university systems

A joint legislative committee announced Tuesday that they have requested information from the UT System Board of Regents necessary to investigate allegations that the board is “micromanaging” administrative decisions at UT.

Speaking at the first meeting of the relaunched Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and committee co-chairman, said he wishes to maintain a positive image of the state’s higher education institutions. To do so, it is important to understand how university systems govern their institutions and if the governance structure needs to change, Branch said.

“It would be my hope that the point here is to not create any harm to any particular system, certainly not to our state, and see if we can calmly and deliberately improve the situation at this one particular system and by application improve governance at all of our systems,” Branch said.

The information requests, addressed to Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, seek a variety of communications and records between regents, System employees and University employees with a focus on communications sent “at the direction of a regent.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the joint committee last month after regents intensely questioned UT President William Powers Jr. during a Feb. 13 board meeting.

The week after the board meeting, the Texas Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring Powers, culminating in a ceremony on the Senate floor. During an emotional testimony, Dewhurst decried the regents for “micromanaging” Powers.

Powell released a statement later that week defending the regents and saying that Dewhurst’s allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

Two weeks ago, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System, emailed Powers instructing him to refrain from deleting emails in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the pending audit review of the UT Law School Foundation. Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign in December 2011 after it was revealed that Sager obtained $500,000 in forgivable personal loans from the UT Law School Foundation. 

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Tuesday that regents are engaging in an effort to oust Powers that is distracting from the mission to administrate UT.

“I think there’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt to try to remove one of our best presidents in the state of Texas, of our universities,” Pitts said. “And, I hope that we’ll be able to end these witch hunts and put this to bed so that the president of a tier-one university can govern that university and not have interference from the Board of Regents.”

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and committee co-chairman, said higher education institutions’ mission to achieve excellence is hindered when they are embroiled in controversy, which the committee aims to address.

“Excellence is very seldom achieved by controversy or by rumor and things like that,” Seliger said.

Last month, Seliger filed a bill that would limit regents’ authority over the individual institutions they govern. It would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system.

Seliger, who also chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said his committee will examine the bill within the next two weeks.

“There’s no point in waiting. We want to get it moving,” Seliger said.

Published on March 20, 2013 as "Committee requests regent correspondence". 

Members of a joint legislative committee announced Tuesday that they have requested information from the UT System Board of Regents necessary to investigate allegations that the board is “micromanaging” administrative decisions at UT.

Speaking at the first meeting of the relaunched Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency, committee co-chair Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he wishes to maintain a positive image of the state’s higher education institutions by understanding how university systems govern those institutions and if the governance structure needs to change.

“It would be my hope that the point here is to not create any harm to any particular system, certainly not to our state, and see if we can calmly and deliberately improve the situation at this one particular system and by application improve governance at all of our systems,” Branch said.

The information requests, addressed to Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, seek a variety of communications and records between regents, System employees and University employees since Jan. 1, 2012, primarily communications sent “at the direction of a regent.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the joint committee last month after regents intensely questioned UT President William Powers Jr. over a number of topics at a Feb. 13 board meeting.

The week after the board meeting, the Texas Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring Powers, culminating in a ceremony on the Senate floor. During an emotional testimony, Dewhurst decried the regents for “micromanaging” Powers.

Powell released a statement later that week defending the regents and saying that Dewhurst’s allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

Two weeks ago, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System, emailed Powers instructing him to refrain from deleting emails in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the pending audit review of the UT Law School Foundation. Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign as dean in December 2011 after it was revealed Sager obtained $500,000 in forgivable personal loans from the UT Law School Foundation. Sager still holds a faculty position in the Law School.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Tuesday that regents are engaging in an effort to oust Powers that is distracting from the mission to administrate UT.

“I think there’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt to try to remove one of our best presidents in the state of Texas, of our universities,” Pitts said. “And, I hope that we’ll be able to end these witch hunts and put this to bed so that the president of a tier-one university can govern that university and not have interference from the Board of Regents.”

Committee co-chair Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said constant controversy hinders higher education institutions’ missions to achieve excellence, which the committee aims to address.

