Seliger, Dewhurst Take Action Regarding Regents

Two days after lawmakers’ emotional show of support for President Powers, Senate higher education chair Kel Seliger has filed legislation relating to the role of the University’s Board of Regents.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) filed legislation Wednesday afternoon that would more carefully define the appointment process and limit the duties of the University of Texas System Board of Regents.

Senate Bill 15 would require regents to be confirmed by the Senate prior to voting on board matters—effectively eliminating a recess appointment by the Governor—and would require appointees to undergo training on ethics and procedures prior to voting on budgetary and personnel matters.

The bill would also greatly delineate existing statutes regarding regents’ responsibilities. If passed, the bill would mandate that duties not specifically stated in law for university boards are reserved for university administrators. Seliger said the changes to the education code are meant to clarify governance and management of universities and university systems around the state, and that as the bill is considered, its specifics may change.

“There may be some rough edges at this point,” said Seliger, who serves as chairman of the Senate higher education committee. “And those will be refined.” He noted that the bill does not imply more control over institutions by the Legislature. The bill has nine bipartisan co-authors alongside Seliger.

Earlier this week, the passage of a resolution honoring UT president Bill Powers became a flashpoint in the ongoing tensions reported between Powers and the Board of Regents. Last week, extended questioning of Powers at an otherwise typical board meeting raised eyebrows and stoked rumors of  increased unease between the University administrator and the governor-appointed regents that oversee the nine-university System. On Friday, Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka reported that regents were aiming to remove Powers, a reprise of concerns voiced last year.

In his remarks on the Senate floor Monday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst alluded to “character assassination” and “micromanagement” of Powers by unnamed regents. Dewhurst called on lawmakers to investigate the actions of regents Tuesday. House higher education chairman Dan Branch (R-Dallas) has requested legal analysis on whether regents can be impeached or recalled, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Dewhurst released a statement Wednesday announcing the renewal of a joint higher education oversight committee to be chaired by Seliger and Branch. The Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency will bring together House and Senate members to “discuss governance in our higher education systems,” according to the statement. Sen. Judith Zaffirni (D-Laredo), BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, chaired the committee in 2011. She will remain on the committee this session.

The chairs of the joint committee will work with Zaffirini to define the group’s scope, according to Seliger, who said Senate Bill 15 is more likely to end up in the Senate higher education committee.

Seliger voiced his respect for Powers last week in the Texas Exes’ UT Advocates podcast. “Bill Powers has a tough job,” Seliger said about UT’s leadership. “What a tremendous job to actually have a place in better shape than when you came. It’s rare leadership.”

Update: UT Board of Regents chairman Gene Powell released a statement Friday in response to the events of Monday:

Over the last few days, I have had several good conversations with Governor Dewhurst, in which he and I have discussed recent events in the Texas Senate and at The University of Texas System. I informed him of my belief that some statements made in recent days, particularly about members of the UT System Board of Regents, surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate. I know my fellow regents; they are outstanding individuals and I stand behind them fully.

Read the full statement here.

Dewhurst subsequently told the Texas Tribune he has learned additional information and perspectives as is glad the Joint Oversight Committee, which he and Speaker Joe Strauss reappointed, will look into all the facts.

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The Texas Senate dais. Photo courtesy DaveWilsonPhotography via Flickr Creative Commons.


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