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". 

Asian Cultures and Languages senior Vishaal Sapuram plays traditional Indian music Saturday at The Mi

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Traditional dance performances and classical Indian music illustrate the deeper meaning and history of yoga beyond the West’s idea that the activity is simply an exercise.

The Milan, a classical Indian arts showcase, took place on Saturday night in the Student Activities Center. Put on by the Hindu Students Association, the show was a culmination of the group’s efforts to educate students about Hindu culture during Hinduism Awareness Week.

Biochemistry junior and HSA co-chairman Karthik Bande said the primary focus of Hinduism Awareness Week and the Milan showcase was to show students there are several forms of yoga, which originated from Hinduism.

“The yoga classes many people go to today represent only one aspect of all the yogas described in Hinduism. They only practice Hatha, the physical kind of yoga. There’s also yoga of the mind and yoga of the spirit,” he said.

Bande said he hopes that Milan will help students recognize the Hindi values in the type of yoga most people are familiar with.

“If you go to a yoga session, they don’t explain how it ties into Hinduism or pay proper respect to it,” Bande said. “In putting on this event, we’re trying to bring awareness to that aspect.”

Bande said the event featured music and dance performances to show that yoga can be visually displayed in ways other than stretches and poses.

“You can practice yoga by singing or dancing, and that’s what the purpose of this event was,” Bande said.

Sirisha Pokala, HSA co-chairman and nutrition sophomore, said she shared Bande’s sentiments about yoga and the importance of educating people about it. Pokala said the HSA chose to focus on yoga because it has become so popular recently.

“We figured a lot of people would be interested in the events we coordinated for ‘Awareness Week’ since yoga’s something everyone really likes and would like to know more about,” she said.

Pokala said HSA organizes several other events throughout the year that have large turnouts but are not as openly educational about Hindu values.

“It’s really nice to have a week like this where people can actually learn about Hinduism and what it stands for,” she said.

Vishaal Sapuram, Asian cultures and languages senior, performed in the arts showcase, where he played classical Indian music on a traditional stringed instrument called a chitravina. Sapuram has been widely acclaimed for his musical talents and has had television performances in Malaysia and India.

In performing in the Milan showcase, Sapuram said he hoped to be a good representative of Hindu culture and said he felt the event was significant because of the perspective it provided to students.

“It’s important for people to see traditional values and what is meaningful to a lot of people in a different part of the world,” Sapuram said.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: 'Hindu Awareness Week' reveals yoga's original values