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Bill Powers: Regents Controversy Harmful to University

UT President Bill Powers appeared before a House committee on Wednesday and said that his battle with members of the board of regents has been costly, even to football.

Erich Schlegel

UT President Bill Powers told a legislative committee on Wednesday that the constant controversy over his status with some members of the board of regents has been harmful to the reputation and pocket book of the University of Texas.

Speaking before the Select Committee on Transparency in State Operations, Powers estimated that his running battle with UT Regent Wallace Hall has cost over $1 million as well as doing "significant harm to our reputation in the academic world nationally and internationally."

The committee is looking into possible articles of impeachment against Regent Hall, who has been accused of overstepping his authority in his quest to investigate Powers and others at the University.

Football of course came up during the testimony. This is Texas after all. Powers said that the never ending publicity about the infighting at the University  had made it more difficult to recruit and retain top faculty and had led to the loss of a "star football recruit."

He would not name the recruit.

Also brought up was Hall's involvement in contacting the agent of Alabama Coach Nick Saban this past January. The contact came to light a few months ago when it was reported that Hall & former Regent Tom Hicks talked to agent Jimmy Sexton about Saban's possible interest in the Texas job.

Powers, who is the final authority on personnel matters at UT Austin, said he was never told about the conversation.UT Chancellor Francis Cigarroa also testified that it was "inappropriate" for Powers to be left out of the loop regarding the contact.

The committee is looking into the charges that Hall has worked independently of the rest of the board of regents to conduct an investigation into Powers. Among the accusations is that Hall has abused the Open Records law by requesting over 800,000 documents. He also inadvertently shared confidential information about a UT student while investigating alleged favoritism for the children of politicians in getting admission into UT-Austin.

The committee also heard from Scott Caven, a former chairman of the UT System board, and former regent John Barnhill, who both testified that they could not recall a regent who operated independent of the rest of the board  as Hall has.

Hall did not testify before the committee. His attorney has said the committee would need to subpoena Hall to get his testimony, which would afford his client some legal protection during the proceedings.

Wednesday marked the final scheduled day hearings for the committee. Rep. Dan Flynn, co-chair, instructed Rusty Hardin, special counsel to the committee, to prepare a report on the hearings. The committee will then decide if they will recommend articles of impeachment.

If the committee recommends articles of impeachment the matter goes before the full house.  If they are then voted out of the house, then they would be sent to the senate for trial,  where Hall will be the first gubernatorial appointee in state history to be impeached.