Senate Passes Bill to Refine Regents’ Role

Senate Passes Bill to Define Regents' Role

The Texas Senate passed a bill to more tightly define the role of university regents Thursday, just hours after the UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously to comply with legislative demands for transparency. Regents voted Thursday morning to release System documents requested by legislators, and to turn over authority of an inquiry into the UT Law School Foundation to the state attorney general. The bill passed by the Senate would more strictly define regents’ statutory power in governing public university systems across the state.

The bill prescribes training for regents in governance best practices, conflicts of interest, and ethics within a year of appointment, and before regents can vote on budgetary and personnel matters. It also changes statutory language to promote governance, not management, and prohibits undue interference in the day-to-day affairs of universities and health centers. The role of the chancellor is made more explicit, serving as the main channel of communication between boards and their institutions, and requires the chancellor to recommend the removal of a university president before one can be fired.

Legislators have been at odds with some UT regents over concerns of “micromanaging” at UT-Austin and rumors of a campaign to discredit or fire its president, Bill Powers. House budget chairman Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) accused regents of a “witch hunt” against Powers, and attached amendments to the House budget aimed at putting state funds toward universities, and not boards. Sen. Judith Zaffirini BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, (D-Laredo) called the board’s Thursday morning vote “good new and bad news,” and reiterated the concern she and her colleagues had expressed that another review of the Law School Foundation was redundant and wasteful.

Despite lawmakers responding somewhat favorably to the regents’ vote, Senators passed the bill by a vote of 29-2. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. House higher education chair Dan Branch (R-Dallas) told the Texas Tribune that the regents’ vote was “two steps in the right direction,” but insisted that there is still progress to be made before trust is fully established between the state legislature and the regents of the state’s largest university.

 The Senate chamber. Photo courtesy hey tiffany! via Flicker Creative Commons.

 

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