Texas Senate passes bill limiting boards of regents’ power

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The Texas Senate approved a bill Thursday to limit the powers university boards of regents have over individual institutions within university systems.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, filed the bill in response to the UT System Board of Regents’ alleged micromanagement of UT, specifically of UT President William Powers Jr.

The House of Representatives must now vote on the bill, which would limit regents from “interfering” in the daily operations of universities under their purview. It would also prohibit regents who were appointed when the Legislature is not in session from voting until regents have appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee.

The bill’s passage comes hours after the UT System Board of Regents voted to disclose information requested by lawmakers and to allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct an investigation into the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT.

At their March 20 meeting, regents voted 4-3 to conduct an external investigation into the foundation, which awarded a $500,000 forgivable loan to Larry Sager, then-dean of the School of Law. In 2011, Powers asked Sager to resign as dean, and Sager still holds a faculty position at the University. An internal review of the foundation conducted by UT System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, who submitted his resignation last month, found the loan was awarded inappropriately. The Texas Attorney General’s office largely concurred with the findings of the report.

Lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, showed disdain for the regents’ decision and interpreted it as part of an effort to criticize or oust Powers. In a March 27 letter signed by 18 senators sent to Board Chairman Gene Powell, legislators suggested that regents use the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct the “unnecessary probe.”