Recently confirmed regent debates System’s handle on debt

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UT System Chancellor William McRaven speaks at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on Sept. 12, 2016. 

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Just two days after his final confirmation in the state Senate, UT System Regent Kevin Eltife questioned the transparency of the System. 

The Board of Regents had their first meeting of the semester Wednesday with their three newly-appointed regents joining them in the conversation. The Board held a second meeting the following day. 

One of the heavily discussed items on the agenda was Chancellor William McRaven’s recommendation for a one-time allocation of $10 million from surplus funds provided through the System Internal Lending Program to aid the student success quantum leap, which enforces an earlier graduation rate for students. 

The SILP and the Revenue Financing System, together, fund System projects using pledges from all System institutions.

If approved, the funding would be given to any of the 14 UT institutions who provide an effective plan that matches the requirements McRaven laid out through his student success quantum leap. 

Eltife said he supports the $10 million plan, but questioned why the System would lend funds to institutions without addressing their debt first.  

“I get what you’re doing but it seems to me like any benefit saving that the System generates should be passed on directly to the institutions,” Eltife said. “I just think the way we’re doing it is not very transparent. We shouldn’t be here trying to find ways to generate funds from some institutions to pass on to other institutions.” 

McRaven disagreed with Eltife and said the System is not trying to hide anything from the regents and knew what it was doing when it decided to allocate the funds.

“We are always completely transparent and we are happy to show you the books,” McRaven said. “This program wasn’t designed to look at some program ahead of time, the Students Success initiative came up after we looked at the central bank, because we knew the central bank was best for the entire system for the reasons Regent Hildebrandt laid out.”

Eltife said he did not agree with McRaven on the System being clear with this plan. 

”I’m just pointing out that I don’t like the philosophy being used here,” Eltife said. “You’re saying it’s transparent, but it obviously took us 20 minutes up here trying to figure out what’s going on here. That’s what I’m asking and I will continue to keep asking.”

McRaven said he understands Eltife’s concerns, but can only address them if he’s allowed more flexibility from the Board. 

Chairman Paul Foster said he would provide the regents with the information they need to understand how the debt is managed before their next meeting May 9. 

Among other items discussed, the System approved a plan to spend around $27 million a year to expand the fundraising offices across the institutions, which President Gregory Fenves said would benefit the UT-Austin campus. 

“This endowment is so important,” Fenves said. “Currently UT-Austin has a decentralized development operation, our overall spending is $38 million a year. We know we are under-staffed and under-resourced in development to reach our goals.”