Steve Hicks

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.

Vice Chairman R. Steven Hicks at a Board of Regents meeting in November 2013.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

On his second full day in office Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed two new members to the UT System Board of Regents and reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks for another term.

Abbott’s two new appointees, Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck, will replace current regents Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell if approved by the Texas Senate. Stillwell’s and Powell’s terms are set to expire in February, while Hicks’ will be extended until 2021.

“I am appreciative and happy to help Governor Abbott as he seeks to improve higher education in Texas,” Hicks said in an email to the Texan. “I’m especially excited about UT Austin and assisting their aspirations to be the best public university in the world.”

Sara 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. They are both 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. Martinez Tucker said she and Beck were instructed not to comment on their appointments.

Seemingly across the board, key players in Texas’ higher education community lined up to praise Abbott’s appointments.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven, who took over from former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa earlier this month, said he felt strongly supportive of Beck and Martinez Tucker and was excited Hicks was up for reappointment.

“I could not be more pleased with Gov. Abbott’s announcement,” McRaven said. “If confirmed by the Texas Senate, I am confident that these three individuals will serve the University of Texas System with fervor and dedication and contribute their immense talents to making all our institutions even better.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a member of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said she also felt enthusiastic about Abbott’s selection.

“These three strong, intelligent, dynamic Texas Exes love UT and undoubtedly will be leaders in the quest for excellence at all UT institutions, especially our flagship,” Zaffirini said in an email to the Texan. “Each brings expertise and experience that will be valuable assets in interacting with the legislature and in understanding that students are our top priority.”

Zaffirini said she is confident all three appointees will be confirmed by the Senate.

“Today is a fine day for Texas and, especially, for the Longhorn Nation,” Zaffirini said. 

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), vice chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said he would be pleased to see Hicks return to the Board of Regents. 

“Vice Chairman Steve Hicks has been an excellent leader on the board, and I look forward to continuing our close working relationship,” Watson said.

Watson said he thinks Beck and Martinez Tucker are well-qualified candidates.

“The two new additions … will also be great assets,” Watson said. “I’m impressed by Sara’s background and educational expertise. I’ve known David for 25 years and he’s smart, and thoughtful, and loves UT.”

After years of fundraising, the Rise School of Austin officially broke ground Tuesday on a permanent location in East Austin, due in part to donations from current and former UT officials.

The school, renamed the Sally and Mack Brown Rise School of Austin, provides equal preschool-level education and an integrated environment to children with and without special needs. The opening of the new facility in August will make it the first educational campus of its kind in Austin. Rise provides a combination of traditional curricula, therapeutic instruction and community support to both special needs children and average learning-speed children within the same classroom.

UT System Regent Steve Hicks and his wife Donna Hicks join former UT football head coach Mack Brown and his wife Sally Brown among the many donors who contributed to the new school, the construction of which is being privately funded in full.

Besides giving Rise a permanent location, the new building will be able to accommodate the special needs of its students, executive director Emily Greer said. Rise meets the Texas Workforce Commission’s highest educational standard for special needs children, and the new location will facilitate both physical and social therapy in addition to the already advanced curriculum. Rise will include an indoor physical therapy lab to improve motor skills, a music therapy room, a sensory garden and modified classrooms to accommodate those with special needs.

Prior to the acquisition, Rise was taught for years in rented churches around Austin, and Rise music therapy teacher Danielle Saunders said the impermanence detracted from the learning experience.

“It’s hard to run a smooth, cohesive day without something as simple as bathrooms near your classrooms,” Saunders said.

Despite the lack of a permanent location, Rise has made a name for itself with a 3:1 student-to-teacher ratio and a “Rising Star” accreditation of curriculum by the Texas Workforce Commission. 

Donna Hicks, who has also served as a past president and current member of the board of directors for Rise, said she is thankful for the donations driving the project.

“We need quality preschools to meet the needs of thousands of children, and Rise can prepare them,” Hicks said in her speech at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

Greer hopes that Rise’s new location will increase its ability to better the lives of children.

“It’s wonderful that we can now teach with state-of-the-art equipment,” Greer said. “And what we can’t teach them — things like compassion — they learn through their peers.”

New chairman of the Board of Regents elected

Regent Paul Foster will serve as the next chairman of the UT System Board of Regents after being elected to the position Thursday.

Foster replaces Gene Powell, who served as chairman since February 2011 and will continue to serve on the board. Foster, who was first appointed to board in 2007, said he would serve students as chairman.

“I look forward to working with the chancellor, the system staff, the presidents and their staffs, but most importantly, I recognize, and I know that most of you recognize, that we’re here for the students and for the future of this great state,” Foster said.

