UT System Board of Regents

UT System chancellor William McRaven, center, and Daniel Sharphorn, general counsel and vice chancellor for the UT System, right, met with the Board of Regents on Monday.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor William McRaven sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Ken Paxton arguing that individual regents’ access to records can be subject to limitations in certain situations.

At a specially called meeting Monday morning, eight members of the board voted unanimously to file a brief with the AG’s office outlining the System’s official stance on regent information requests. The ninth regent, Wallace Hall, abstained from the vote.

System counsels filed the brief in response to an appeal Hall’s private attorney filed with Paxton on April 20. Hall’s attorney, Bill Aleshire, asked Paxton to formally provide advice on Hall’s request to review thousands of documents related to UT-Austin admissions and asked whether the Board or the Chancellor had the authority to prohibit Hall from obtaining copies of those records.

Hall is attempting to review the thousands of documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used in an independent investigation earlier this year. The Kroll report found President William Powers Jr. intervened in a handful of admissions cases, but concluded Powers did not violate any policies.

When Hall asked to review the Kroll documents, three regents, including Hall himself, voted to grant him access. Under Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” UT System employees must respond to information requests “without undue delay” if two or more regents vote in support of the request. 

However, McRaven told Hall that Hall’s requests ventured into independent “inquiry and investigation” and therefore would require a majority board vote for approval. In a terse email exchange, McRaven told Hall his requests for information go beyond “any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.”

“This current request for information … is detrimental to the overall well-being of the system,” McRaven wrote in an email to Hall. 

The brief filed Monday, which represented McRaven and the Board of Regents’ official position on Hall’s appeal, argued that Hall’s attorney did not have standing to seek formal advice from Paxton in the first place.

“An individual Regent is not authorized to seek an opinion of the Attorney General in his official capacity without the consent of the Board, nor may an individual Regent be represented in his official capacity by private counsel,” System lawyers wrote. “In addition, the Attorney General generally declines fact-finding and answering hypothetical questions, both of which would be required in answering the questions presented.”

Even if Paxton did agree to provide Hall advice, Hall’s requests for the documents should still be denied, according to the brief. System counsel said Regents’ Rules and federal laws exist to regulate individual regents’ access to records, especially when student privacy is a consideration.

“A Regent’s access to information is not ‘unfettered,’” the System counsel wrote. “Given the potential volume of a request for information by an individual member of the Board and the impact on workload priorities, it is inherently reasonable that the Regents’ Rules provide checks and balances.”

In his letter to Paxton, Hall’s attorney argued that Regents do have an unfettered right to agency records. 

“A regent is not a mere figurehead, passive servant of corporate management,” Aleshire wrote. “Other opinions of the Attorney General also demonstrate that a regent’s inherent right of access to the agency records is not subject to judgement of the other board members (or of the Chancellor).” 

After the meeting Monday, Regent Alex Cranberg, who originally voted to grant Hall access to the Kroll records, explained his vote in support of the brief to the AG.

“I certainly feel it’s very important to express the need for individual regents to have [the] capacity to ask hard questions, even as the majority of the board might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think this response suggests that the regents don’t have that capacity,” Cranberg said. “[I believe the response suggests] merely that there might be some limits placed on what a regent might reasonably ask for.”

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

The UT System Board of Regents voted to name Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, UT’s next president.

The regents met by phone call for a special meeting Monday to vote on Fenves’ appointment, with eight of the nine regents voting in favor and one abstaining.

Reflecting on an uncertain and, at times, rocky relationship between the Board of Regents and past presidents, Fenves said he looks forward to working together for the benefit of UT.

“As the leader of UT-Austin, I look forward to working with the entire Board of Regents in advancing our great university,” Fenves said.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he has become familiar with Fenves in his time as chancellor.

“I’ve had an opportunity to work with Dr. Fenves closely here over the last three-and-a-half months in my time as the chancellor, and I think he is an excellent choice for the job,” McRaven said.

Fenves said his ultimate goal for UT is to move forward and help the University continue to become a world-class institution.

“We want to move forward in a positive way,” Fenves said. “I think we need to agree on a common purpose and a vision for the University, agree on what our goals are and how we’re going to achieve those goals.” 

