Despite passage by large, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed Senate Bill 15 on Friday afternoon. SB 15 would have more strictly defined the role of public college and university governing boards in Texas. In a statement, Perry explained that he believes limiting the authority of regents would diminish university accountability and quality. Not everyone was surprised by the move, but many were disappointed—and ready to express their displeasure.
“I am very disappointed by Gov. Perry’s decision to veto SB 15,” said state Senate higher education chair Kel Seliger. The Amarillo Republican authored the bill, along with more than 10 other members of the Senate. “[It] ensures that the conflicts, controversies, and lack of transparency will continue,” Seliger said. “It harms the reputation of Texas’ world-class public universities and hinders their ability to attract the best students, faculty, and administrators to this great state.”
[This decision] ensures that the conflicts, controversies, and lack of transparency will continue.”
The bill, drafted in response to continuing tensions between the UT System Board of Regents and lawmakers, would have emphasized the role of the chancellor and explicitly barred boards from directly firing university presidents. Since at least 2012, rumors have swirled that some UT regents wanted UT-Austin president Bill Powers removed.
Democratic state Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, a co-author of SB 15, said she was disappointed by the governor’s veto, believing Perry’s concerns had been addressed in the final version of the bill. She spoke directly to UT-Austin alumni in calling for good governance on the UT System board.
“I believe that it is as important and timely as it is essential and corrective. I’m confident that my fellow Texas Exes and all who have followed and are concerned about the attack on higher education in Texas and on UT agree with my perspective,” Zaffirini said Saturday. “Clearly, the governor did not.”
She also said she hoped recently confirmed regents Jeff Hildebrand and Ernest Aliseda would work with other regents to stop what she called “disruptive antics.”
Saying he was still concerned about overreach by some UT regents, Tyler Republican state Sen. Kevin Eltife, BBA ’81, also spoke out.
“I was disappointed in Governor Perry’s veto,” said Eltife, another of the bill’s co-authors, “because of the time and effort that was expended to make sure the legislation struck the right balance with regard to governance issues and the proper role of regents.”
The reaction comes in the wake of a flurry of more than two-dozen vetoes. Along with legislators, editorial boards across the state weighed in on the vetoes, including SB 15. The Dallas Morning News said it would have been a useful balm to what they called the “Perry-Powers rift.”
“[The provisions of SB 15] would have been sound governance principles, much like a school board appoints a superintendent to do the hiring and firing. It’s too bad Perry’s focus on micromanaging Powers got in the way of applying those principles to university boards,” the editors wrote.
Questions over Perry’s influence on regents Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall, and Brenda Pejovich were front and center during the regular session of the legislature. Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio released an email to regents signed “RP”—confirmed by Regent Pejovich to be Rick Perry—that encouraged them to keep up what he called a fight against “charlatans and peacocks.” Despite end-of-session calls from lawmakers to set the controversy aside, Regent Hall made another in a series of records requests directed at UT-Austin last week, including Post-it notes from President Powers’ office. Hall made requests both as a regent and as a private citizen.
The Daily Texan voiced concern over the veto and the ongoing tension in an editorial this week.
“Wallace Hall is entitled to his Post-it notes, and Gov. Perry is entitled to his vetoes, but the students of Texas are entitled to a change of conversation,” the Texan editorial board wrote. “The veto of SB 15 made it clear that Perry is more interested in winning even the smallest battles than swallowing his pride and letting legislators and students mark down a minor victory.”
Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes supported SB15 as a measure to ensure good governance at the University of Texas System. You can read the Texas Exes’ legislative priorities here.
You can also follow UT Advocates on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Brian Talbot via Flickr Creative Commons.
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