ITHE LEGISLATURE Woe for the Senate Liberals Austin The confirmation by the Senate of Frank C. Erwin, Jr., as regent of the University of Texas last week was a body blow to liberals’ hopes of wielding substantial power here this legislative session. Senate opposition to Erwin, the powerful chairman of the UT board, crumbled in the last few days the upper house considered the highly disputed question of his return to the board. The disarray of the opposition bodes ill for the prospects liberals have cherished of cutting a wide swath in the Senate this spring. Had Erwin been stopped, the liberals emboldened by their improved standing in committee assignments, their success in revising Senate rules of procedure \(particularly in removing the cloak of secrecy in and their victory in winning increased funds for researching legislature this session might well have been in the driver’s seat in the upper house, welded into a formidable coalition on the strength of a symbolically meaningful victory over a man who has become, in the minds of most on the Texas left, a bete noir. The failure of achieving this triumph cannot but dishearten the Senate liberals. Nonetheless, prospects remain bright for such liberal-backed measures as a state minimum wage, improved workmen’s compensation, and more stringent pollution control. But liberals in the upper house must be possessed of a diffidence reminiscent of previous legislative sessions, in the wake of their failure to coalesce in opposition to a prominent common foe, Erwin. The Thursday prior to the MondayTuesday hearings, last week, of the Nominations Committee, Erwin opponents counted 12 votes in the upper house against his return, 11 being needed to block confirmation. Over the weekend this number dropped sharply, particularly when it became apparent, even before the Senate Nominations Committee held its public hearings on the question, that senators such as Joe Bernal of San Antonio and Don Kennard of Fort Worth were not going to stand in Erwin’s way. Kennard won assurances from Erwin that the regent would lend his support to permitting the UT-Arlington campus to share in the university system’s permanent fund if the Legislature will be constitutionally permitted to use general revenue for building construction at all state colleges. This would be a step that would greatly improve that school’s financial standing. Bernal’s support of Erwin likely pertained to impending establishment of a four-year UT campus in San Antonio, as well as a UT dental branch. THE HEARING questioning was led by Sen. A. R. Schwartz of Galveston, who sought to take advantage of the Nominations Committee’s first public hearing on gubernatorial appointees \(the result of Erwin say publicly what he has not said before on the record. Schwartz was partially successful in this. Erwin said there are “at times political matters” the board must intervene in to support the university administration, and at such times regents try to serve the will of the Legislature. He said that by the nature of his living in Austin he is, as was W. W. Heath before him, more active than other regents. “We’re just available; we’re just easier to get at,” Erwin said. Erwin agreed with Schwartz that the Coordinating Board act, which he helped push through the Legislature in 1965, was designed to remove politics from considerations of higher education in the state. Erwin said he does not believe that goal attainable, however, and did not four years ago in pushing the act. “You can’t take public higher education out of politics. It was a wistful thought at the time the Coordinating Board act was passed,” he said. Erwin indicated, under Schwartz’ close questioning, that at times he acts without formal authority of the board of regents, as, for example, in dealing with the Legislature. “The board of regents appoints a committee to handle all legislative matters,” he said, “because it is not possible to contact the board members on a day-to-day basis. . . . Members of that committee [of which Erwin is one] act on their understanding of the board’s consensus, though I don’t believe any formal action is taken.” “Did the board take any action saying it wants tuition [at state colleges] raised?” Schwartz asked, referring to Erwin’s previous statements that tuition should be boosted. “This was approved informally,” Erwin replied. Erwin was asked by Schwartz if he favors increasing tuition this year. “Only if there is no other source of money,” Erwin answered. As for the matter of the legislative warning issued to the UT Law School during the special session last summer, by providing line item, individual salaries, Erwin said he sought to make it clear in suggesting this to Rep. W. S. Heatly, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, that he, Erwin, was speaking “as an individual” in so suggesting. “I suggested to Mr. Heatly that one way to get the attention of that group was to put them on line items . . . but I didn’t expect it to pass.” Erwin read some statistics to demonstrate that he had gotten additional money for the Law School, then observed, “To suggest that I attacked the Law School is not true. It may be that I adopted wrong tactics, and I freely admit it.” Do you think you did some harm? Schwartz asked. “I think over-reaction they had out there caused the harm,” Erwin said. “I think there are not many people who could have withstood the harassment I have” as a result of the Law School dispute. “I freely confess it did not work out well the way I did it,” he said. As to academic freedom, Erwin said, “There has been no occasion in which I limited anyone’s right to teach or speak.” SCHWARTZ after the two mornings of hearings was highly angered that. other than students, members of the university and liberal communities did not appear at the Legislature. He spoke harshly of “the people who criticized Frank Erwin at cocktail parties, on the telephone, and in letters but were strangely silent and absent when Mr. Erwin was down here before us.” Erwin was unanimously approved by the committee on voice vote, as were the other two UT regents nominees, Fort Worth attorney Jenkins Garrett and Dallas insurance executive Dan Williams. Garrett and Williams were questioned the first day with Erwin and excused the second day; questions were put to them far less often than to Erwin. Senate approval was 28-3 with Schwartz, Charles Wilson of Lufkin, and Chet Brooks of Pasadena the only dissenters to the end. Schwartz was critical of some of his Senate colleagues for pledging support to Erwin too soon. “His position on a tuition increase could have been made painfully clear if he had not been confident he had 21 votes, and the conflict of interest could have been made more clear.” Schwartz had sought to demonstrate, primarily, as to conflict of interest, that it was improper for Erwin’s law partner, Howard Rose, to take a lobbying job in behalf of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, to push that organization’s program in, particularly, higher education. Erwin had replied he gets no part of Rose’s fees for such work; Schwartz February 21, 1969 7
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