The start of the 84th Legislature, with the introduction of both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has prompted countless lamentations about the treacherous road ahead for this state. I even penned one such gloomy prognostication last week. But in at least one area, higher education, things are actually looking up for Texas; indeed, for this university in particular.
First, as the Texan reported last week, Abbott has made his first picks for the UT system Board of Regents. He re-nominated Vice Chairman Steve Hicks, a pragmatic and dependable voice of reason on the board, as well as nominated David Beck and Sara Martinez Tucker. All three were commended by individuals from UT System Chancellor William McRaven to Senate Democrats. In making these picks, Abbott not only repudiated the anti-education zealots ubiquitous among Tea Party groups such as Michael Quinn Sullivan's Empower Texans, he sent a message that UT Austin in particular would be protected.
Perhaps more telling, Patrick announced on Friday that state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would retain his post as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. This, despite the fact that Seliger has historically looked upon UT-Austin President Bill Powers favorably and Regent Wallace Hall unfavorably, while Patrick approaches the historical kerfuffle from an opposite perspective. Even an ostensible successor to former Governor Rick Perry's ideological battle against UT-Austin, such as Patrick, did little to put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, on that issue. This, coming from a man who has done so on effectively everything else in his short time in office.
The next few months will be enormously important for the future of this University. The search for Bill Powers' successor will have ripple effects for decades to come. Luckily, from what has been observed thus far, the newly appointed regents in Austin will be in a position to constructively assist the university in its transitions, instead of the sabotage inflicted from the governor's mansion for the past few years.
Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor