Prop 4 Could Pave Way for More Tier One Universities

In about three weeks, voters in cities and towns across the state will weigh-in on various local races, things like mayor and city council seats. They’ll also decide on a handful of constitutional amendments. One of them, proposition 4, would create a new fund that seven emerging research universities could use as a pathway to reach Tier One status. As Jack Williams reports, even without any real opponents, prop 4 still isn’t a lock to pass.

Proposition 4 is actually quite simple; it creates a new fund that could help seven Texas universities, including the University of Houston, reach Tier One status. It would transfer about $500 million already in the state’s
dormant Higher Education Fund into a new National Research University Fund.

State senator Robert Duncan co-sponsored a bill that created Proposition 4. He says Texas is losing good students every year because the state has only two public Tier One universities, UT Austin and Texas A&M.

“We have a lot of students leave the state of Texas to go to these renowned institutions in other states simply because they’re great research institutions and they have a great reputation academically. This will cost the state of Texas nothing because we’re actually transferring a fund that isn’t being used today into a fund where we can use it to generate income, like an endowment, that will support this research effort of the state.” 

The seven emerging research universities would have to meet stringent national benchmarks under the new fund to get research dollars. University of Houston System Chancellor and University of Houston President Dr. Renu
Khator says the new fund could pave the way for Tier One status.

“This would inspire all universities to focus on elements that make them nationally competitive, that lead them toward Tier One institutions and we’ll all get there. Some will get there sooner and some will get there later.  It’s not really competition. I see it as inspiring each other, to learn from each other to do better and thus, together to help the state of Texas compete in the global economy.”

The problem is, constitutional amendments alone usually won’t draw any kind of a crowd on election day. It’s the
mayors races and other high profile elections that draw voters. That means Houston and Harris County could
actually drive the statewide vote on Proposition 4. This is Rice University political scientist Bob Stein.

“We’ll turn out 25, maybe 30-percent of our voters, maybe 250,000-300,000. But that could represent maybe a third of the vote statewide. So, out of 254 counties, one county, which is hardly representative of the whole state, may be the determining force in all of these propositions, and that will be Harris County and the city of Houston, disproportionately even to Harris County.”   

State Senator Florence Shapiro says with Proposition 4, it’s clear the state is doing all it can to boost its roster of top tier universities.

“During times when other states are cutting funding to their universities, and California is certainly a great example of that, we’ve made a commitment in Texas to higher education and I think this is a great example of that commitment.” 

Proposition 4 is one of 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot November 3rd.  
 Jack Williams. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

For more information on the UH support of prop 4, visit the University of Houston Alumni Association web page.