UT Law School Foundation

Texas Senate passes bill limiting boards of regents’ power

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.”

Under legislation filed Monday in the Texas Senate, the UT System Board of Regents would have to disclose information to legislators despite objections by regents that disclosure may hinder their investigative powers.

The bill, filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and co-authored by 16 senators, would require state agencies or governmental bodies to give lawmakers requested information even if agencies say disclosing the information would handicap their ability to conduct investigations.

The bill comes after a request Friday to the Texas Attorney General’s office by Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell to withhold potentially confidential and attorney-client privileged information requested by members of the Texas Legislature. Powell cited concerns that releasing requested information would hinder an ongoing investigation into the UT Law School Foundation

“I cannot understand them, I cannot explain their actions … clearly, clearly, they have something to hide,” Zaffirini told The Daily Texan on Tuesday. “They maintain that they don’t have to give [legislators] confidential information. They do. They are wrong.”

Zaffirini said regents seem to be thwarting the Texas Public Information Act, which gives the public the right to access government documents with certain exceptions. She said her bill seeks to clarify the existing law.

“It’s so ironic that the very regents demanding transparency and accountability of UT-Austin personnel are themselves refusing to be accountable,” Zaffirini said.

Under the act, government agencies have 10 days to seek opinions from the Texas Attorney General’s office regarding the release of potentially sensitive information.

The bill does not specify involvement of the Texas Attorney General’s office in reviewing documents that agencies do not see fit to disclose as the act does.

Zaffirini’s bill would clarify state law to require disclosure of information to lawmakers regardless of potential sensitivity for legislative and investigative purposes. Traditionally, legislators have the ability to request information from government agencies that may not otherwise be available to the public, but must sign confidentiality agreements to view certain sensitive documents.

The board will meet Thursday to consider releasing the information. They will also discuss how they will conduct the investigation into the UT Law School Foundation that regents approved by a vote of 4-3 at their March 20 meeting.

That decision drew heat from lawmakers, resulting in a series of amendments to the Senate’s budget bill aimed at limiting the regents’ ability to spend funds on investigations that passed Thursday.

Further legislative action regarding the regents may occur this week. The Senate may take up a bill filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, that would limit regents’ power over individual institutions. It would also prevent regents who have not been confirmed by the Senate from voting.

This article was corrected after its original posting. The cost of an additional external investigation of the UT Law School Foundation has not yet been determined.

Regent Stillwell says fellow regents "beating a dead horse" in investigation of Law School Foundation

In what appears to be the next development in the ongoing conflicts surrounding the UT System Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature and President William Powers Jr., individual regents have begun speaking with increased candor about the Board’s decision to seek an external review of the already-investigated UT Law School Foundation.

UT Regent Bobby Stillwell told the Texas Tribune his colleague Alex Cranberg was “splitting hairs” in defending the external review, while Cranberg made references to a potential “cover up” on the part of outgoing System general counsel Barry Burgdorf.

According to the Tribune, Stillwell said the Board should move on from its investigation of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation.

“There’s no useful purpose to be served by continuing to beat this dead horse,” Stillwell said.

Stillwell also appeared to criticize his colleague’s insistence that an insufficient number of reviews have been conducted. In March, 18 state senators signed a letter to the Board saying that the Board-approved review would be “the fourth review of this matter,” which Cranburg said reflected a misunderstanding of how many reviews have actually been conducted.

“I think whether we’re in round four of one investigation or on the fourth investigation is just semantics,” Stillwell told the Tribune. “The fact is, it’s been going on for the better part of a year.”

In an email to the Tribune on Wednesday, Cranberg maintained that the initial investigation, conducted by Burgdorf, did not adequately address the regents’ concerns about the UT Law School Foundation.

“[The investigation] was so inadequate that I have heard complaints of it being a cover up,” Cranberg wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Burgdorf announced his resignation in March.

Following controversy surrounding the UT System Board of Regents’ alleged micromanagement of President William Powers Jr., Texas lawmakers must navigate differing philosophies about the proper governance role of regents within a university system.

Richard Novak, executive director of the Ingram Center for Public Trusteeship and Governance, said the role of boards of regents varies from institution to institution and can sometimes be difficult to define.

“It’s an art, it’s not a science,” Novak said. “There’s a lot of ambiguity in being a public board member.”

The center works to improve dialogue between governing boards of university systems and government officials and is a project of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, a nationwide organization that aims to help governing boards and administrators build relationships among other goals.

The question of regents’ proper roles comes after months of conflict between Powers and the board. Last month, the UT System Board of Regents voted 4-3 to spend $500,000 to conduct a new investigation into the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with the University.

In 2011, Powers 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. An internal audit of the foundation, confirmed by the Texas Attorney General’s office, found the loan was awarded inappropriately.

