Karbhari "is still our sole finalist" for UTA post, UT regents declare

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- University of Texas regents met via telephone for more than an hour on Wednesday to revisit their selection of Vistasp Karbhari as the lone finalist to become the next president of the University of Texas at Arlington.

No public action was taken, but Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the regents, said Karbhari "is still our sole finalist."

The meeting was called over the weekend after some regents learned for the first time that Karbhari, a top administrator at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was named in a wrongful death suit stemming from a 2010 shooting that killed three faculty members at the Huntsville campus

Karbhari was chosen as the lone finalist for the UTA post during a regents meeting on Feb. 14, ending an eight-month-long search for a new president. The appointment is scheduled to take effect at the end of a 21-day waiting period.

Karbhari was selected to replace outgoing president James Spaniolo, who announced his retirement in June. Spaniolo has been widely credited for an ambitious expansion program at the Metroplex university, and university supporters are looking for the next president to lead UTA to its long-sought goal of becoming a tier-one research institution.

Regents convened about 4 p.m. Wednesday via phone but quickly went into closed executive session. The calls were placed from the regents' headquarters in downtown Austin, where UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and several other system officials were gathered to listen in on the discussions.

All but one of the nine regents - Steven Hicks of Austin - were on the line at the outset of the meeting. It wasn't immediately clear if Karbhari participated.

The meeting, posted Monday, comes amid renewed scrutiny of Karbhari's involvement in a suit stemming from a 2010 shooting at the Alabama campus that killed three faculty members.

In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in 2011, family members of two of the slain faculty members accuse Karbhari of failing to follow university protocol in the case of professor Amy Bishop Anderson, who is serving a life sentence after the shootings.

The lawsuit states that Bishop had a history of severe and observable mental instability and violence and describes a campus where many people had expressed their concerns about Bishop's mental state, yet she continued to remain on staff.

Karbhari, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the Alabama university, emerged as the final choice at UTA in a nationwide search that initially reached out to more 200 possible candidates. Regents applauded his selection when he was brought into the board's chambers last week but some members later complained that they hadn't been aware of the lawsuit.

Regents announced the meeting on Monday with a terse explanation that the session would involve "discussion and appropriate action concerning individual personnel matters related to the candidacy of sole finalist for president." No further details were released.

Dan Formanowicz, a UTA biology professor and member of the presidential search committee, told the Star-Telegram that his committee was aware of the legal action, but that he doesn't recall it being a "big issue." He said he assumed that regents had received the same background information.

The UTA selection process comes at a time when the regents are embroiled in a dispute with lawmakers over thorny relations with the chief of another UT institution - Bill Powers, president of the flagship University of Texas at Austin.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the state Senate's presiding officer, delivered an emotional defense of the embattled president this week, accusing some of the regents of character assassination and micromanagement in their treatment of Powers. Senators also passed a resolution supporting the UT president.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, introduced legislation shortly before Wednesday's meeting clarifying the regents' role over universities and requiring them to receive mandated training prior to voting on budgetary or personnel matters.

Seliger's office said the bill also addresses allegations of micromanagement by ensuring that all duties and responsibilities not specifically stated in law for University Systems or Governing Boards are reserved for the institutions.

Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief , 512-739-4471

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