Legislative decisions to impact UT, UT System

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Spring break saw a reaffirmation of the UT System’s opposition to guns on campus and legislative action that may determine how the state would fund UT. This week, the Texas Legislature will decide whether to establish a new System school in South Texas and begin investigating regents’ proper governance role over System institutions.

CONCEALED CARRY

Two days before the House Homeland Security Committee heard testimony on four bills that would allow concealed handguns on university campuses, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry Tuesday expressing concerns that such a measure would not increase safety at universities.

“I respect the Legislature’s authority to decide this policy issue and that neither all legislators nor the Texans they represent will agree,” Cigarroa said in the letter. “However, during my tenure as chancellor, parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators and institutional law enforcement officers have all expressed concern that the presence of concealed handguns on our campus will make the campus environment less safe.”

Cigarroa sent a letter to Perry during the previous legislative session expressing the same concerns when lawmakers were considering similar legislation.

A recent poll conducted by UT and The Texas Tribune found that 48 percent of Texas voters expressed some type of support for allowing faculty, staff and students to carry concealed firearms on campus while 47 percent expressed some type of opposition.

UT FUNDING

The Legislature also addressed the University’s funding last week. The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would boost state funding to UT from current levels. The bill may be placed before the full Senate for a vote this week.

The bill would allocate $511.7 million in general revenue funds to the University during the 2014-15 biennium. The proposal is about $20 million more than the $492.5 million allocated during the previous biennium, and about $1 million more than the $512.9 million the University requested from the Senate through the Legislative Appropriations Request.

The House Appropriations Committee is still mulling over its proposed budget, which would allocate $478.8 million in state general revenue funds to the University during the 2014-15 biennium.

VALLEY CONSOLIDATION

Separately, the House may take up a bill this week that would consolidate three UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley.

The bill, approved by the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 30-1, would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and allow that institution to access the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment for institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would become a medical school under the proposal. 

The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for a prospective Valley medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation.

Each house must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote for it to take effect.

BOARD OVERSIGHT

Finally, a joint committee composed of members of both houses will take steps Tuesday to investigate allegations that the UT System Board of Regents is “micromanaging” administrative decisions at UT.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency last month after regents intensely questioned UT President William Powers Jr. over a number of topics at a Feb. 13 board meeting.

The next week, the Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring Powers, culminating in a ceremony on the Senate floor. During an emotional testimony, Dewhurst decried the regents for “micromanaging” Powers.

Regents Chairman Gene Powell released a statement that week defending the regents and saying that Dewhurst’s allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

Published on March 18, 2013 as "Legislature addresses system issues during break".