Legislative rebuke should bring UT regent resignations

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In two years, the governance of the University of Texas System has seen a dramatic detrimental shift in procedure and priorities.

In an extraordinary action to address these extraordinary circumstances, the 83rd Texas Legislature took decisive action and overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 15 to strengthen requirements placed on all such state university boards.

Unfortunately, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill, defying the votes of the Legislature. This veto confirmed the close coordination between the governor and certain UT System regents that has been repeatedly denied.

SB 15 and the supporting comments by legislators are an unambiguous rebuke and vote of no confidence in the UT System board of regents and its actions for the past two years. Many legislators deserve credit for the courage to pursue legislation despite powerful opposition, and other Texans deserve credit for bringing the legislators’ attention to this conduct.

To be clear, the concerns SB 15 was intended to address were not prompted by all regents but were directed at Chairman Gene Powell and Regents Wallace Hall, Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich.

The overwhelming House and Senate votes of no confidence signal that the targeted regents are no longer deemed fit to hold their positions. The chairman and these three regents should resign.

Samples of the infractions:

• Chairman Powell has encouraged these three regents to pursue their bizarre doctrinaire conduct. He secretly hired a highly paid employee to a senior system position, and, with Pejovich, questions the value of distinguished volunteer leadership advisory groups of longtime, generous UT donors.

• Hall admittedly filed a false application to be regent. He is engaged in an obsessive witch hunt to force UT Austin President Bill Powers out of office.

He has made unreasonable demands for document production and, in an effort to discredit the university’s philanthropic success, personally appeared before the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington, D.C., to oppose a capital campaign accounting policy proposed by UT.

• Cranberg, whose company has been determined by a judge in a Louisiana court (on appeal) to have acted in “bad faith,” advocates the incorporation of more “business” practices into higher education.

He tried to get a student group to modify its website after disagreeing with its content. He, too, has a history of excessive data requests that do not credibly support his position of “asking the tough questions.”

• Pejovich, in addition to her conflict of interest as a regent while serving as a director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose representatives have repeatedly criticized UT, chaired the committee that proposed to spend $500,000 for a redundant investigation of UT’s Law School Foundation.

The past two years have been tainted by unprecedented conflict, animosity, micromanagement, lack of transparency, intimidation, poor judgment, conflicts of interest and lack of governance standards, all of which have produced low morale at UT Austin.

There have been departures or resignations by many high-profile employees, including the general counsel of the UT System, the vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, the system auditor, the provost of UT Austin, a vice provost, a Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor.

These results should serve as a warning for all of our institutions of higher education, not just UT Austin.

Newly confirmed regents have the opportunity to reverse the downward spiral of the past two years, and they have promised the Legislature they will. Their jobs would be easier if unencumbered by the influence of the four proven detractors.

Gordon Appleman of Fort Worth has been named a Distinguished Alumnus of UT Austin by the university’s ex-students association. rgapple@hotmail.com

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