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Keep in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants, UT chancellor says

The chancellor of the University of Texas System said Thursday that he supports a state law that allows some unauthorized immigrants to pay cheaper, in-state tuition to attend public institutions of higher learning.

“I think it is the morally right thing to do,” Chancellor Bill McRaven said at an event in Austin sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

Some state lawmakers want to repeal a 2001 law that allows certain immigrants without legal papers to pay in-state tuition rather than the higher rates charged to out-of-state residents. To qualify, a person must have graduated from a high school in the state, lived in Texas for at least three years and agreed to file an application to become a permanent resident as soon as eligible.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made repealing the law a cornerstone of his campaign, and it is part of the platform for the GOP, which enjoys strong majorities in the House and Senate. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has called the law “noble” but “flawed,” saying it lacks an enforcement mechanism to ensure that a student seeks legal status. Abbott also has said he would not veto a bill repealing the law.

McRaven said it wouldn’t be right to erect an obstacle to higher education after the state has invested in educating those students through high school.

The CEO of the 15-campus system also said he favors maintaining a state law that gives university governing boards control over tuition. He reiterated his view that concealed handguns should not be permitted on college campuses.

After just five weeks on the job, McRaven said he has much to learn before making decisions about broader challenges such as lifting graduation rates and propelling some campuses into the ranks of top-tier research universities. He said he plans to visit the UT System’s West Texas oil lands, in part to ensure that the system is employing the best practices for protecting the environment.

McRaven, who looked fit after a bout with the flu, said he took the job “to be an educator,” to help more students learn and graduate. He was previously a four-star admiral in charge of all U.S. special operations forces. He retired from the Navy in August after 37 years of military service highlighted by his direction of the 2011 raid in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed at his compound in Pakistan.

Some commentators have speculated that McRaven’s star quality and leadership skills might make him a future president’s choice for a Cabinet-level position. Asked whether he was done with government service, he sidestepped the question and said he “can’t think of a better place” than the UT chancellorship.

In response to a question, McRaven said faculty and dean salaries across the system’s campuses are “below the average” for the nation’s greatest universities.

“If you want a great football coach, you’re going to have to pay for him,” he said. “If you want a great dean, you’re going to have to pay for him.” But he acknowledged that coming up with the funds for faculty members is a challenge during tight budget times.

This story has been updated to include the complete name of Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, who appeared in a photo at the event.

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