Regent Alex Cranberg voted against naming Fenves as the sole finalist for the position last month, but he voted in favor of Fenves on Monday. Cranberg said he worried about how Fenves would handle growth at the University.

“I voted against naming Provost Fenves as the sole finalist in the last meeting mostly because of my concerns about the opportunity for growth in undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Austin — balancing extensive growth and desired growth,” Cranberg said.

After conversations with Fenves and UT System chancellor William McRaven, Cranberg said he feels Fenves would lead the University’s growth in the right direction.

“I believe he’ll lead the University forward,” Cranberg said. “I feel that if we choose to embrace enrollment growth that was successfully done with engineering and potentially business — that Dr. Fenves will do a great job leading that.”

Regent Wallace Hall also voted against naming Fenves the sole finalist to be UT’s next President at the meeting in March. Hall said he would prefer UT’s new leadership to have come from outside sources.

“I’ve expressed my strong and unambiguous desire for fresher leadership from outside the University,” Hall said. “This should not be taken as criticism of Dr. Fenves, man or the leader.”

Because of unanswered questions regarding admissions policy at UT, he abstained from the vote Monday, Hall said.

“I look very much forward to working with him as our president in years ahead,” Hall said before the vote. “But due to the lingering and unresolved questions concerning the previous and ongoing admission processes, I will abstain from voting.”

UT-Austin has committed to working with the UT System to resolve issues regarding the admissions process, Fenves said.

“Clearly there are a lot of discussions about admission,” Fenves said. “We have committed as a campus, and I commit as the leader of the University, to work with the chancellor and the board in establishing policies for admission going forward.” 

Fenves will take his position as president June 3.

A Travis County grand jury declined to indict UT System Regent Wallace Hall on Tuesday on charges of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression. However, it took the unusual step of issuing a report condemning Hall and calling for his removal.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents voted at a meeting Wednessday to allow Regent Wallace Hall to review information collected during an investigation into UT admission practices.

The Board released the results of the investigation in question, conducted by Kroll Associates, an external investigation firm, in early February. In early March, Hall requested to see “any and all information” gathered in the investigation before it was to be destroyed.

The external investigation found that a small number of unqualified students were admitted to UT at the direction of President Williams Powers Jr. UT System Chancellor William McRaven said no disciplinary action was needed because no rules or laws were broken.

Hall defended his request of the information on the grounds that he would use the information for admission policy decisions in the future, according to the Texas Tribune.

While the regents voted to allow Hall to look into the information, they warned him about overstepping the rules and conducting investigations on his own, according to the Tribune.

Earlier this week, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the meeting was called as a result of new rules regarding information requests. The rule, adopted in February 2014, specifies that all information requests must go through the chairman and chancellor. If either person finds concern, the request is discussed in a meeting with the other regents.

In March, a grand jury chose not to indict Hall on violation of student privacy laws but called for his impeachment from office. The grand jury issued a report condemning his actions.

“Hall never divulged what purpose or goal he had padlocked in his mind before launching this immense barrage of records requests, rapid firing them in a fashion seemingly intended to deteriorate the systems in place,” the report said.

Hall’s initial requests led to an internal investigation that was completed by the UT System prior to the external investigation by Kroll. 

A Travis County grand jury declined to indict UT System Regent Wallace Hall on Tuesday on charges of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression. However, it took the unusual step of issuing a report condemning Hall and calling for his removal.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents will meet Wednesday to consider facilitating requests from Regent Wallace Hall Jr. to look into information gathered about controversial UT admission practices. 

In early March, Hall asked to meet with Bill Nugent, senior managing director for Kroll, an investigation company, regarding a report released in February. The report, which the UT System commissioned, came in response to an investigation into admission policies at UT-Austin.

The investigation undertaken by Kroll found that UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. had pressured admission officials to admit a “select handful” of applicants each year. McRaven defended the admission process because no laws or rules were broken, but McRaven said he would attempt to institute changes in the future. 

The UT System commissioned Kroll to conduct an external investigation of the admissions process after Hall alleged that UT-Austin administrators were admitting under-qualified applicants with connections to prominent legislators.

A few days after his request to meet with Nugent, Hall requested an opportunity to read through “any and all information, confidential and otherwise, that is related to the Kroll investigation that was originally slated for destruction,” according to a statement released by the UT System.  

