Last week, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed a bill that would add restrictions to regents’ power. One of the bill’s most notable provisions would require members of the UT System Board of Regents to receive a recommendation from the chancellor before firing a president of one of the 15 UT institutions the board governs. A similar bill passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate in 2013, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, unsurprisingly because it would have limited the power of nine people he appointed. Since 2005, all of the regents have been Perry’s appointees because of his longevity in office. Even though the current regents likely share many of Gov.-elect Greg Abbott’s political views, Abbott probably doesn’t have as strong a preference toward the regents as Perry did. This could mean Abbott will be more reasonable in deciding whether to veto bills limiting regents’ power. In February, three of the regents will be appointed by Abbott, but this is merely one-third of the board.
The regents’ rules do contain their power to an extent, especially after a rule change earlier this year. Now, the rules state that when a regent files an open records request, the regent must include the intention behind the request (which isn’t required of regular citizens). Regent Wallace Hall has used this rule to defend himself by stating that some of his thousands of pages of open records requests have been for him as an individual citizen, not as a regent. This bill limits power in a different way, because it requires regents to abide by restrictions created by legislators rather than by the regents themselves.
Requiring a recommendation from the chancellor is best for the whole UT System because it adds an extra step to the process of firing a president. While some may think this step is unnecessary, it’s crucial to maintaining order and fairness throughout the process. The chancellor’s views on what makes a good president may be different from the regents’, and different viewpoints help ensure the decision-making process is well thought-out and fair. Granted, the chancellor probably shares some of the regents’ views, but because both regents and outside consultants select the chancellor, it’s unlikely that he or she embodies just one person’s interests. The chancellor directs “management and administration of System Administration and all institutions of the UT System,” so making a recommendation to the regents before they can remove a president from office would make perfect sense. This has essentially already happened this year, when Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked President William Powers, Jr., in July to step down, which Cigarroa probably wouldn’t have done if at least some of the regents weren’t on board. Requiring the chancellor to make a recommendation to the regents before firing a president is by no means an unreasonable or difficult proposal.
If this bill passes, we would like to see Abbott begin his governorship by recognizing the importance of a reasonable distance between the board and the universities, and refrain from vetoing this bill.