After allegations arose earlier this week that the UT System Board of Regents is micromanaging President William Powers Jr., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced Wednesday that he and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus will relaunch a joint committee composed of higher education leaders from both houses to examine regents' proper governance role in an institution.
Dewhurst said he believes the job of regents is to advise institutions on policy matters and provide consent to those institutions to move forward with policy, not to manage individual institutions.
"I don't pretend to be an authority on the governance of higher education, but that's the way that our universities, over decades and decades, have been run very effectively," Dewhurst said.
Speaking to reporters on the Senate floor, Dewhurst said he signed a proclamation that will create the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, which will be co-chaired by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chair the higher education committees in their respective houses. The proclamation still requires Straus' signature.
The committee will have subpoena power, or the ability to summon witnesses to testify and to procure evidence related to the subject of investigation. Dewhurst said complaints he has received have revolved around three regents, not the majority of the board or board chairman Gene Powell.
During the Feb. 13 regents meeting, three regents – Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall and Brenda Pejovich, each appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 – intensely questioned Powers on a number of topics.
In response, the Legislature passed three resolutions Monday honoring Powers. During a ceremony on the Senate floor, Dewhurst offered an emotional defense of Powers. Multiple senators also defended Powers’ record and decried his detractors.
On Wednesday, Dewhurst did not directly comment on whether the committee was being formed prior to Monday's events.
The Feb. 13 meeting was not the first time Powers and the regents found themselves opposing one another. Last year, the regents rejected Powers’ request for a 2.6 percent in-state undergraduate tuition increase and chose to freeze tuition. Afterward, Powers sent an email to faculty, staff and students expressing disappointment with the regents’ decision.
Shortly after, rumors originating from a blog post by Paul Burka, senior executive editor for Texas Monthly, stated that Powell directed UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to fire Powers. Cigarroa denied the allegations.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo and former chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said the committee will allow members of both houses to share differing perspectives on how regents should govern university systems.
Zaffirini said she did not know if the committee was being formed prior to complaints surrounding the regents.
"You would have to ask the lieutenant governor," Zaffirini said.