Last month, Seliger filed a bill that would limit regents’ authority over the individual institutions they govern. It would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system.

Seliger, who also chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said his committee will examine the bill within the next two weeks.

“There’s no point in waiting. We want to get it moving,” Seliger said.

Lawmakers request information regarding regent, UT employee correspondence

A joint committee composed of members of both houses announced Tuesday that they have requested information from the UT System Board of Regents necessary to investigate allegations that the board is “micromanaging” administrative decisions at UT.

Speaking at the first meeting of the relaunched Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, committee co-chair state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he wishes to maintain a positive image of the state’s higher education institutions. To do so, it is important to understand how university systems govern their institutions and if the governance structure needs to change, Branch said.

“It would be my hope that the point here is to not create any harm to any particular system, certainly not to our state, and see if we can calmly and deliberately improve the situation at this one particular system and by application improve governance at all of our systems,” Branch said.

The information requests, addressed to Regents Chairman Gene Powell, seek a variety of communications and records between regents, System employees and University employees dating from Jan. 1, 2012, primarily communications sent “at the direction of a regent.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the joint committee last month after regents intensely questioned UT President William Powers Jr. over a number of topics at a Feb. 13 board meeting.

The week after the board meeting, the Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring Powers, culminating in a ceremony on the Senate floor. During an emotional testimony, Dewhurst decried the regents for “micromanaging” Powers.

Powell released a statement that week defending the regents and saying that Dewhurst’s allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

Last week, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, emailed Powers instructing him to refrain from deleting emails in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the pending audit review of the UT Law School Foundation. Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, in December 2011 to resign after it was revealed that Sager obtained $500,000 in forgivable personal loans from the UT Law School Foundation. 

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Tuesday that regents are engaging in an effort to oust Powers that is distracting from the mission to administrate UT.

“I think there’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt to try to remove one of our best presidents in the state of Texas, of our universities,” Pitts said. “And, I hope that we’ll be able to end these witch hunts and put this to bed so that the president of a tier one university can govern that university and not have interference from the board of regents.”

Committee co-chair state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said higher education institutions’ mission to achieve excellence is hindered when they are embroiled in controversy, which the committee aims to address.

“Excellence is very seldom achieved by controversy or by rumor and things like that,” Seliger said.

Last month, Seliger filed a bill that would limit regents’ authority over the individual institutions they govern. It would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system.

Seliger, who also chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said his committee will examine the bill within the next two weeks.

“There’s no point in waiting, we want to get it moving,” Seliger said.

A law school may join the proposed consolidated UT System institution in the Rio Grande Valley despite claims by the state’s higher education agency that Texas does not immediately need another law school.

Two bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives would grant university systems the authority to establish a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties, two border counties near the Gulf of Mexico.

Barry McBee, UT System vice chancellor for governmental relations, said the System is prioritizing the establishment of the consolidated university over the establishment of a law school, which could become part of the new institution at a later date.

“Our initial goal is the successful creation of the new university,” McBee said. “If legislation passes and other systems wish to establish a law school, we would not stand in the way of that and would look forward to partnering with them in some fashion.”

The Texas Legislature is considering bills filed in both houses that would combine the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution. The bill would give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment that allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would become a medical school under the proposal.

In a 2010 report, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended against creating a new law school, citing data that projected the state does not face a shortage of lawyers. However, the report said a law school in the Rio Grande Valley would increase opportunities for underrepresented groups, primarily Hispanics, who comprise 7 percent of the State Bar of Texas’ membership.

Similar legislation was introduced during the past three legislative sessions, but did not gain approval.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen and UT alumnus, filed a bill that would grant the UT System Board of Regents the authority to establish and operate a law school. He said the bill would be amended to allow other university systems to establish a law school in the Valley. 

The proposed law school would cost the state more than $80 million during a five year period for construction costs, hiring faculty and operations. The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for a prospective Valley medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation. Lucio said the potential cost should not bar legislators from addressing legal education in the Valley.

“I’m not naive to the cost restraints of establishing a new school,” Lucio said. “I’m not naive to the fact that we’re going to probably spend a substantial amount of money establishing this umbrella university in South Texas, but we can’t stop having the conversation.” 

