UT Regent Faces Questions Over Undue Influence

Emails reveal Gov. Rick Perry’s personal communication with UT System regents.

UT Regent Faces Questions Over Undue Influence

With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, some lawmakers are increasing their scrutiny of the UT System Board of Regents and the possibility of undue influence from Gov. Rick Perry and a conservative think tank called Texas Public Policy Foundation. At a House government transparency committee meeting Tuesday, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer aggressively questioned Regent Brenda Pejovich, who serves on the UT System Board as well as the board of the TPPF.

Martinez Fischer’s line of questioning dominated the meeting, which was called to discuss Pejovich’s role as chair of the UT Board task force on affiliated foundation relationships. The task force was formed due to concerns regarding the relationship between the UT Law School Foundation and the law school. But Martinez Fischer focused on Pejovich, repeatedly asking the regent whether her dual roles showed outside influence on the UT Board, and referenced some of the more than 12,000 documents he obtained from the UT System. Pejovich said she did not think it was a conflict, and Martinez Fisher, for his part, agreed. He did, however, question the propriety or the appearance of Pejovich serving on both boards. He and Pejovich never did reach any agreement on the propriety question.

The discussion later turned to Gov. Perry and documents showing his communication with UT board members. One of the documents, a March 1 email to Regents Pejovich, Foster, Hall, and Cranberg, referred to the “charlatans and peacocks” who were “hammering” them, but assured the regents that the “fight is being won.” The sender’s address was only listed as “RP.” Pejovich confirmed that “RP” is Gov. Perry, but did not discuss the contents of the email, which compared their struggle to the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Another email from “RP” arranged a meeting with a potential UT regent and Regent Cranberg, a Perry staffer, and Jeff Sandefer, an Austin-based entrepreneur and TPPF board member who helped launch Gov. Perry’s “seven breakthrough solutions” for higher education in 2008. Martinez Fischer asked Pejovich who Sandefer was.

“He is a person who lives here in Austin,” Pejovich offered. The response did not seem to satisfy Martinez Fischer or his colleagues.

Several committee members expressed concern over the appearance of impropriety. Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R-Canton) said he was interested in seeing the report the task force ultimately creates, and noted that the transparency committee’s work could continue beyond the session and into the summer, when the report is expected to be published. Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) called the task force’s makeup “incestuous” and likened it to “insider trading.”

As a bill to clarify and oversee the regents’ role passed the House Tuesday, the afternoon’s meeting showed lingering doubts from lawmakers about the independence and motives of the UT Board.

“Regents who serve should be there on behalf of the institution,” said Martinez, “not contrary to it.”

Photo of Rep. Trey Fischer Martinez courtesy of the Texas Tribune via Flickr Creative Commons.


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