Meet the Regents: What You Missed at the Senate

Two days after Gov. Greg Abbott appointed two new members and one returning member to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, the Senate gathered to question the incoming and current leaders of the UT System and UT-Austin.

At the Senate’s confirmation hearing on Thursday morning, the three nominees, Janiece Longoria, Kevin Eltife, and Rad Weaver, received a friendly reception before the Nomination Committee, though not without thorough questioning.

Eltife, BBA ’81, is a former Republican state senator from Tyler and the city’s former mayor. He is the owner of Eltife Properites Ltd. Weaver, BBA ’98, Life Member, is CEO of the investment arm of UT donor Red McCombs’ businesses, McCombs Partners. He was also previously appointed by Abbott as presiding officer of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. Former vice chairman of the UT board Longoria, BA ’76, JD ’79, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna, is the current chairman of the Port of Houston Authority and has served on the board of the University of Texas Investment Management Co.

“I’m very appreciative of Gov. Abbott for nominating me,” Longoria said. “Public service has always been an important part of my professional life and I’m very excited about the opportunity to give back. I believe that higher ed is one of the most important things that we can do together, making sure that there is affordability and accountability for the students of Texas.”

The senators questioned the nominees over issues like the UT-System’s planned expansion into Houston, which Longoria said she would not support without the Legislature’s approval. The Senate also asked how the nominees would keep tuition rates in check and how they plan to bring a diverse perspective to the board, considering that Gov. Abbott did not appoint a black regent. There have only been three African-American regents out of the previous 242 over the last 126 years. Most of all, the Senate encouraged them to work on improving relations between the system and the Legislature. They stressed that communication and transparency should be a major concern for the appointees.

Many see the new appointees as a move by Abbott to mend a governing board that has been subject to discord over higher education policies the last few years. The prospective regents will replace the embattled Wallace L. Hall Jr., Alex M. Cranberg, and Brenda Pejovich. The outgoing regents had not been expected to be reappointed.

The committee did not take a vote on the nominees to send their appointment to the full Senate for final approval, but left their appointment pending. It’s typical that a vote on the nominees is left pending for one week, but the committee chair has not indicated if that will be the case. If the appointees are confirmed next week, they will begin their six-year terms on Feb. 1, 2017.

“I see very capable people in front of me,” said committee Chairman Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury). “I am very impressed.”

Following the confirmation hearing, the Senate held a Finance Committee Hearing during which lawmakers questioned current UT System leaders like Chancellor William McRaven. Members of the Senate criticized the System’s spending on $200 million worth of Houston land, $1 million worth of marketing, and disagreed with the decision to build the system headquarters in Downtown Austin. Many senators also disagreed with McRaven’s efforts to do away with the Top 10 Percent Law in college admissions.

“It looks to me like an entity that has a lot more money than they know what to do with,” said Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo).

UT President Greg Fenves also testified during the finance hearing, though he received a more amicable reception from the senators. In his testimony, Fenves told the Senate that UT-Austin uses more than 80 percent of its general revenue to fund academic instruction and touted some of the lowest administrative costs, which land at around 5.4 percent. He also noted that UT-Austin’s four year graduation rate has increased to 61 percent, the highest in university history and state for public institutions.

Readers can watch the archived feeds of both hearings here.


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