Senate holds confirmation hearing for UT regent appointments

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During the confirmation hearings for three UT System regent nominees Thursday, discussion quickly turned to college accessibility, tuition costs and the importance of communication between the legislature and the Board of Regents. 

In their first meeting of the session, the Senate Nominations Committee, joined by members of the Senate Finance Committee, heard testimonies from Gov. Greg Abbott’s regent appointees, former Texas Sen. Kevin Eltife, businessman James Conrad Weaver and attorney Janiece Longoria. 

Each nominee addressed the importance of making public higher education accessible and affordable to all Texans. 

“I understand the need to develop talent in the state of Texas and look forward to putting my shoulder toward that will,” Weaver said, outlining his priority as regent. 

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, chair of the nominations committee, said being appointed regent is a serious matter and stressed the importance of accountability.  

“What you are about to step into is very important,” Birdwell said. “You are there to impose the will of the people of Texas on the University of Texas community.” 

Eltife said he was committed to making tuition affordable, citing his upbringing in a single-parent, low-income household. Eltife said he understands that even $20 more a month is a lot for some families.

“You have my word on that, because that’s who I am and where I come from,” Eltife said. 

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, said Texas is not producing enough college graduates and if this problem is not solved, the GDP and standard of living in the state will decrease. 

“Sending you out on an important mission with our children’s future,” Taylor said. “Failure is not an option.” 

Another issue raised was the Top 10 Percent law, which UT Chancellor McRaven has said he wants to get rid of. 

All three nominees referred to their experience with diversity issues and each said they supported the current top ten percent rules laid out by the legislature. 

In December, Abbott pledged to cut funding for sanctuary campuses, a stance McRaven took issue with. The nominees said they would enforce any legislative decision in regards to sanctuary cities and said they would hold the chancellor accountable for his actions. 

All of the senators asked about the regents’ responsibility to communicate with the legislature. This comes after a $200 million land purchase by the UT System in Houston, which the legislature said it was not warned about. The regent nominees confirmed the importance of communication and taking into account the recommendations of the legislature. 

“We have a lot of money, a lot of institutions and we need to hold the chancellor accountable,” Eltife said. “I want you to give me a problem and let me fix it.” 

Controversy regarding the Board of Regents was hinted at throughout the confirmation hearing, including the Regent Wallace Hall case, a review of the UT system’s admissions process. 

Hall’s term, as well as the terms of two other UT regents, is set to expire in February. Hall asked the Texas Supreme Court to expedite his lawsuit against McRaven before the end of his term. 

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and several others said throughout the hearing that they look forward to a “swift confirmation.”

The Nominations Committee will reconvene next Thursday at 8 a.m. where they will vote on the UT regent appointments.