Financial favoritism

Susannah Jacob

Texas Gov. Rick Perry appoints UT System Board of Regent members who donate to his political campaigns — a reality that his gubernatorial campaign quickly points out doesn’t distinguish him from his predecessors.

But his predecessors aren’t running for governor, and Perry’s tendency to appoint donors is particularly notable: Eleven current and former members of the board have donated more than $1.5 million to Perry, coming to an average donation of $140,000 per regent, according to data from The Texas Tribune. Statewide, the picture is similar; of 171 university regents appointed, 91 have donated to Perry, and all regent donations add up to $5.8 million.

Perry’s opponent, Democratic nominee Bill White, has seized the issue as an opportunity to slam the governor for his record of financial favoritism.
Ally Smith, a campaign spokeswoman for White, recently told The Daily Texan, “It’s clear that for Rick Perry, appointments aren’t about serving Texans but about building his own self-serving political machine.” She adds that White will make sweeping changes — a promise we’ll believe when it is delivered.

The reality is that governors often appoint regents who support them. In an interview with The Daily Texan, UT President William Powers Jr. diplomatically dealt with the issue.

“Most political appointments in every state and in Texas historically have been people that … the governor has confidence in,” Powers said. “I’ve watched them work, and they have the University’s interests at heart.”

The Board of Regents — the governing body for the UT System — consists of “nine members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.” The terms for regents are scheduled for six years each and staggered so that three members’ terms will usually expire on Feb. 1 of odd-numbered years.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Robert Rowling, a former regent and one of Perry’s top donors, said that being a UT Regent involves a lot more than just getting good football tickets. Furthermore, he dismissed the notion that anyone who donates to Perry would want to — or could be — a regent because the position requires, as Rowling puts it, “danged hard work.”

His implication: Being a board member is a position one takes on out of the goodness of his heart.

But the Board of Regents brokers tremendous power, not the least of which is helping govern the University of Texas Investment Management Company, UTIMCO, which controls the investments of the University.

Rowling’s perspective is frustrating, because he seems to be whining about the responsibilities that accompany an incredible amount of power — power that has a direct effect on our education.

Perry may not be doing anything extremely unusual, but that excuse has its limits, particularly when put in perspective of the instance in the fall, when former Texas Tech Regents Mark Griffin and Windy Sutton felt pressure to resign for supporting Perry’s former opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Perry not only appoints regents who fund his war chest, but also suppresses those who don’t. The board controls our education and our University’s money. We would prefer if they weren’t subjected to every political wind that blows through the governor’s office.