No one from Kroll will be in attendance at the meeting Wednesday, according to UT System spokeswoman Jenny Caputo. 

The board now operates under a new rule, which was adopted in February 2014, that  specifies all information requests must go through the chairman and chancellor, Caputo said. If either person has concerns, then the request is discussed at a meeting with all regents present. 

In accordance with the rule, Chairman Paul Foster and Chancellor William McRaven decided to call a meeting with the other regents to decide whether Hall’s request would be granted. If two or more regents agree that Hall’s requests should be allowed, then the requests, “will be filled without delay,” according to the statement.

“The purpose of the rule is to demonstrate the board’s commitment to providing transparency to the public to the fullest extent allowed by law, while ensuring protection of confidential information and personal privacy,” Caputo said. 

Kroll could not be reached for comment.

Chancellor McRaven selects five finalists for student regent position

UT System Chancellor William McRaven has selected five finalists for the UT System Board of Regents student regent position, according to information obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act.

The student regent, who will ultimately be selected by Gov. Greg Abbott, holds a nonvoting position on the UT System Board of Regents for a term that lasts a year. Though the two most recent student regents attended UT-Austin, none of the current finalists attend the University. McRaven recently sent his finalist selections to Abbott, who will choose the student regent before his or her term begins in June.

The five remaining applicants, according to the information obtained by the Texan, are Justin Drake, Ph.D. student in biochemistry and molecular biology at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston; Russell Hannigan, mathematics junior at UT-Dallas; Erika Long, advertising and public relations senior at UT-Arlington; Laura Santibanez, Ph.D. student in nursing at the UT Health Science Center–Houston; and Jefferson Schilder, global affairs junior at UT-San Antonio.

All five applicants emphasized different areas of focus in their application.

Drake is running on the basis of improving online education initiatives in the UT System, increasing collaboration between the UT branches and placing a focus on learning professional skills.

In Hannigan’s application, he said he hopes the UT System allocates more resources toward mental health initiatives, student safety and international student support.

Long said she would like the UT System to improve experiences for distant learners, provide better health services generally and provide increased financial aid for students and financial support for student organizations.

Santibanez stated in her application that she wants to help the UT System foster collaboration between branches, implement financial plans for the long-term development of health-care projects and support research, collaboration and commercialization of products from the branches.

Schilder said he hopes the UT System will improve veteran support systems, make campuses more accessible for students with disabilities, raise graduation rates and promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.  

The current UT System student regent, Max Richards, a government senior at UT-Austin, will leave his position at the beginning of June.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Higher Education left a bill regarding board of regent operations pending in committee to adjust the language of the bill.

SB 177, which Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo) filed, would establish certain restrictions and operation guidelines for the governing boards of public institutions of higher education, such as the UT System Board of Regents. If passed, the bill would establish new transparency and independence measures, ethics training and a clear definition of the board’s role in the university’s system.

Over the course of the last several years, UT administrators and the UT System Board of Regents have been involved in several highly-publicized debates concerning transparency. 

Last year, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations formally censured Regent Wallace Hall after he allegedly placed a burden on the University with a series of broad open records requests, spanning several hundreds of thousands of pages. 

The bill establishes that the board may not “unreasonably or unduly” interfere with daily university operations.

“My concern would be that in the event a board of trustees felt the need to have a little more interactive role in a day to day capacity, for whatever reason … I’m afraid this may put some handcuffs — if you will — on unforeseen circumstance,” Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) said.

At the hearing, Seliger said the bill would “establish consistency” in governing body processes across the state.

“This bill clarifies and codifies the best practice of university governance,” Seliger said at the hearing. “It also increases transparency and training for members of boards of regents.” 

Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) said she is concerned about the standardization of governing boards. 

“I like the individual ability of each board to, kind of, oversee as they see fit,” Burton said.

The bill also establishes that a system may terminate employment of a president only after receiving permission from the university system chancellors.

Seliger filed a similar bill last legislative session, and it passed, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate confirmed Wednesday Gov. Greg Abbott’s three appointees to the UT System Board of Regents.

The Senate unanimously approved Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. 