Novak said the board could seek information about the foundation through UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who would consult Powers, instead of launching an investigation. He said this would foster a candid conversation between the Regents, the System and University administrators and would follow board procedure.

“There just seems to be a lot of tension and the board ought to be taking the lead on reducing the tension, not adding to it,” Novak said.

The portion of the Texas Education Code that addresses the role of UT Regents says “the board may provide for the administration, organization, and names of the institutions and entities in The University of Texas System in such a way as will achieve the maximum operating efficiency of such institutions and entities.”

A bill currently filed in the Texas Senate would allocate responsibilities not specifically given to boards of regents to individual institutions.

Thomas Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said amending the law to respond to the situation with UT System Regents could negatively impact other institutions by applying a uniform standard.

“If you change governance structure and you change it for the whole state, what you do is restrict powers at precisely the time that boards need them to address the problems our educational system faces,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay said a more appropriate method to address the conflict would be to conduct hearings within the recently revived Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, a committee comprised of members of both houses that is investigating the regents.

“You don’t have to rewrite board powers in an effort to get at actions perceived to be overreaching,” Lindsay said.

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.

Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, discusses his intentions in authoring a bill that, if passed, would increase the influence of individual institutions over that of the university board of regents. 

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office should conduct a “duplicative investigation” of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT.

“I share the concerns of many Texas senators with the UT System Board of Regents voting to spend up to $500,000 or more to hire an outside law firm to conduct a duplicative investigation,” Dewhurst said. “With two prior audits revealing shortcomings that, I have been told, have since been fully corrected, spending an additional $500,000 of taxpayer and university money appears to many of our senators as a pretext to criticize the UT-Austin leadership.”

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. 

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.

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.”

“We have deep concerns about the Board of Regents’ decision to needlessly engage in yet another investigation relating to The University of Texas Law School Foundation,” the letter stated. “This duplicative review, which targets [UT-Austin] for the obvious purpose of attempting to discredit its president, will be the fourth review of this matter.”

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.

“Please be assured that no decisions will be made on proceeding with this issue until this previously planned briefing of and discussion with the Attorney General occurs,” Powell said.

Dewhurst’s statement came after the Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony Wednesday regarding a bill that would limit the powers of university boards of regents statewide.

Speaking to the committee, Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, said the board has interfered in University affairs through extensive open records requests that impede the University’s ability to conduct its regular business and by continuing the investigation. He said this climate drives away potential faculty and administrators.

“I’ve seen our University lose and struggle to recruit top-notch faculty members and administrators because of the political turmoil between our system’s board of regents and our institutions,” Morton said. “I’ve seen our student and alumni networks join together to support our university and our president against attacks from the group that, by the Texas Education Code, is supposed to preserve institutional independence and enhance the public image of each institution under its governance. Our Board of Regents has failed to uphold both of those roles.”

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, would amend state law to give all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards to individual institutions within that system.

The bill would also prohibit regents from voting on personnel and budgetary matters until they undergo ethics training offered annually by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The committee took no action on the bill but will continue discussion next week.

One regent has extended their scrutiny of UT to institutions affiliated with but not governed by the University.

University Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar said an unnamed regent has repeatedly expressed displeasure through in-person conversations, emails and phone calls with how the alumni association has openly supported Powers and criticized regents. Cedar said she does not believe regents’ scrutiny regarding the association’s contracts with the University result from that criticism.

“The role of the alumni association is to champion the University, and we support administrators who line up directly with the mission of the University,” Cedar said. “So, we feel like it is our duty to speak up for and on behalf of the mission of the University.”

The Legislature is waiting to confirm Gov. Rick Perry’s three appointees to the board as it examines the board’s responsibilities.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who chairs the Senate Nominations Committee, said his committee will hold nomination hearings sometime after mid-April when scheduling conflicts with appointees clear up and if ongoing legislative discussion regarding regents subside. 

Members of UT community: UT System Board of Regents' behavior harming UT

The UT System Board of Regents is engaging in behavior that could potentially diminish the reputation of its flagship institution, members of the UT community and Texas Exes told Texas lawmakers Wednesday.

Testifying to the Senate Higher Education Committee in favor of a bill that would limit the powers of university boards of regents statewide, Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, said the University has faced increased micromanagement from the board. The Senate of College Councils is a student legislative organization that focuses on academic issues at the University.

Morton said the board has interfered through extensive open records requests that have made it more difficult for the University to conduct its regular business and by continuing an investigation into the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT. He said this climate is driving away potential faculty and administrators.

“I’ve seen our university lose and struggle to recruit top-notch faculty members and administrators because of the political turmoil between our system’s board of regents and our institutions,” Morton said. “I’ve seen our student and alumni networks join together to support our university and our president against attacks from the group that, by the Texas Education Code, is supposed to preserve institutional independence and enhance the public image of each institution under its governance. Our Board of Regents has failed to uphold both of those roles.”

