Overview: A reminder to the Regents

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The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency held its first hearing Wednesday, and despite the nearly packed Senate Finance Committee Room, the targets of the hearing were as clear as they were absent: boards of regents.

The committee was born out of the state’s higher education controversy in the spring, and three out of the four witnesses spoke about regents’ roles and higher education governance.

The regent position is an appointment, intentionally void of traditional political accountability and charged with making decisions that have long-term implications with students, employees, universities and the state in mind.

Yet, the same structure that lends power and responsibility allows them to operate in a vacuum. Tough decisions sometimes require a slight separation from the immediate constituency, but slipping from disconnect to disengagement is a sad place for Texas higher education to be.

Additionally, the power to appoint regents sits in the hands of a man who hesitates little when turning the ideas of his cash-flushed inner circle into the tune of the state’s political square dance.

The hearings themselves will not change higher education in Texas. But they serve as a reminder to regents across the state that while they may sit within walls of invincibility, they do not lack cloaks of invisibility.