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House Hears Bill Limiting UT Regents’ Power

by Published on
The current UT System Regents.

Sen. Kel Seliger’s bill that could cut through the University of Texas System regents’ current power struggle with the Legislature was heard by the House Higher Education Committee early Wednesday morning.

Seliger, and nine other senators, filed Senate Bill 15 in response to allegations that the governor-appointed University of Texas Regents are trying to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Seliger has said his bill, which would limit the authority of the UT Regents and other state higher education governing boards, is all about transparency.

The bill passed through the Senate earlier this month with very little discussion and overwhelming bipartisan support, possibly spurred by the Legislature’s own trouble dealing with the UT Regents. Some lawmakers have said the Regents are on a “witch hunt” to get rid of President Powers, despite UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa lauding Power’s accomplishments.

The Regents have also tried to withhold requested documents from legislators under Texas open records laws, inciting a more heated controversy over the power of the UT regents.

Currently the education code allows governing boards to bypass chancellors on decisions, something Seliger has said endangers the future of the higher education systems in Texas.

“The only reason they’re as good as they are is because the leadership and governance that those systems have had,” said Seliger in a YouTube video, posted after he filed the bill. He said the bill ensures, “as these systems grow and continue to flourish all over the state of Texas, that they are as well led in the future as they have been in the past.”

Seliger has also called on Gov. Perry to relieve the tension between his Regents and the Legislature. “He ought to do what’s best for the state of Texas. Turmoil in an institution for no good reason is something we certainly ought to be wary of. It’s not productive,” Seliger told the Texas Tribune earlier this month.

Seliger’s bill takes a more procedural slant and would add the following provisions to the education code:

  • Allow boards of regents to appoint the system chancellor and a university president.
  • The chancellor, with board advice, will be allowed to evaluate university presidents.
  • Authorizes a chancellor to recommend termination of employment of a UT president, but the board of regents will not be allowed to fire a president unless the system chancellor recommend it.
  • Prohibits regents appointed to the board when the Legislature is not in session from voting, until they have been to the Committee on Nominations, or upon 45 days without a committee meeting.
  • Would prevent any appointed board members from voting if they have yet to complete an ethics training course.

The current Texas Education Code fails to provide appropriate guidance to higher education governing boards, said House Higher Education Committee Chair Dan Branch in laying out the bill Wednesday’s hearing.

“This is meant to clarify, there’s going to be a role for the chancellor, there going to be a role for the regents, and a role for individual university institutional leadership, and presidents are going to be held accountable largely by the chancellor, and chancellors are going to be held accountable by the regents,” Branch said. “So, If you don’t like that sort of approach, then you probably won’t like SB 15.”

The bill was left pending in committee, with a possible vote either Thursday or Friday of this week.