Regents bill is a rebuke, but Perry still should sign it

Posted Friday, May. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When it comes to the University of Texas, political party allegiance is no match for the ferocity of Longhorn loyalty.

The overwhelming support in both the Texas House and Senate for Senate Bill 15 illustrates that pretty starkly. The measure would change the rules for appointing regents to the governing board of state university systems. Perhaps more significantly, the bill would prevent regents from unilaterally firing university presidents.

Senate Bill 15 was spawned by long-roiling tensions between some UT System regents (all of whom were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry) and UT Austin President Bill Powers. But even those trace to Perry’s vision for making the state’s higher education system more efficient and less expensive.

It’s not that there aren’t many state leaders, educators, advocates parents and students who wouldn’t love to see improvements — but Perry’s approach has been met with widespread cynicism and suspicion. Powers and some influential alumni have different notions from Perry and vocal regents about what reforms are needed.

Perry no doubt alienated even more UT allies when it was revealed that he sent an email in March to Regents Brenda Pejovich, Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall Jr. and Paul Foster saying, “I know you all get tired of being hammered by the charlatans and peacocks but the fight is being won.” He also compared the situation to the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed SB15 to curtail what many saw as regent overreach at the UT System, and the flagship Austin campus in particular. The bill won strong support from House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the state’s second-highest-ranking Republican, stood with Powers when both houses of the Legislature honored the campus president in February. Dewhurst said the regents were undermining Powers and “trying to micromanage the system.”

Among other things, SB15 would only allow regents to fire a campus president on recommendation of the system chancellor — though a board wouldn’t have to follow such a recommendation. Regents appointed by the governor when the Legislature isn’t in session wouldn’t immediately be able to vote on budgets or personnel matters.

By sending SB15 to the governor, lawmakers are signaling emphatically that they’re ready for a veto-override fight if Perry wants one.

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