House transparency committee co-chairs ask regents not to remove President Powers

Jacob Kerr

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations co-chairs sent a letter on Monday to Paul Foster, UT System Board of Regents chairman, asking the board not to make any employment decisions with witnesses in its investigation into Regent Wallace Hall.

The letter – written by state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton – comes in response to media reports over the weekend that Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked President William Powers Jr. on July 2 to either resign or be removed from his position by the Board of Regents. In a letter to Cigarroa, Powers said he wanted to resign after the 2015 legislative session.

Powers testified before the transparency committee in December 2013. On July 4, UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on Powers' potential removal.

Cigarroa’s decision comes weeks after he decided the System will hire an outside firm to conduct a new investigation into the University’s admissions process. In May, a limited inquiry conducted by two System officials into legislative influence on admissions found no structured system of wrongdoing but found instances in which letters of recommendation sent directly to Powers or a dean likely influenced admissions decisions.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in June, Flynn said he supported the new investigation.

According to the regents’ agenda for their upcoming meeting on Thursday, they will discuss Powers’ employment in executive session and will take action on a report on admissions from Cigarroa.

While Cigarroa has not yet publically cited a reason for asking Powers to resign, the committee co-chairs said no witnesses should not be removed “absent compelling justification.”

Citing that future testimony may be needed, the co-chairs said the regents should take no action because it could “affect the availability of witnesses.”

The transparency committee has been investigating Hall since June 2013 after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority through large records request to the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position. The committee determined grounds for Hall’s impeachment exist in May and is in the process of developing specific impeachment articles.

Other state legislators have come to Powers’ defense. In an email to the Texan, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Cigarroa and the regents should reconsider any decision to remove Powers.

“As president, [Powers] has enhanced UT's national stature, reformed the undergraduate curriculum, prioritized diversity, and emphasized excellence in research and teaching,” Zaffirini, who has long been a supporter of Powers, said. “Despite this stellar record of accomplishment – or perhaps because of it – persons advancing an ideological, anti-higher education agenda want nothing more than to see Powers fired.”