Jeffrey Hildebrand, an energy executive from Houston, is likely to be appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to one of three open slots on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, multiple higher education sources have told The Texas Tribune.
Hildebrand, 53, founded Hilcorp Energy Company in 1989 and serves as its chairman and chief executive officer. According to Forbes, his net worth has risen dramatically in the last year thanks to the Eagle Ford Shale. The site lists him as the world’s 193rd-richest person, valued at about $5.5 billion, as of September 2012. That’s up from about $1.9 billion in March 2011.
Hildebrand holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. In November, he was named to the UT System’s “Task Force on Engineering Education for Texas in the 21st Century” by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and by board Chairman Gene Powell.
Whether Hildebrand will be tapped as a regent is ultimately up to the governor, who has not given any public indication of his preferences.
“Our office is still going through the process, and a decision will be made after a fair and thorough consideration of all qualified applicants,” said Perry spokesman Josh Havens.
Hildebrand did not respond to requests for comment. UT System spokeswoman Jenny Caputo also indicated that the system did not yet know whom Perry will appoint.
There are three UT regents whose terms expired at the beginning of February: Paul Foster of El Paso, James Dannenbaum of Houston and Printice Gary of Dallas.
The regents whose terms have expired will continue to serve until Perry decides to appoint replacements. Should those appointments be made during the current legislative session, the candidates will have to be approved by the Texas Senate before they can assume their posts.
If the appointments come in the interim after this session, the confirmation will wait until the next session, though the appointees will be able to serve in the meantime.
In addition to appointing Hildebrand, sources told the Tribune that Foster is likely to be reappointed. The executive chairman of Western Refining Inc., Foster is currently a vice chairman of the Board of Regents, on which he has served since 2007.
In early February, Foster was put in charge of reviewing the system’s policies on relationships between students and employees, which may indicate that he plans to stick around for a while — or that it will be a cursory study.
Should he be reappointed, Foster is also rumored to be in consideration as a potential chairman for the UT board, should Perry opt to replace Powell, though the governor is under no obligation to make such a switch. Foster did not return calls for comment.
Another name being floated as a possible new chairman is that of current regent Wallace Hall, the founder and president of Wetland Partners in Dallas.
Hall, who did not return calls for comment, was among three new regents appointed in 2011, when Powell assumed the chairmanship. The following months were marked by controversy and disagreement about which priorities the board would and should have for the system, and particularly its flagship institution, UT-Austin.
Any change to the chairmanship could exacerbate ongoing tensions surrounding the board, whether by signaling a doubling down on or a backing off of a reform agenda that has vocal opposition as well as support.
The last two years have also featured rumors that UT-Austin President Bill Powers’ job might be in jeopardy. He is widely believed to have a narrow margin of support on the current nine-person board, but there is concern among his supporters that introduction of new regents could shift that balance.
For these reasons, the regent selection process at the UT System is already being heavily scrutinized.
The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of higher education boosters that formed out of dissatisfaction with boards of regents in 2011, has already issued a call asking for Perry to make his appointments, whomever they may be, in a timely fashion and to make them “well-prepared, devoted, and conflict-free.”