major misstep” by Powell.
To O’Donnell’s charge that she has been “co-opted”, Zaffirini said, “Clearly, Rick O’Donnell doesn’t understand the legislature’s authority or responsibility and continues to reflect disrespect and suspicion, if not hatred, for UT.”
O’Donnell acknowledges that things will likely remain heated, saying, “It’s not all about ‘Kumbaya.’”
In the (following) video, O’Donnell discusses his termination, the subsequent settlement, and his future plans.
- Controversy Deflected Attention From Important Work (timesoftexas.com)
- McKinney Denies he Was Pushed Out By A&M Regents (timesoftexas.com)
- Emails Give Insight Into UT Controversy (timesoftexas.com)
- Former UT adviser O’Donnell Says Zaffirini Mounted a Campaign to Demonize the Regents (timesoftexas.com)
- $70,000 Deal in Hand, ex-UT Official Rips Educators, Lawmaker (timesoftexas.com)