If colleges were automobiles, the University of Texas at Austin would be a Cadillac: a famous brand, a powerful engine of research and teaching, handsome in appearance. Even the price is comparable: Like one of the luxury car's models, in-state tuition for a four-year degree runs about $40,000.
But in an era of budget-cutting and soaring tuition, is there still a place for "Cadillacs" – elite, public research institutions like Texas, Michigan, California-Berkeley and Virginia that try to compete with the world's best? Or should the focus be on more affordable and efficient options, like the old Chevrolet Bel Air?
It's the central question in a pointed clash of cultures in higher education. And when Gene Powell – the former UT football player and San Antonio real estate developer who chairs the Texas board of regents – raised it with precisely that automotive comparison, reaction was swift and angry.
Convinced the state board was hell-bent on turning their beloved "university of the first class" required by the Texas constitution into a downmarket trade school, faculty, students and alumni have rallied behind campus president Bill Powers in protest.