Flawn to Regents Chair: Don’t Lessen UT-Austin

The leader of UT’s “war against mediocrity” has penned a letter to the UT System board chairman warning against re-making the state’s flagship university.

Flawn to Regents Chair: Keep UT First Class

UT-Austin president emeritus Peter Flawn has asked UT System Board of Regents chair Paul Foster to maintain UT’s mandate to be a “university of the first class” and calls actions the board has taken to “re-make” the flagship outside its authority.

In an Oct. 21 letter, Flawn tells Foster that he is unhappy with what Flawn calls “violations of the principles of good governance” by Foster’s fellow regents. Flawn does not detail the violations or which regent or regents are making them, but he cautions Foster to fulfill the Texas Constitution’s mandate.

“When I called this to the attention of one of your Board members he told me that it didn’t mean anything because ‘first class’ can’t be defined,” Flawn wrote. “In our time, academic institutions that are ‘first class’ are members of the Association of American Universities and are required to adhere to the principles and high standards of that organization.”

The Association of American Universities reference is noteworthy, as UT president Bill Powers became the chair of the elite group of North American research universities on Tuesday, the day after the letter was sent.

Flawn is the namesake of the University’s Flawn Academic Center and served as UT president from 1979 to 1985. As president, he launched what he dubbed a “war on mediocrity,” focusing on fundraising to endow more than 700 faculty positions. He served as the first president of UT-San Antonio, and in 1997, returned to UT-Austin as interim president. His salary was $1.

He was also the first recipient of the Texas Exes Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed on a non-alumnus. In his letter, Flawn notes that he has been associated with UT and the UT System for 64 years.

In an email to the Alcalde, Foster rejected the notion that the current Board of Regents has done anything other than support UT-Austin as a “university of the first class”:

I appreciate the letter submitted by Dr. Peter Flawn, one of the most admired leaders in the history of The University of Texas System. In my role as Chairman of the Board of Regents, I take very seriously the Constitutional mandate that The University of Texas be “of the first class.” I also take very seriously my role to protect and advance UT Austin and all UT institutions. I can assure you that the current Board of Regents has never voted to re-make or diminish UT into a lesser institution. On the contrary, this Board has worked hard to allocate funds to support President Powers’ vision to propel UT Austin to the top of public research universities nationally.  Our funding for the new Dell Medical School, the Engineering Education and Research Center, and STARs funding to recruit and retain the most prominent faculty in their disciplines represents only a few of the actions this board has taken to honor and support UT Austin as an institution of the first class.

Foster has served on the board of regents since he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007. This spring he was reconfirmed for another term and in August elected chair. During a Texas Senate hearing in May at which Foster’s renomination was considered, the regent told legislators that, if reconfirmed, he would work to reduce the investigatory actions taken by board members in recent years, which he described as not beneficial.

Massive data requests, among other actions, have alarmed legislators who perceive some regents, notably Wallace Hall, as targeting UT-Austin in an attempt to oust Powers. The letter comes as a Speaker-appointed Texas House committee is investigating whether Hall’s actions warrant impeachment. The committee began hearing testimony on the matter this week.

You can read the complete letter below. Can’t see the document? Click here.

Oct. 21 Letter, Flawn to Foster

Photo courtesy Matt Valentine.


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