UT System investment presents possible conflict of interest

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Photo Credit: Daily Texan Staff

Behind the fresh, glamorous exteriors of the newly built private off-campus dorm, The Callaway House, is American Campus Communities, a private student housing developer that the UT System has invested more than a million dollars in. And sitting at the top of American Campus Communities is R.D. Burck, the chairman of the board of directors for American Campus Communities — and a former UT System chancellor.

The University of Texas Investment Management Company, an external investment company that manages investments for the UT and The Texas A&M University systems, invested in American Campus Communities in 2008. Currently, UTIMCO owns stock in American Campus Communities valued at more than $1.5 million, according to the company’s latest audit reports from 2012. The investment was made with the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment that funds a part of the systems’ budgets. 

As chancellor, Burck served on UTIMCO’s board of directors beginning in 2000. While Burck stepped down as chancellor in 2002, he continued to serve on the board until 2005. Burck became a chairman of the board of directors of American Campus Communities in 2004. 

UTIMCO spokeswoman Christy Wallace said the investment company does not purchase stock directly but instead hires investment managers. These managers cannot invest in companies on a restricted list, which includes companies associated with members of UTIMCO’s board of directors. 

“[American Campus Communities] public equity securities were on the restricted list when Mr. Burck was on the UTIMCO board, so none of UTIMCO’s investment managers held any of their securities at that time,” Wallace said. “As Mr. Burck is no longer chancellor or on the UTIMCO board, [American Campus Communities] securities are no longer on the restricted list.”

Burck is not employed by American Campus Communities and instead represents the company’s shareholders as an independent chairman, according to American Campus Communities spokeswoman Gina Cowart. UTIMCO is one of the shareholders Burck now represents.

“What an independent board member means is there is no affiliation with the company and no employment,” Cowart said. “That’s an important distinction.”

Burck is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the University of Texas Chancellor’s Council, which advises the current chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa. Cigarroa and several other regents sit on UTIMCO’s board of directors.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to comment and instead deferred questions regarding investments and a possible conflict of interest to UTIMCO. 

This year, American Campus Communities opened a private off-campus dorm, The Callaway House, in West Campus and now owns six other apartment complexes in the area. The company, which owns complexes across the United States, also recently became the “Official Student Housing Sponsor of UT Athletics,” which allows the properties to use the University’s Longhorn logo.

“Our properties have no formal relationship with the University of Texas other than our sincere desire to be a good neighbor,” Cowart said.

While UTIMCO has invested in American Campus Communities, Burck has been openly critical of the UT regents. The former chancellor wrote an editorial during the height of the recent conflict between the regents and the University in February. In the editorial, Burck said some of the regents have not fulfilled their duties.

“Some of the most recent regents selected by the governor have worked to dilute, undermine and even attack the mission that they swore to protect,” Burck said in his editorial that ran in the Austin American-Statesman. “We need regents who respect the diversity of those interests and support the institutions in their quest to achieve their missions.”