The regents also elected Powell and Steve Hicks to serve as vice chairmen, after Foster nominated them in his first act as chairman. Both Powell and Hicks’ terms expire in 2015. Foster’s current term expires in 2019 since he was reappointed to his second term as a regent by Gov. Rick Perry earlier this year.

The change in leadership comes after state lawmakers accused the regents of working to remove UT President William Powers Jr. from his position during the legislative session earlier this year.

After the meeting, Foster affirmed his support for Powers.

“I’m very supportive of [Powers],” Foster said. “He’s our president.”

Foster said he plans on meeting with Powers in the near future.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

In the middle of ongoing tensions between the UT System Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature and UT President William Powers Jr., board Chairman Gene Powell has asked the Texas Attorney General’s office if the System is allowed to withhold information from legislators.

The request comes only weeks after regents levelled claims of a “lack of transparency” against Powers regarding a controversy surrounding the UT Law School Foundation.

Two days after the letter to the attorney general was filed, four regents — Steve Hicks, Robert Stillwell, James Dannenbaum and Printice Gary — submitted a written request to hold a meeting of the full board to discuss whether or not information should be withheld from legislators.

The four regents also requested the board discuss the possibility of authorizing the attorney general’s office to conduct a review of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School foundation. Last month, in a 4-3 vote at which Powell was absent, the Board decided to conduct a new external review, which has been estimated to cost roughly $500,000. 

Powell’s request to withhold information has sparked sharp criticism from lawmakers, including state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who said in a statement she had heard Powell’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

“My only conclusion is that [the Regents] have something to hide,” Zaffirini said Friday night in the statement.

In a letter to state Attorney General Greg Abbott, Powell asked if the System could legally withhold certain information from the Legislature, or if there was a specific time frame in which a governmental body must respond to an open records request.

According to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done in 10 days, the governmental body must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

The UT System has, by its own count, received four requests for information from legislators, including one request by Zaffirini made as a private citizen. In this request, Zaffirini asked for any and all data relating to a number of categories, including “President Powers,” “Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr.” and “Regent Alex M. Cranberg,” among others.

Zaffirini said she made her request as a private citizen because the System has no time limit on responses for legislative requests. Her request as a private citizen is likely what prompted the 10-day clock to start, spurring Powell to request withholding certain documents.

In his letter to Abbott, Powell said the information requests might be harmful to the System’s ability to do its job.

“These requests have proved potentially damaging to the ability of the System’s governing board to fulfill properly its statutory and fiduciary duties,” Powell said in the letter.

Zaffirini called the move outrageous.

“While the specific regents and personnel involved in this response process have employed countless delay tactics to date, this one is not only the most innovative, but also the most outrageous,” Zaffirini said in the statement. “Perhaps they do not understand the difference between ‘inconvenient’ and ‘confidential.’”

Abbott has not yet ruled on whether or not the requested information will be granted to Zaffirini or to any of the other legislators.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said Powell informed the board’s three vice chairmen — Regents Paul Foster, Hicks and Dannenbaum — of his decision to write to the attorney general.

Though Powell has requested to withhold information from legislators, the System has not been shy about requesting its own information from UT, including recently criticizing Powers for not being transparent enough.

In February, the University supplied more than 40 boxes of records to Regent Wallace Hall Jr., who had requested all open records correspondence and responses for a 23-month period stretching from January 2011 to November 2012. The University had responded to roughly 2,500 requests in that time period.

Hall is currently in the process of filing new information about his own legal history with the governor’s office after it was discovered last week he failed to disclose his involvement in at least six state and federal lawsuits on his original application for the Regent position.

The UT System Board of Regents elected new chairs Tuesday in a special meeting via telephone. The nine-member board chose San Antonio real estate developer Eugene Powell to replace Colleen McHugh as its chairman. McHugh’s appointment to the board expired this month and Gov. Rick Perry did not re-appoint her. Paul Foster, Steve Hicks and James Dannenbaum will serve as vice chairmen. The board’s regulations state only two vice chairmen should be elected, but UT System spokesman Matt Flores said the board sometimes chooses to elect three. “It’s not unprecedented,” Flores said. Perry appointed the new chairman Powell in 2009. Powell graduated from UT with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance. He played football for the University on full scholarship for Coach Darrell K Royal. Appointed in 2007, Foster has served as a vice chairman of the board since 2009. He earned an accounting degree from Baylor University. He is also chairman of the board of directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Co., the nonprofit investment corporation that handles the UT and Texas A&M Systems’ investments. In 2009, Perry appointed Hicks, who earned a government degree from UT. He is also the board’s athletics liaison and owns a private investment firm. Dannenbaum is a member of the Board for Lease of University Lands and has served on the board since 2007. He earned a civil engineering degree from UT and is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.