Current Regent Steve Hicks was confirmed by a vote of 28–2. Sens. Bob Hall (R-Canton) and Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) voted against Hicks.

Senators also approved David Beck, a partner at the Beck and Redden law firm in Houston, by a vote of 27–3. Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) voted with Hall and Burton against Beck’s nomination.

In order to take their places on the board, the nominees must be sworn in as regents, according to UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo. 

Last week, the Senate Nominations Committee approved the appointees and sent them before the Senate for a vote. The committee unanimously approved Martinez Tucker, while both Hicks and Beck were approved by 6–1 votes. In the committee, Burton voted against both Hicks and Beck.

In light of investigations into UT admissions and the UT School of Law’s forgivable loan program, Burton said Beck, the president of the UT Law School Foundation from 2002–2006, and Hicks have contributed to a lack of transparency. 

“[Hicks and Beck] have presided over a period of secrecy, privilege and sharp rises in tuition at the University of Texas,” Burton said in a statement. “The University of Texas is in need of a fresh start, with Regents concerned first and foremost with improving the strength of the University, getting tuition under control, and ensuring an admissions process that rewards the brightest students and not those with connections.”

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education issued a statement in support of the confirmation.

“These regents will help Chancellor McRaven advance the UT System past detrimental and unnecessary conflict and controversy, and toward a future focused on creating and sustaining excellence in higher education across the System’s academic and medical campuses,” the statement said.

Martinez Tucker and Beck are replacing current Regent Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell on the board. Hicks’ term has been extended until 2021.

Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Nominations approved three candidates for appointment to the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday.

The appointees — David Beck, Steve Hicks and Sara Martinez Tucker — must now go before the Texas Senate for a vote in order to take their positions on the board. Martinez Tucker was approved unanimously, while the committee approved both Steve Hicks and David Beck by 6–1 votes. 

Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) voted against Hicks and Beck. In light of investigations into UT admissions and the UT School of Law’s forgivable loan program, Burton said Hicks, a current regent, and Beck, who was president of the UT Law School Foundation from 2002–2006, have contributed to a lack of transparency. 

“[Hicks and Beck] have presided over a period of secrecy, privilege and sharp rises in tuition at the University of Texas,” Burton said in a statement. “The University of Texas is in need of a fresh start, with Regents concerned first and foremost with improving the strength of the University, getting tuition under control, and ensuring an admissions process that rewards the brightest students and not those with connections.”

Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), who also sits on the nominations committee, had no objections to any of the candidates, according to Fraser spokesman Will McAdams.

 “Senator Fraser listened to the testimony from all three candidates and read the recommendations from the Governor’s Office,” McAdams said. “[He] believed the Governor’s Office had done their due diligence, and that’s why he voted for the nominees.” 

Martinez Tucker is the CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, a foundation that seeks to improve student performance in science, technology, engineering and math. Beck is a partner at the Beck Redden law firm in Houston. 

If approved by the Senate, Martinez Tucker and Beck will replace current regents Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell on the board. Hicks’ term will be extended until 2021. 

Senate committee approves new UT System Board of Regents appointees

Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.
Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.

The Senate Committe on Nominations approved three appointees to the UT System Board of Regents Thursday.

The appointees – Sara Martinez Tucker, Steve Hicks and David Beck – must now go before the Texas Senate for a vote in order to take their positions on the board. 

Martinez Tucker was approved unanimously, while the committee approved Steve Hicks and David Beck by two 6-1 votes. Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) voted against Hicks and Beck.

Burton said Hicks and Beck have contributed to a lack transparency within the Board of Regents.

"[Hicks and Beck] have presided over a period of secrecy, privilege, and sharp rises in tuition at the University of Texas," Burton said in a statement. "The University of Texas is in need of a fresh start, with Regents concerned first and foremost with improving the strength of the University, getting tuition under control, and ensuring an admissions process that rewards the brightest students and not those with connections.”

Martinez Tucker, CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, served as undersecretary of the Department of Education during the Bush administration and as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Beck is a senior partner at the Beck Redden law firm in Houston. Both are UT alumni — Beck graduated from the UT School of Law, and Martinez Tucker received an undergraduate degree in journalism as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University. 

If approved by the Senate, Martinez Tucker and Beck will replace current regents Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell on the baord. Hicks’ term will be extended until 2021.