Last Friday, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed Senate Bill 15, a piece of legislation by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) that would have limited the power of governing boards of Texas public universities by, among other measures, mandating that a board of regents cannot fire an institution’s president without first receiving a recommendation to do so from a chancellor. In a statement issued on Friday night, Sen. Seliger predicted that the veto of SB 15 would ensure that “the conflicts, controversies, and lack of transparency will continue.”
Of course, it was in the name of transparency that Regent Wallace Hall filed a massive open records request with the University on June 7. The request, which was obtained by the Texas Tribune through an open records request of its own, called for President Powers to turn over an array of documents, ranging from emails to Post-it notes.If this request seemed overreaching to Gov. Perry, his statement on the veto of SB 15 didn’t betray that sentiment. In that statement, Perry justified his veto by saying that “limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction.” But if Hall’s open records request is any indication, SB 15 would have done little to limit the power of regents to influence university business through less-than-official channels. But allowing the bill to pass into law would have allowed us all — regents, administrators, legislators, alumni and students — to take a step away from the muddled mess of the Regents v. Powers showdown and focus our energies on the bigger questions plaguing higher education, like the future of MOOCs and fixed-rate tuition.
Wallace Hall is entitled to his Post-it notes, and Gov. Perry is entitled to his vetoes, but the students of Texas are entitled to a change of conversation. In a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune from Regent Bobby Stilwell, who expressed concern over Hall’s most recent open records request, to board Chairman Gene Powell, Stilwell wrote, “There is no excuse or cover provided for personal agendas or vindictive actions.” Stilwell was referring to the ‘fiduciary duty’ clause of the regents’ job description in particular, but we believe it could well be applied to the entire situation. The veto of SB 15 made it clear that Perry is more interested in winning even the smallest battles than swallowing his pride and letting legislators and students mark down a minor victory.