The rhetoric over the power struggle between the UT Board of Regents and UT President William Powers is being ratcheted up in the Texas Legislature. Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo is the powerful chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, has been a vocal backer of President Powers, and now believes the Governor needs to be involved in settling the dispute.
"When things turn out to be bad for an institution or bad for the state, the person who can resolve this quickest is the governor," Seliger told the Tribune on Monday. "He ought to do what's best for the state of Texas. Turmoil in an institution for no good reason is something we certainly ought to be wary of. It's not productive."
Right now several members of the legislature are unhappy over what they see as the Regents attempt to "micromanage" the UT-Austin campus to the point of driving President Powers out of office.
Lawmakers are currently upset over Regents Chairman Gene Powell's attempt to withhold some documents from the legislature by asking the Attorney General if they need to comply with the request. The request for the documents was made on March 15, and the Texas Open Records law requires that such requests be met in no longer than 10 business days. However, the law doesn't specifically mention requests from legislators and if there is a deadline for such requests.
Seliger, and other legislators are also unhappy that the Board of Regents wants to hold another investigation into a now defunct loan program in the University of Texas Law School Foundation.
Sen. Seliger co-chairs a Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education that is looking into the UT Regents management of UT-Austin and he intimated that while there are no plans to formally censure any UT regents, the idea has been broached.
"I'm not yet calling on him to ask for resignations," Seliger said of the governor, "but somewhere in there, at the current rate we're going, that's not altogether impossible."
Sen. Seliger also gave an interview to the Daily Texan, where again he stressed that he backs President Powers and he fully expects the Regents and Powell to not remain at "loggerheads" for much longer.
He also addressed the open records request and was blunt with his opinion of Powell's delay tactics.
"I think it will not be supported by law, and I think it's going to go farther than that. What it's really going to amount to is that there's some information there that Mr. Powell does not want to reveal to the Legislature. And if there is anything there that shows something not conducive to good governance, then I think Mr. Powell's going to have to think about resigning."
As for the Board of Regents, the battle lines within the Board are being clearly drawn, enough so that four members have called for a special meeting this Thursday.
Chairman Powell had indicated that he planned to call a meeting to have a discussion on his request to withhold documents, but four members of the Board decided not to wait. Regents Steve Hicks, Bobby Stillwell, Jim Danebaum and Printice Gary submitted a written request for a meeting to take a vote on withholding information from legislators as well as whether another investigation on the the UT Law School Loan Program is necessary.
As this struggle moves more and more into the public eye, it may become harder for either side to back away gracefully. Still, in his discussion with the Daily Texan, Senator Seliger held out hope that it will eventually be resolved for the best.
"...but it's important to know that a lot of this controversy is going on now because this University matters and the education [students] get matters ... and the education their children and grandchildren get matters. It's also important for people to know that a lot of higher education is going on in this state. With that happening, there will always be discussion and debate, a lot of times without a lot of turmoil. This too, will pass. I believe the University of Texas will thrive in the future, and it's going to be even better based upon the vision of the people involved. I'm very optimistic."