With new bill, state senator seeks clarification for role of regents

Alex Wilts

The manner in which the UT System governs its institutions could again be a topic of discussion during the 2015 legislative session.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has filed Senate Bill 177, which he said is designed to set a standard consistent with the practices and guidelines of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The mission of SACS is to improve education in the South through accreditation.

“[The bill] is not designed to limit the activities of the regents,” Seliger said. “The powers of the regents are what they are, and this doesn’t change those.”

Seliger wrote a similar bill, along with 11 other legislators, for the 2013 legislative session. The bill came around the same time controversy developed between the UT System Board of Regents and President William Powers Jr.

The 2013 bill was approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints regents to all state university system governing boards, vetoed the bill. In a statement expressing his objections to the bill, Perry said limiting oversight authority of the board is a step in the wrong direction.

“History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance,” Perry said.

Seliger said he is attempting to pass a similar bill in the 2015 session because he thinks it is necessary to set standards for governing boards of regents. Provisions of the legislation require boards to establish goals consistent with the roles and missions of each institution under its guidance, along with establishing institutional integrity. The bill also states that regents would not be allowed to fire a university president before receiving a recommendation from the chancellor.

“There’s very useful standards set down by people at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools,” Seliger said. “[The bill] was very well received by chancellors and presidents and regents all over the state.”

Barry McBee, System vice chancellor for governmental relations, said he does not expect the legislation would dramatically change how the Board of Regents governs the System and its institutions.

“I would characterize it as more accurately clarifying the role of boards of regents, and, in some cases, it might limit some of the authority or again clarify some of the authority they currently have,” McBee said. 

McBee recalls the 2013 bill having significant support from the legislature, but he thinks things may turn out differently during the 2015 session, especially since current Attorney General Greg Abbott is set to replace Perry as governor in January.

“There’s new legislators in both the House and the Senate,” McBee said. “I don’t know what their views would be on this particular piece of legislation. I obviously would not want to speak for Governor Abbott.”