Relationships between regents and University, state continue to be strained

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The UT System regents work in the background, making decisions affecting thousands across the state. Under the glare of a possible impeachment and facing controversy, the regents will meet this month and release two reports that could impact school policy. 

Appointed by the governor, the UT System regents are state officials who oversee all UT schools. The regents handle contract negotiations between the UT System and outside bodies, set system policy and ultimately decide on items like the cost of yearly tuition. Gov. Rick Perry has appointed all regents currently in office.

Each regent serves a six-year term before being considered for reappointment by the governor, who also appoints a student regent every year.

The regents will review the System’s budget at the August meeting and hear reports from task forces on UT’s policies regulating relationships between faculty and students, and relationships between UT and foundations who contribute money to colleges and schools.

The University has had a particularly difficult relationship with the regents since 2011, when some regents sought to make significant changes to UT’s curriculum. Tensions have also been high among some students and faculty, who claim regent actions have been too intrusive.  

Recently, state legislators accused UT Regent Wallace Hall of micromanaging the University through the use of massive records requests and attempting, with other UT regents, to remove President William Powers Jr. from office.

The Senate Nominations Committee heavily questioned regents seeking approval for nomination on the board’s relationship with Powers this May.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told the nominees that he believed the regents were on a “mission” to remove Powers.

“I don’t like what I’m hearing, I don’t like what I’ve read,” Whitmire said in May. “This morning, if I had to vote, I’d vote ‘no,’ because I don’t want to play any role in the replacing of Bill Powers.”

Regent Paul Foster, who was up for reappointment, told the committee during the meeting the board was not trying to replace Powers.

“It seems like we spend a lot of time talking to make sure that the board doesn’t do something to fire Bill Powers, and I can tell you that is not even on the radar,” Foster said. “It’s never been discussed. The Board doesn’t even talk about it. There’s no conspiracy effort or hidden agenda that I’m aware of.”

On July 29, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations met to discuss the latest proceedings of the investigation into Hall.

Committee Co-Chair Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said Hall would likely be one of the first witnesses called to testify when they hold public meetings in late August or September.

UT senior lecturer Hillary Hart, chair of faculty council, said many faculty members are concerned about changes to UT’s conflict of interest policy passed in January by the regents. The policy requires faculty members to disclose compensated activity and potential conflicts of interest or commitment to their jobs at the University.

“If you are a faculty member at the University, you owe the University a chunk of your time,” Hart said. “But you don’t owe them seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Andrew Clark, president of the Senate of College Councils, said he would support Hall’s impeachment. If impeached, Hall would be the first state appointee to face such action in the state’s history.

“I’d be happy to see Regent Hall impeached at some point because his actions have been disruptive to the campus,” Clark said. “I also say that hoping the dialogue can be reopened and that constructive things can happen. That should be the focus: returning to a productive, working environment for both the System and the campus.”