Lucio said the region has one of the lowest lawyer-to-resident ratios in Texas.

Cameron County has one lawyer for every 768 residents, and Hidalgo County has one lawyer for every 832 residents, according to a study of attorney population density for 2011-2012 gathered by the State Bar of Texas. 

In contrast, Travis County has one lawyer for every 115 residents, Bexar County has one lawyer for every 320 residents and Harris County has one lawyer for every 193 residents.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, filed a separate bill to establish a law school in the Valley and said residents may not have the financial means to move elsewhere to attend law school even if they are qualified to attend.

“If we’re pushing a medical school and understand that we don’t have a medical school close by, why not have a law school?” Martinez said. “We should be afforded the same opportunity as the rest of the state.”

Published on March 4, 2013 as "South Texas law school proposed". 

UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa designed a framework of goals to improve higher education that has developed four-year graduation initiatives, relationships with technology-based corporations and two new medical schools in Texas. 

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Even in his role overseeing one of the nation’s largest university systems, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa is first and foremost a physician.

Since his appointment as chancellor in 2009, Cigarroa has taken on his duties in what he described as a medical approach — leveraging technology, taking calculated risks and changing course when things don’t work out.

“I think it’s worthwhile taking a little risk in higher education if it’s for the right reasons,” Cigarroa said. “Sometimes we’re so risk-adverse that in fact we’re a little paralyzed. If I was nervous every time I made an incision, I don’t think I’d be a good surgeon.”

He said his medical approach is essential to his Framework for Advancing Excellence, a nine-pillar action plan of System priorities that has guided almost all actions voted on by the UT System Board of Regents since it was approved in August 2011.

The framework’s mission has led to four-year graduation initiatives, developing relationships with technology-based corporations to improve advising and online learning and setting forth the foundation for two new medical schools in Austin and South Texas.

Cigarroa said the framework, which aligns the goals of the regents, the system administration and the institution presidents, was a priority when he began his tenure as chancellor.

The framework has garnered national attention, and Cigarroa was invited to discuss the pillars of the framework with other higher education officials at the White House this past year.

While the framework has received criticism for implementing micromanagement and lacking quantitative measures, Cigarroa said he likes to be innovative and try new things, and keeping up with a changing model of higher education is one of the most energizing parts of his job.

“Otherwise we’d be treating diseases the way we did 100 years ago,” he said. “I like to plan for the future.”

One framework goal yet to be completed is the implementation of performance-based compensation plans for presidents of the System’s nine academic institutions.

“It’ll be interesting because we’re one of the first university systems to try to this beyond health institutions,” Cigarroa said.

The metrics of the plan for each president will be discussed at the upcoming regents’ meeting in December. The presidents will be able to earn bonuses of up to 10 percent of their salaries based on those performance measures.

With the upcoming legislative session, Cigarroa’s third as chancellor, he said the System is supportive of two educational initiatives — outcome-based funding and four-year fixed tuition rates.

Both initiatives have already been filed as legislative bills by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. The System will push for metrics that fall in line with each institution and its demographics to provide tuition options rather than regulations, Cigarroa said.

Cigarroa said he originally planned on returning to surgery full time after his tenure as president of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio for almost nine years, when the position as chancellor opened up.

“The real ‘ah-ha’ moment was when I realized education saves lives,” Cigarroa said.

Cigarroa is on call every third weekend and does liver and kidney transplants in San Antonio. The shelves in his office are lined with portraits of his family, most of whom are also involved in medicine.

Cigarroa and four of his nine siblings all practice medicine. The Cigarroa Heart & Vascular Institute is housed in one of Laredo’s two hospitals, and cardiologist listings in the local phone book include the offices of Carlos and Ricardo Cigarroa. His father Joaquin Cigarroa still practices cardiology in Laredo at the age of 88.

“You will never separate the love for medicine from a Cigarroa,” the chancellor said. “It’s in our genome.”

Printed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 as: UT System Surgeon: Chancellor Cigarroa's medical approach contributes to advancement of University