Lawmakers attempt to limit UT System Board of Regents through budget measures


Texas lawmakers took steps Thursday to prevent the UT System Board of Regents from conducting another investigation into the UT Law School Foundation by prohibiting regents’ from spending money on the investigation.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and serves on a joint committee to investigate regents’ governance methods, filed a series of amendment to limit the UT System’s spending power.

One amendment would prevent the System administration from using any of the $23.5 million in proposed state funds for the upcoming biennium to pay for investigations into individual institutions within the system and the administrations of those institutions. It would also prevent the System from spending to request open records from those institutions.

In 2011, President William Powers Jr. instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law and current faculty member, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation. Last week, the regents voted 4-3 to conduct an additional external review of the foundation. The System would spend about $500,000 toward the investigation.

An internal audit of the foundation conducted by Barry Burgdorf, UT System general counsel who resigned earlier this month, found the loan was awarded inappropriately. The attorney general’s office largely concurred with the report’s findings.

The amendment would also require the System to submit an annual report to Gov. Rick Perry’s office and the Legislative Budget Board detailing the System’s investigations into individual institutions and their administrations. The System would have to list the intent of the investigation, evidence to justify conducting the investigation, the cost of the investigation and the findings of the investigation.

An additional amendment, co-filed with state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who also serves on the joint committee, would trust the System’s $23.5 million to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The coordinating board would transfer those funds back to the System pending approval from the Legislative Budget Board and Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Another amendment would limit the System administration’s share of revenue from the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment that funds the UT and Texas A&M University Systems that typically funds infrastructure and construction projects. However, the amendment would allow UT to continue accessing the fund.

A final amendment prevents the System from paying for transportation and lodging of regents who have not been confirmed by the Senate.

The amendments follow a week of criticism by lawmakers over the regents’ decision to conduct the additional investigation.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that if regents decided to conduct a “duplicative investigation,” they should use Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office to prevent spending additional tax dollars. A letter signed by 18 senators sent to board Chairman Gene Powell on Tuesday asked the board to seek the attorney general’s assistance if regents insisted on continuing what the senators called “an unnecessary probe.”

Powell responded in a letter Wednesday and said the board’s General Counsel Francie Frederick informed the attorney general’s office of the board’s possible actions prior to last week’s meeting. He said Frederick would brief Abbott and his first assistant Daniel Hodge if the board decided to investigate the foundation further.