Bulldozers and Firewalls: What You Missed At This Week’s Regents Meeting

 

This Week's Regents' Meeting in Review

The nine members of the UT System Board of Regents met in Austin this week to move forward an ambitious agenda that included changes to how the governing board governs itself, a send-off for UT-Austin president Bill Powers, the expansion of the flagship campus, and the report from a “blue ribbon” panel on the most persistent of the board’s bugaboos: admissions.

Here’s our breakdown of the big outcomes of the meeting.

Admissions should be carefully done, but there shouldn’t be a “firewall” between admissions and the president.

Let’s start with that panel. The group, composed of former presidents and System chancellors, was formed in February in the wake of the Kroll Report, which itself was commissioned after previous investigations by the state attorney general’s office and the System itself, all of which were prompted by allegations of influence-peddling in admissions.

As reported by the Austin American-Statesman:

University presidents should not be walled off from decision-making on admissions, a blue-ribbon panel of former University of Texas officials said Thursday.

“The panel does not believe that a firewall should seal a president off from important duties in this area,” said Larry Faulkner, a former president of the Austin campus and chairman of the panel. But instances where a president overrides the admissions office “should be rare, and we mean rare,” he said at a meeting of UT System regents in Austin.

Regents have new rules regarding, well, themselves.

The board changed a few internal rules, including having university presidents report directly to the chancellor, tightening the screws on the presidential search process to prevent leaks, and reminding regents to follow all laws and comply with information-request rules.

Notably, a long and at times tense discussion flared up when Regent Steve Hicks, BA ’72, Life Member, tried to amend regents rules so that a majority of the board would have to vote in favor of giving an individual regent access to records that had previously been denied by the chancellor and chairman.

And, yes, this does have to do with the admissions kerfuffle. As the Houston Chronicle explains:

What seems an esoteric issue has become a concern for leaders of the state’s largest university system, as Regent Wallace Hall Jr.’s voluminous information requests have prompted a state House committee investigation and grand jury inquiry.

Most recently, Hall had requested access to backup material that went into the final report by Kroll Associates, a corporate investigations firm, as well as access to the individuals who produced the report. Chairman Paul Foster and Chancellor William McRaven did not want him to have access to all of the records.

After a lengthy debate, the board approved the change in a 6-3 vote.

Like so many others, UT is moving to East Austin (and this time, it’s OK with the neighbors).

Regents also gave the thumbs-up to a plan for UT to expand across I-35 into East Austin, where new graduate-student housing, parking, and tennis courts will be built. The university sacrificed the Penick-Allison Tennis Center in order to build the new Dell Medical School and its associated teaching hospital.

As the Statesman notes:

The governing board of the University of Texas signed off Thursday on a $166.4 million plan to build graduate student housing, a parking garage and a tennis center on UT-owned land just east of Interstate 35.

In addition, the Board of Regents authorized the university to spend about $6 million to acquire seven privately owned parcels in that area for future expansion.

Residents and leaders of the Blackland neighborhood have expressed support for the East Campus plan. In contrast, UT provoked intense opposition in the 1980s when, under the threat of condemnation, it bought and razed numerous houses in the neighborhood.

Lots of other other things moved forward.

It was a very busy meeting, so let’s just make sure we get through some of the other highlights:

  • Regents congratulated UT-Austin president Bill Powers at his last board meeting, and he received a standing ovation.
  • They approved tuition rates for the Dell Medical School and UT-RGV.
  • Shaka Smart’s contract was finalized.
  • UT-Austin’s Men’s Swimming and Diving Team was recognized for its 11th National Championship.
  • UT-Austin arts and humanities students were honored.
  • Policies on responding to sexual assault claims were updated to comply with federal regulations.
  • Three regents were approved to join the UTIMCO board.
  • UT will launch a new master’s degree program for identity management and security in 2016, a collaboration between the School of Information and the Center for Identity.

File photo by Anna Donlan.

 

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