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and committee chairman, is in response to ongoing tension between the regents and President William Powers Jr. It would amend state laws to allocate all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards to the individual institutions of that system. The committee took no action on the bill, but will take it up again next week.

The bill would also prohibit regents from voting on personnel and budgetary matters until they undergo ethics training offered annually by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar said an unnamed regent has repeatedly expressed displeasure through emails and phone calls with how the alumni association has openly supported Powers and criticized regents. Cedar said she does not believe regents’ scrutiny regarding the association’s contracts with the University result from that criticism.

“The role of the alumni association is to champion the University, and we support administrators who line up directly with the mission of the University, so we feel like it is our duty to speak up for and on behalf of the mission of the University,” Cedar said.

The testimony came a week after the regents voted 4-3 to conduct a new external review of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT as part of an ongoing investigation of the foundation. In 2011, Powers 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.

An internal audit of the foundation conducted by Barry Burgdorf, UT System general counsel who resigned earlier this month, found the loan was conducted in an inappropriate manner. The Texas Attorney General’s Office largely concurred with the report’s findings.

A letter signed by 18 senators sent to board Chairman Gene Powell on Tuesday implored the board to seek the assistance of the Office of the Texas Attorney General 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 Attorney General Greg Abbott and his first assistant Daniel Hodge if the board decided to investigate the foundation further.

“Please be assured that no decisions will be made on proceeding with this issue until this previously planned briefing of and discussion with the attorney general occurs,” Powell said.

Student Regent Ashley Purgason expresses her dedication to the students and the university as a whole during a student Senate meeting Thursday evening.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils showed unanimous support Thursday for legislation to limit the powers of university system boards of regents across the state and elected a new president after the previous president-elect resigned earlier this month.

A bill filed in the Texas Senate would amend state laws to allocate all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards to the individual institutions of that system. 

The resolution passed minutes after Student Regent Ashley Purgason spoke to the student Senate regarding the regents’ relationship to UT, among other topics. 

The vote also came one day after the UT System Board of Regents voted 4-3 to conduct a new external review of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT as part of an ongoing investigation of the foundation. In 2011, Powers instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation. Sager still holds a faculty position in the Law School. An internal audit of the foundation conducted by System General Counsel Barry Burgdorf, who resigned earlier this month, found that the loan was conducted in an inappropriate manner.

Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils outgoing president, said the investigation into the foundation was valid but the ongoing conflict between the regents and Powers is “petty.”

“At some point, we need to all realize this is not the best interest of students if we’re just spending money trying to dig up information so we can settle a political grudge or what have you,” Morton said.

The Senate will send the resolution to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and higher education leaders in both houses of the Texas Legislature.

Purgason, who was not present at Wednesday’s regents’ meeting and is not a voting member, told the Senate that she stands by her fellow regents’ decision to conduct the additional audit.

“I want to be very, very clear that everyone on the board, and I do mean everybody, loves this campus dearly,” Purgason said. “Truly, we have your best interests at heart. I realize that sometimes it seems that there are tensions or you’re not being put first, but I promise you that every action that’s taken is done out of the love for this University.”

Also during the meeting, the Senate elected Andrew Clark, international relations and global studies and history senior, as the new president in a special election. Clark replaced Ryan Hirsch as president-elect after Hirsch resigned earlier this month.

Clark said he would prioritize staffing the five members of the Senate’s executive board and 16 committee chairs before he and his fellow officers take office April 18.

“There’s a lot of lost time to make up for,” Clark said.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

During an uncharacteristically heated meeting Wednesday, the UT System Board of Regents voted to continue an investigation of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with the University.

In a narrow 4-3 vote, the board voted to conduct a new external review at the recommendation of its Audit, Compliance and Management Review Committee.  

The specially called meeting — held during a period of escalating tension between the regents, the Texas Legislature and President William Powers Jr. — featured many moments of conflict.

Several regents said they are concerned taxpayers’ money will be wasted on an additional review, while Regent Steven Hicks referred to the $500,000 price tag of conducting an additional investigation as “beating a dead horse.” Hicks said the System has steered toward a board-driven entity in recent months, and he does not approve of this shift.

“There have been times in the last two years where not only I have not been proud, I’ve been somewhat ashamed of being a UT regent, and that’s a real travesty to me,” Hicks said.

Regent Wallace Hall defended the committee’s recommendation because he said the System continues to receive documents that were not included in an initial open records request he made recently. The open records request was far-reaching, requesting boxes of University documents from the last 18 months.

In 2011, Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation’s forgivable loan program. Though Sager received $500,000 through the program, Powers has said he was not aware of the loan at the time it was made. At the meeting, Hall said he had discovered evidence that Powers was aware of the forgivable loan and had chosen not to address the matter. Powers denied he had been anything less than transparent in his dealings with the regents.

