UT System chairman clarifies statement regarding diversity of regents

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul L. Foster

UT System chairman Paul Foster said Thursday the Board of Regents should be a diverse representative of Texas, taking back comments he made on the UT System not requiring an African-American perspective to serve this past week. 

Foster’s remarks came after state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, voiced his concerns about Gov. Greg Abbott not appointing an African-American as a regent. West said this is a recurring problem that needs to change. 

“In (its) 126-year history, only three African-Americans ever served on that board, out of over 240 to 250 or more regents,” West told the Daily Texan. “It’s not just a Greg Abbott problem. It’s been a problem in the past, also. You can’t tell me out of four million African-Americans in this country, in this state, you can’t find one to serve on that board, and frankly all (boards) of regents?”

Foster’s controversial comments arose when West questioned Foster on the selection of the appointees for the System this past Thursday.  

West asked Foster how the System would handle cultural issues without an African-American perspective on the board. Foster said he completely agreed with West’s concern on the matter but that the decision was out of his hands, as the governor is the one responsible for selecting the regents. However, West said he wanted to understand Foster’s view on the matter and if a black perspective is needed on the board. 

“I don’t think it’s critical, I mean, but it’s very, very helpful,” Foster said.  

West held a press conference the day before the hearing to discuss his views on Abbott’s selection for UT System regents, citing the lack of African-Americans selected.

West said the board is responsible for many tasks, such as creating policies and programs, which directly impact students. 

“The only thing African-Americans can do now is to stand in the room, attempt to talk to persons that are on the board, be a part of the public session, but can’t be a part of the deliberation process of the UT Board of Regents in 2017,” West said in the press conference. “We know what Texas is going to look like in the future, and how does the system, the UT System, prepare for the future if you don’t have the perspective of African-Americans, of Hispanics on the board?”

Foster released a statement the same day after the hearing in which he explained what he meant during the questioning with West.

“I unequivocally believe that a board that represents the people of Texas — a truly diverse body that brings multiple perspectives to every issue — is absolutely critical to the success of the UT System,” Foster said in a statement. “I can say with utmost confidence that all of the members of the UT System Board of Regents carry out their duties with the best interests of our students, faculty and all Texans foremost in their minds.”

West told The Daily Texan that he acknowledges Foster’s apology.

“I thought it was a (poor) choice of words that he was very apologetic for making,” West said. “I accepted his apology and think that he will make certain that students, and all Texans, are represented on advisory committees and other committees in the UT System.” 

According to Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, executive director of media relations for the UT System, Chancellor William McRaven “fully concurs”
with Foster’s statement.