New Regents Chairman Pledges Support for Powers

New Regents Chairman Pledges Support for Powers

Will a new chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents mean a new day for the relationship between the regents and the president of the flagship?

That’s the question following the election yesterday of Paul Foster as the new regents chairman. Foster, an El Paso businessman who was confirmed in May for a second six-year term, will follow in the turbulent wake of Gene Powell, the chairman of the past two and a half years.

Powell’s term as chairman started off rocky and never could manage to smooth out, despite some meaningful accomplishments, most notably the establishment of a medical school at UT-Austin and a new university in South Texas. During Powell’s tenure, the board got crossways with UT alumni, students, faculty, legislators, and the administration of UT-Austin, most notably on the performance of President Bill Powers.

In his first comments as chairman, Foster didn’t quite profess undying love for Powers, but he did offer a vote of confidence.

“I’m very supportive of (Powers),” Foster said. “He’s our president.”

Audio: Paul Foster Press Scrum

Powers was on vacation during the regents meeting, and Foster said the two were scheduled to meet once the president returned home.

It’s a complicated time for Foster to be taking the reins. His colleague, Wallace Hall, faces the threat of impeachment for what many legislators perceive as inappropriate scrutiny of UT-Austin, its fundraising, its leadership, and how it fulfills open-records requests. Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) has argued that Hall falsified his application to be a regent, and that his omissions (since corrected) might be grounds for impeachment, as well. (Hall’s lawyers dispute that his application was at all untoward.)

At his confirmation hearing in May, Foster told the Senate nominations committee he didn’t condone the “investigative nature” of Hall’s requests, calling them “not the best approach.” He cautioned at the time, however, that he wasn’t sure there was anything he could do to stop them, even as chairman.

Now we’ll see.

Foster told reporters that he was looking forward to moving past “some of the distractions that we’ve had and to get everyone working on the same page.”

His biggest challenge may be in appeasing legislators. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer both sent letters to the System Wednesday asking yet again for an update on their pending requests for records.

Outgoing UT-Austin provost Steven Leslie reacted favorably to the change in board leadership.

“I think [Foster] is a very strong appointment, and The University of Texas at Austin is looking forward to working with him,” Leslie said. “We feel that we will advance our university under his leadership.”

Photo courtesy Matt Valentine.


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