“Any implication that what occurred today is about not being transparent or forthcoming with information to the System, or perhaps to the Regents, is simply false,” Powers said. “The [previous report conducted by System General Counsel Barry Burgdorf] looked into this. The Attorney General looked into this. The audit committee is now auditing. That’s still in progress. We have cooperated and been forthcoming with information at every stage.”

The Regents’ audit committee also recommended setting aside a previous report on the foundation’s relationship with the University released last November.

Burgdorf, who announced his resignation earlier this month, wrote the report, which concluded that the forgivable loan program was conducted in a manner that was “not appropriate.” 

Regents Hall, Alex Cranberg, Paul Foster and Brenda Pejovich voted in the majority to continue the investigation with an external review, with regents Hicks, James Dannenbaum and Robert Stillwell voting against continuing the review process.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a lobbying group which describes itself as hoping to advance transparent dialogue and improve educational opportunities in the state, released a statement condemning the meeting as part of a “continued vendetta” against the University and its leaders. 

“These regents insist on undermining our institutions leaders and creating a culture of distrust and micromanagement,” the statement read. “We applaud Regents Dannenbaum, Stillwell and Hicks for speaking publicly about their concerns and resisting this effort.” 

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency that was relaunched in February, said he understands the Regents’ responsibility to investigate the foundation, but he had questions about the specifics of the decision.

“I don’t think it’s unusual for the Regents to want to know the full story,” Seliger said. “Though I am curious as to why their first investigation has been found inadequate … I do think that it is very, very expensive, and I hope they’re going in with good advice and with a plan.” 

Tensions surrounding the Board of Regents have escalated in recent months. In February, after a meeting at which Powers was intensely questioned by the board, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the Joint Oversight Committee. At the committee’s first meeting Tuesday, members requested information from the system required to investigate allegations the board was “micromanaging” UT administration. 

Earlier this week, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System, directed Powers to not delete any emails from electronic devices in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the audit review of the Law School Foundation.

The Texas Legislature also recently passed three resolutions honoring Powers. In an emotional address on the Senate floor, Dewhurst condemned what he called “character assassination” plots launched against Powers and his family. 

In a statement, board chairman Gene Powell said these allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.” 

Powell, regent Printice Gary and student regent Ashley Purgason were not present at Wednesday’s meeting.

The UT System Board of Regents took nearly one year to review and address disclosures about loans to the faculty from a foundation established to support the UT School of Law. In December 2011, those disclosures forced the resignation of former UT School of Law Dean Larry Sager.

The time the regents devoted to the issue appears well spent and, in the best possible outcome, their efforts could lead to more and welcomed transparency about UT faculty compensation.

According to a report released the week before Thanksgiving drafted by UT System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Burgdorf,  in 2009 the University administration, due to budgeting limits, denied Sager a raise he had requested. Burgdorf’s report states that Sager then approached Robert Grable, then president of the UT Law School Foundation, about receiving a $500,000 forgivable loan. Subsequently, the foundation’s executive committee, which oversees the organization’s $111 million endowment, approved Sager’s loan. The foundation’s executive board also approved a slew of others loans to law school faculty members. Sager, who is still a faculty member of the law school, said through a spokesman in a statement issued following Burgdorf’s report that he did not deliberately try to avoid University oversight. But Burgdorf’s report concludes that flaws existed in the approval and reporting of loans from the foundation to the law school faculty members.

So far, the regents in their response to Burgdorf’s review have been careful not to insult the foundation while simultaneously endorsing Burgdorf’s conclusions, which the Office of the Attorney General also supported.

In a carefully crafted statement issued on Nov. 13, the regents wrote, “We express gratitude to the Law School Foundation which has been cooperative and helpful throughout this process. It plays a significant role in supporting the goals of the UT School of Law.” After a Nov. 15 meeting, Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell issued a written statement that said, “Let me first acknowledge the importance of the extraordinary support provided by UT affiliated foundations and the many additional foundations and nonprofit corporations, as well as the work of countless volunteers working with these entities.  We are grateful to the individuals who participate on these important boards and who contribute their time and generous financial support to advance the missions of UT institutions.”

But Powell’s statement also added that Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has asked UT administrators “to identify and cease any impermissible direct payments, benefits, or reimbursements to UT employees for their work on behalf of UT from external sources and to assure that external support is not provided in the form of gifts targeted to specific individuals.” Powell also announced the establishment of an advisory task force on the relationship of UT System institutions to UT-affiliated foundations, which will be chaired by Regent Brenda Pejovich, who will be joined by Regents Bobby Stillwell and Wallace Hall, and, among others, UT and Attorney General representatives.

With the regents, the University administration and the AG’s office now somewhat focused on how and when deans may pass out goodies from foundations to faculty members, we believe transparency — apparently long-needed — will enter into the equation. Transparency, when it comes to University governance, invariably represents a step forward.