Arlington deserves better from UT System regents

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents and its top administrators have done UT Arlington a troubling disservice by nominating as its president a man who faces what are at the very least seriously distracting lawsuits over the 2010 shooting deaths of faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The regents have scheduled a special called meeting by telephone today to reconsider last week's announcement of Vistasp M. Karbhari, currently provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the Alabama university, as the lone finalist to succeed James Spaniolo at UT Arlington.

There are only two acceptable outcomes from today's meeting:

The regents could say they have conducted a thorough investigation of allegations in a pair of 2011 lawsuits saying Karbhari failed to enforce policies that could have prevented the shootings. The suits were filed by the families of two people killed when Amy Bishop, a biology professor, opened fire at a faculty meeting. One other person also was killed, and three were wounded.

After independently investigating the allegations, the regents might have some credibility in standing behind Karbhari for the UT Arlington post. Still, they would have to explain why they believe fighting the lawsuits would not dog him or distract attention as he begins the new job.

Or the regents could say that Karbhari's name has been withdrawn from consideration.

Bishop pleaded guilty in September to capital murder and attempted murder charges and began serving a life sentence, but she has now appealed to change her plea.

Karbhari has denied the lawsuits' allegations. They revolve around his obligation to notify university police when a mentally distressed person is known to be on campus.

Specifically, the suits say police once were called to protect Karbhari from Bishop after she was denied tenure and vehemently objected, yet he did nothing to prevent her from attending the meeting during which she shot some of her fellow faculty members.

UT Arlington has made great strides under Spaniolo's leadership since 2004. To hold on to those gains and continue stellar growth in academics, research and campus life, the school must have the full attention and vital energy of a visionary president.

UT regents must pick a person who will deliver nothing less.

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